What It Means to be an Episcopal School
By Rev. George E. Andrews II, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal School, Boca Raton, Fla.
Background and Meaning of Episcopal School Affirmation within the Christian Tradition
It is significant to note that the Rev. Hunter Wyatt-Brown, an Episcopal priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale, secured the blessing of the first Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of South Florida (now Southeast Florida), the Rt. Rev. William Louttit, to organize the Episcopal School Foundation. The Rev. Hunter Wyatt-Brown served as the President of the Episcopal School Foundation, which convened for the first time on May 7, 1959. From the outset, the primary function of the Episcopal School Foundation was to establish in South Florida an Episcopal boys’ boarding and day school, and it was the foundation’s vision, leadership and commitment which led to the creation of Saint Andrew’s School. It is also interesting to note that the Rev. Hunter Wyatt-Brown served as the school’s first Headmaster when the school opened on September 21, 1962.
Saint Andrew’s School has enjoyed a close and meaningful affiliation with the Episcopal Church from the beginning, and our identity as an Episcopal school was established in the original Articles of Incorporation first adopted by the Board of Trustees on July 19, 1961. As stated in Article II:
The purposes for which this corporation is organized are as follows:
To found, establish, conduct, maintain, operate and perpetuate an Episcopal school (or schools) in Palm Beach County, Florida, and/or the counties which comprise the Diocese of South Florida, State of Florida, under the Episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America of the diocese in which the school is located, where students may obtain, upon such terms as may be determined, a general education with particular reference to fitting and preparing students morally, spiritually, mentally and physically for higher education in high school, colleges and universities.
The Philosophy of Education of an Episcopal School
In order to gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of what we mean by the use of “Episcopal” in our Vision and Mission Statements, we need to understand the mission of the 1,100 Episcopal preschools and schools throughout this country and abroad. As members of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES), we affirm their definition of the mission and ministry of Episcopal schools, which states:
“within a Christian tradition of tolerance and open inquiry, NAES affirms the spiritual dimension of learning which values faith and reason, and promotes moral, spiritual, physical and social development of children in a school setting.”
I believe this statement captures and expresses the essence of what Saint Andrew’s School means when we use the phrase “traditional Episcopal school education.” This was clear in our original Articles of Incorporation, and it continues to be what we strive to provide each student today.
In a recent brochure produced by NAES explaining the remarkable growth of Episcopal schools, there is a section entitled, “Episcopal Schools integrate faith with learning.” I want to share what was written in this section because it, too, expresses what I believe lies at the very heart of our mission as an Episcopal school:
“In an Episcopal school, faith and reason are partners in an ethos that places learning solidly in the context of each person’s lifelong search for truth. An Episcopal education teaches students to welcome and respect diverse and differing points of view.”
This is a critical point in understanding Episcopal education, for it emphasizes that at Saint Andrew’s we affirm each person’s search for truth, and we welcome and respect the different paths in pursuit of truth. The NAES statement concludes by stating, “Episcopal schools take seriously the spiritual life and spiritual formation of every student, maintaining Episcopal identity and ethos in an atmosphere of appreciation for the diversity and values of all religious traditions and beliefs.” This, too, expresses for me an understanding of the Episcopal education we affirm at Saint Andrew’s: namely, the importance of each student’s spiritual development and growth and the development within each student of a deeper understanding and appreciation of all religious traditions and beliefs, both inside and outside our school community. We must affirm and celebrate our identity while respecting all religious traditions and beliefs.
Saint Andrew’s Requirements
Saint Andrew’s has two primary requirements through which we directly affirm our identity as an Episcopal school. The first is each student’s required participation in school worship in Chapel, and the second is each student’s required participation in the religion curriculum requirements. We currently have Chapel twice a week in the Upper and Middle Schools and once a week in the Lower School. The only change we are planning for next year is to have Chapel twice a week for our Lower School students.
What happens in Chapel?
The Chapel service is conducted within the context of an abbreviated form of the worship service of the Episcopal Church, with the Book of Common Prayer providing the framework for the order of worship. Opening sentences from Holy Scripture are followed by a processional during the singing of an opening hymn. We read one or two selections from Holy Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments), and then either a faculty member, student or guest speaker presents a program. The topic or theme of the presentation depends upon the presenter and includes a wide variety of subjects. For instance, Chapel programs in February included a presentation by Peter Cobb (Executive Director of the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education) on the topic “Do what is right.” Other presentations consisted of a song and dance performance by the International Club; academic awards for students; and a talk by the Rev. Lloyd Allen, an Episcopal priest and Headmaster from Honduras, speaking about service opportunities for our faculty and students in Honduras.
One purpose of our Chapel program is to deepen our students’ understanding and appreciation of the beliefs and holy days of the major religious traditions. Another purpose is to teach and share personal stories regarding the meaning and importance of values, virtues and principles (i.e., our core value-honor; stewardship; respect for the dignity and worth of every person). And Chapel is also used as a time to raise and address issues and concerns which exist both inside and outside school.
In addition, Chapel provides our students exposure to the presence of God and His loving and Holy Spirit and to the spiritual dimension of their lives by gathering them together in a sacred place. Through exposure to and participation in a worship service in a House of God, they are provided with the opportunity to enhance the spiritual dimension of their own lives and to ask: What do I believe and why? What are the faith beliefs that guide and direct my life? What are the virtues, principles and values that serve as the basis on which I conduct my life?
