Last week I was privileged to attend ninth grade chapel at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California. There I heard a member of the Class of 2017, Ms. Ilana Stone, speak about the Jewish High Holy Days, sharing not only a brief account of the importance of these days of observance for Jewish people, but also providing a lens through which students could see the days’ relevance to their own lives.
Highlighting a central theme of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Ilana spoke of the need to forgive in every person’s life. She exhorted her classmates to let go of what she referred to as the “weight” of holding a grudge, of being unable to forgive another person. In turn she encouraged her classmates to ask two questions related to situations where an action or comment seemed too difficult to forgive. First, did the person truly mean what was done or said? Secondly, does it really matter?
I was so taken with the manner in which Ilana blended her account of the High Holy Days with something practical and helpful to the other members of her class. Then she went on to issue what she referred to as a “chapel challenge,” namely, to consider the value of forgiveness in each person’s life and to make it more operative both in and out of school.
Chapel serves a variety of purposes in Episcopal schools. Three of those principal purposes were clearly at work in Ilana’s chapel talk. First, an acquaintance with tradition: the school community learns about what festivals and symbols mean and represent. Secondly, the pastoral dimension: Ilana spoke the need for forgiveness in everyone’s life, reminding us that all human beings wrestle with forgiveness. Our own struggle is no different from others in this vein. Lastly, she issued what she referred to as a “chapel challenge:” Ilana exhorted students and faculty to rise above the “business as usual” approach to life and school, encouraging everyone to live better lives, not only for each person’s sake but for the betterment of our communities.
Without these three elements, chapel is diminished as a focal point in the life of a school. Together they show us what chapel can be and can do to a school. As another student in an Episcopal school put it, “At the beginning of the school year (our headmaster) said that we should be more than a school, and during chapel I know we have fully met that goal.” Chapel enriches, comforts, and challenges, all at once!