Friday, August 20, 2010

Episcopal Identity for Episcopal Schools

Click on the link to hear the audio presentation.  This was preached at St. Mark's Episcopal School, Houston, Texas at the installation of the new head of school Gahrett Wagers.

At the inaugural session of the Continental Congress – with the weight of war and the hope of freedom on their minds, on Wednesday, September 7, 1774, Mr. Duché an Episcopal Clergyman was invited to read prayers to the Congress. As it happened the 35th psalm was appointed for Episcopalians as a part of Morning Prayer. So Mr. Duché began, “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.” (American Gospel, Jon Meacham, p.65)

June 28, 1836, it was an Episcopal service that accompanied James Madison, our 4th president and founding father, to his grave. (p.230) And it was Episcopal prayers that accompanied the mourners in their grief.

It was an Episcopal Service of Morning Prayer with hymns that inaugurated the Atlantic Charter between Churchill and Roosevelt on the deck of the HMS Prince Charles on the eve of World War II. (p.160)

April 13, 1943, the Episcopal Presiding Bishop Henry St. George Tucker joined the president and five thousand people to dedicate the Jefferson Memorial with an Episcopal Prayer thanking God for raising leaders up among us. (p.248)

March 4, 1944, it was an Episcopal prayer that was said in which we prayed for our enemies and prayed for peace at Roosevelt’s service commemorating his first inauguration in the midst of a nation at war. (p.167)

Jonathan M. Daniels found his strength in the vision of God preached and prayed in the Episcopal and as an Episcopal seminarian on August 20, 1965 gave his life following the call of Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma, Alabama. It was there that Daniels lived with an African American family, and helped integrate the local Episcopal church.

Three years later in the heart of the Country, Washington D.C., and in the heart of the Jonathan Daniels’ Episcopal Church, the National Cathedral, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. climbed the thirteen steps into the pulpit during an Episcopal service and said:

“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.” (p203)

On January 14, 2009, then president elect, Barack Obama attended an Episcopal prayer service at St. Johns Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, prior to being sworn in as our 44th president of the United States. After the inauguration he would attend a national prayer service in the same Cathedral and stand were Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed his dream.

From this nation’s very inception, our leaders have from time to time called upon the wisdom found within our Episcopal heritage of prayers and scripture to buoy the people to mission, service, action, and vision.

In times of great discernment…In times of celebration…In times of peace…In times of justice…In times of war…and, in times of civil struggle…our leaders, those whose names we know and those whose names we do not know have called upon the strength of daily prayers found in our Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

Through regular chapel, and Episcopal Prayer, Episcopal Schools, and specifically St. Mark’s Episcopal School, seeks to provide students with a solid foundation of wisdom (which is quite different from knowledge). We combine this foundation of wisdom with a foundation of prayer. Together they combine to set a bedrock upon which our students may build a good and virtuous citizenship.

Episcopal schools strive to offer academic rigor combined with a spiritual discipline that strengthens the Episcopal student for a journey of continued religious life and public service.

For the non-Episcopalian we hope that we have provided an environment, a community, where the individual student and family may find a spiritual home.

We want all students to find here the possibility and hope of a healthy relationship with God. For the Christian and Episcopalian we want a deepening of relationship. We desire to form an understanding about all of God’s creation and our particular and unique witness to a loving and caring God in Jesus Christ. We hope that those of you of every other denomination, creed, or faith background will find us to be a faithful and partnering family and that you have a sure and certain knowledge of our friendship with all believers.

We do all of this for one reason. We offer this Episcopal heritage to you in order that together we might improve the lives of our neighbors. This is the work of virtue. To understand clearly that we as citizens of the kingdom of God have a very real role in the kingdoms and realms of this world. We are called by our baptism and through Christ’s own love to work for the betterment of all humanity.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The real field of rivalry among and between the creeds comes in the rivalry of the endeavor to see which can render best service to mankind.”

We wish to form Episcopal Students who outdo one another in benevolent leadership which seeks not personal glory but the glory of God in serving others.

We provide the foundations upon which individuals may become honest, moral, and upright members of society; outdoing one another in kindness and in compassion to our fellow human beings.

We seek to provide for you an Episcopal Foundation of Faith.
 A foundation that can be drawn upon at times of discernment and when you are unsure of a course of action.
 A foundation that can be drawn upon for your celebratory events as in marriages and baptisms.

 A foundation that you can draw upon when you are in trouble, fearful, or in pain.
 A foundation upon which you may find resources for the daily living of life.
 A foundation upon which you may with others reshape and make the world a better place tomorrow than it is today.

Our expectation is that each student entrusted to us will be a leader, in their homes and within their families, they will be leaders in academia, sports, and in the arts, they will be leaders in the marketplace and within our governments.

There will come a time for each one of our students when every word will matter, every prayer spoken or silently prayed will count, every thought a necessary component of what comes next, every action an opportunity for change. Into these moments let the wisdom of our worship and prayer and scripture be present for you, uphold you, and sustain you.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I never told my religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert nor wish to change another’s creed. I have ever judged the religion of others by their lives. For it is in our lives and not from our words, that our religion must be read.” (p. 34)

We expect our students to act so others may see in them what we see in them every day– a great and noble future. We expect our students to act so that others may see in them the best parts of our faith imparted and the blessings of your formation lived out.

This is how people will know their true religion, their true faith. This is how they will know they were formed at St. Mark’s Episcopal School.

 So to you Garhett, you are given a sacred trust as headmaster. To run the school well. Yes.

 To lead in development: working on endowment and debt reduction. Yes.

 To hire the very best educators who can form students and are devoted to the Episcopal culture of education. Yes.

 To lead in recruiting students of a diverse population that we may send forward to excel in the very best Episcopal schools and other schools in Houston. Yes.

 To increase the awareness of the gift of St. Mark’s School within the wider Episcopal and Houston community. Yes.
You are to do these things and many more.

But most of all you are to remember the sacred work of formation given to you as the head of an Episcopal school.

You are to form students with the tools of wisdom and Episcopal prayer that they may understand and live out their mission of virtuous citizenship.

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball