“What can I do?” I said this to a family in our school earlier in the fall, who had just tragically lost their son, one of our seniors. It’s something we all say, lay people and clergy alike, in difficult situations. We want to be helpful. We want to bring food, run errands, give hugs. Something. Anything. “What can I do?” The news of the loss of this student came on a weekend and started to seep into our community and as I wondered, other than responding pastorally to the family and communicating to our school community, what it was I could do, I realized that worship was probably the best answer.
Without much planning we held a Compline service in our school chapel that Sunday evening. The situation was complicated. Information was unclear. The student had been on life support for a day or so. He was an organ donor, and it was simply a period of waiting. People were not sure how to feel, what to think, or even what to pray for, but they knew where to go. They came to worship in the place that is home to them. The place where the biggest moments and rites of passage of their lives happen. Also, the place that is routine, normal, and hopefully comfortable. And even though Compline is not a service we do for school chapel, students, faculty and staff, parents, friends all came to hear the familiar words of The Book of Common Prayer. It was what we all needed, and it was where we all needed it to happen.
School chapel is something that almost all of us have in common, and I’m sure we all think that there are things we need to do to “spice it up” and get kids more engaged, and that is as true for us as it is anywhere, but there are times when we don’t have to do anything. We just get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit take over and she will do all the work. If we just provide the opportunity to worship, sometimes that is enough.
Worship in the Episcopal Church and our Episcopal schools is a wonderful gift. It connects us and unites us one to another. In some ways we all do it differently, but in other ways we all do it the same. It is a comfort and a place of solace. It is the coming together of a community in ways that nothing else can be. It is mourning and it is celebrating. It is everything. It is what we can do.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
The Rev. Kirkland “Skully” Knight is Senior Chaplain and Associate Head of School for Service Learning at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge.