When I joined the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes faculty as a sixth grade English teacher in 1993, I had heard from many people that it was a wonderful school and a special place. What I did not fully comprehend at the time, but what became quite obvious early in my tenure, was that being an Episcopal school was an integral and foundational aspect of the institution and a major reason why I have loved being a teacher and administrator here over the past 25 years.
One aspect of Episcopal schools that I deeply appreciate is how inclusive they are. At St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes our mission calls us to “honor the unique value of each of our members as a child of God in a caring community,” and this big tent philosophy means that people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives are welcomed and affirmed. As a Jew, my faith is honored as am regularly invited to share my family’s faith traditions at chapel, show a video of my traditional Jewish wedding ceremony to a religion class (fortunately we were able to locate a VCR), and display my Bar Mitzvah album (braces and all) at our Multicultural Night. And each year our Chaplain gives me a card on Rosh Hashanah wishing me a happy new year.
Also, I have been enriched through learning about Christianity, the Episcopal church, and Episcopal traditions. Through observing Godly Play lessons and religion classes and attending regular chapel services, I have learned about the life and teachings of Jesus; while these stories are not from my own faith tradition the messages are universal and meaningful, and I feel fortunate to hear and know them. My parents sent me to an Episcopal elementary school not only for the strong education but also because they thought it would be enriching for me to learn about Christianity; I feel so lucky that this education continues.
Some schools focus on character, but in Episcopal schools the focus is rooted deeply in biblical teachings. I feel grateful that as I speak with students about the choices they make and the consequences of their actions (both positive and negative) and the good they can do in the world through service, it is rooted in God’s commandment to “love thy neighbor” and to serve God by serving others. Also, the church’s focus on social justice resonates deeply with me. While I was teaching a novel that took place in Mississippi just after Reconstruction, the church issued the House of Bishops Letter on Sin of Racism, and I was truly moved by its clarity and boldness. I continue to be proud to work in an Episcopal school whose church is at the forefront of equity and justice and honoring human dignity.
Finally, I feel blessed to work in an Episcopal school, where prayer is a fundamental part of who we are. At school we pray at chapel for our school community, for our sister school in Haiti, for peace and justice, and for family members (and even pets) who are sick or who have gone to heaven. Our chaplains offer the right words at the right time to affirm and encourage and comfort my colleagues and me.
When I joined the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes community, I had a certain level of comfort with Episcopal schools having attended one for seven years as a student. So when thinking about attending chapel or religion classes or experiencing prayers at meetings and school events, I thought to myself, “I’m fine with that.” But what started out as “fine” quickly became something I truly cherish about our school community. I feel so fortunate to work at an Episcopal school where goodness, social justice, inclusion, and prayer are part of the fabric of the community.