It was my good fortune to be invited by my friend, Headmaster Mark Desjardins, to give the address on the occasion of the annual All-School Chapel at St. John's School in Houston, Texas. It was a wonderful gathering of the entire school community, and was highlighted by the leadership and participation of the students in all aspects of the ceremony - leading the pledge of allegiance and the Lord's Prayer, reading the Psalm, serving as acolytes, presenting special vocal and instrumental music and giving the benediction at the conclusion of the service. It was truly an All-School Chapel which celebrated the gifts and talents of the students and gave thanks to God for the life they share in the St. John's School community.
I focused my remarks on the prayer entitled, "A Prayer for Schools" (Cycle of Prayer for Episcopal Schools, 2nd Edition, by the Rev. John F. Smith, p.1). Although I directed my remarks from the content of the prayer to the St. John's community, the words of the prayer provide a most important focus and meaning for every school community.
A Prayer for Schools
Ever-giving God, we lift our hearts to you in thanksgiving for the life we share in this school. We thank you for work to do, things to learn and understand, games to play, and loving friends. Teach us to pay attention to each other, that in our care and peacefulness we might grow together in true humanity. Make this place a sign of your call to all people to join together in a Beloved Community.
The reason I find this prayer so important and meaningful is because it captures and expresses in four specific ways the kind of school you want your school to be for all members of the school community. First, and foremost, the prayer is a call to "lift our hearts to God in thanksgiving for the life we share in this school." What do we most value and appreciate about our school community? Second, the prayer calls us to reflect on and give thanks to God for the special relationships we enjoy and share - with teachers, coaches, advisors, classmates, teammates and loving friends. Third, the prayer challenges us "to pay attention to each other." We are called to value on another, to look for the best in one another, to support, encourage and build up one another, and to care for one another. And, fourth, this prayer calls the school community to "make this place a sign of your call to all people to join together in a Beloved Community." God desires for every school to be a community where each person is to be loved and cared for in a way that enables each member of the school community to become the special and sacred person God desires each one of us to be. God calls our schools to be a sign of what it means to come together and to learn and grow together in mind, body and spirit. God calls our schools to be loving and caring communities where each person fully develops his/her gifts, talents and abilities and also develops positive personal qualities and characteristics - to be a sign of a Beloved Community. May we take the words of this prayer and bring them to life in our school communities!