Another very important and meaningful aspect of Chapel is the opportunity it provides us to gather as a school community and to join together for a shared experience. This time provides our students with a sense of belonging, enables them to experience the fact that they belong to a body greater than themselves, and teaches them that as members of our school community they have a responsibility to uphold the mission, goals and expectations of Saint Andrew’s.
Chapel provides the occasion for celebrating the positive contributions, accomplishments and joys of our school community, as well as sharing as a community in the discouraging, disappointing and sad events that occur in our lives. In addition, Chapel provides our students with the opportunity to learn that God calls us to recognize, affirm and celebrate our own gifts as well as the gifts and accomplishments of others, and to learn that the obstacles we experience can become opportunities for positive growth. Chapel encourages our students to reflect on their lives as children of God. Most important, Chapel exposes each student to the truth that nothing falls outside the love of God.
Perhaps the most significant and challenging tenet of our common worship in Chapel is the affirmation of our school’s Christian faith and traditions while at the same time affirming and respecting the religious convictions and traditions of our Jewish students and those of students who hold convictions in other faiths. As an Episcopal school within the Christian tradition, we sing Christian hymns, read Biblical passages from the Gospels and New Testament letters, offer prayers “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and conclude the worship service with a blessing from the Book of Common Prayer. The life and teachings of Jesus are used as illustrations of how to conduct our lives and also to explain what the Christian faith believes. This happens in Chapel as an expression of our identity as an Episcopal school, for we need to be what we say we are in our Christian tradition as an Episcopal school. Most important, all we say and do… our words and actions … both inside and outside Chapel must be guided and governed by our “respect for the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, the Baptismal Covenant, p. 305) and our commitment to “value the individuality of all community members” and encourage each member of our school community to “seek and find the best of the human spirit in themselves and others” (Vision Statement, Saint Andrew’s in the Year 2005 Strategic Plan).
As an Episcopal school, our most important role is to affirm and celebrate the Christian faith and traditions, which are the historical foundation of our school, while at the same time affirming and respecting the faith and traditions of Judaism and other major religions. We need to recognize and affirm that differences do exist, and, yet, most important, within our school community we must celebrate that which we have in common.
I would like to move from attempting to explain what is meant by the affirmation that Saint Andrew’s is an Episcopal school to discussing the experience of what it means to be an Episcopal school. I want to share with you three recent experiences I had which deepened my understanding and appreciation of what it means to be an Episcopal school. These three experiences had a profound impact on me personally and also enabled me to experience a real “fullness of heart” and special gratitude for being a member of our Saint Andrew’s School community.
The first occurred in Middle School Chapel on Friday, April 6. The Middle School met in the Parish Hall for their Chapel service to participate and share together in an introduction and explanation of the Passover Seder, led by Cantor Ann Turnoff of Temple Beth El with the assistance of seven Middle School students. In addition, eight Middle School parents and two faculty members prepared the food and script of the sacred holiday for all of us. It was a very meaningful and special experience for me as a Christian, for I learned of the special relationship between the ingredients of the Passover meal and the Israelites’ flight from the bondage of slavery to freedom. I emerged with a deeper appreciation of the value of understanding and respecting all religious traditions and beliefs.
The second experience took place on April 4 in the home of Peggy and Steve Ruzika, who hosted the Interfaith Dialogue presentation and luncheon for interested parents. The presentation was on “Buddhism” and was presented by the Chair of our Theology Department, David Gould. It was wonderful to share this experience with parents of different faiths who gathered together to learn, share in fellowship, and celebrate that which we have in common. The presentation concluded with a prayer thanking God for that which unites us, and I was reminded again of the real meaning and value of respecting all religious traditions and beliefs.
The third experience again took place in our Chapel on Thursday morning, April 12. The Chapel of Saint Andrew’s offers a daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist; and each Thursday morning at 7:00 am, I serve as the Celebrant for this service in the Little Chapel. However, on this particular Thursday morning I was given a very special gift from God, for to my complete surprise a large number of my colleagues on the faculty and staff appeared! They had (unbeknownst to me!) been notified I was celebrating the 30th Anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and joined me to demonstrate their love and support on this special occasion. Those who came together in our Chapel on that morning represented different religious traditions and beliefs, and I was reminded again of how grateful I am to God for the privilege of serving in a school community where I can continue to learn and grow in my Christian faith, share and express my faith, and also learn, grow and experience other religious traditions and beliefs.
Saint Andrew’s is a school, and, therefore, I believe our sacred responsibility is the education in mind, body and spirit of each child entrusted to us. In the spiritual education we strive to provide each student, our mission at Saint Andrew’s as an Episcopal school within the Christian tradition is to affirm each student’s search for truth and to welcome and respect the different paths in pursuit of truth. To affirm and celebrate our Christian identity as an Episcopal school, while at the same time affirming and respecting the faith and traditions of other major religions, will always generate a certain tension, for there are differences that exist in belief and practice. Most important, as an educational institution we have the unique opportunity to teach and educate our students through our Chapel programs and religious curriculum to a deeper understanding and appreciation of all religious traditions and beliefs, to share and celebrate that which the different religious faiths have in common, and to encourage and provide opportunities for students to nurture and grow in their specific faith traditions.