Parents Weekend, Morning Prayer 22 October 2000

Address of the Rector, Bishop Craig B. Anderson

As I considered my address this morning, a number of themes presented themselves as possibilities for reflection. First, in anticipation of thanksgiving, thanksgiving for this place called Millville; thanksgiving for the faculty that you had an opportunity to see in action yesterday in mini-classes; thanksgiving for the staff that has supported this Parents Weekend. Perhaps most of all, thanksgiving for the students who, yesterday on the playing fields and last night in Memorial Hall, gave you some inkling of the gifts they bring to and are developing at the School. Thanksgiving for this time together, the beauty of this weekend, and for all of you parents who have extended the privilege and responsibility of sharing with us, as an extended family, the formation and education of your sons and daughters at St. Paul’s School.

A second possibility that I entertained was a theme that is found in this morning’s Gospel lesson from St. Mark, something we have been talking about at the School a good bit, “servant leadership.” Chapter 10 of Mark recounts an incident where a couple of disciples come to Jesus arguing as to who is the greatest and which one will sit at the right hand of Jesus when he goes to his eternal home. Jesus says to them, “You just don’t get it. If you would be greatest of all, you must be least of all. If you would be master of all, you must become servant to all.” He rebukes them. He teaches them. He brings them along slowly in the course of his ministry to help them understand the meaning of service to others as a form of leadership. This is something that we have been talking about, considering, and actually have adopted as a requirement for graduation.

A third and rather obvious theme, given the passage from Ephesians this morning, is “speaking the truth in love.” In the good comments from our panelists yesterday as we gathered in Memorial Hall, we heard students and faculty alike reflecting on their understanding of “speaking the truth” — truth not as something abstract and vague, but truth as something that is essential for our life at the School. And how we need to speak that truth out of a sense of care and concern for others that we call love and not allow that to be simply a sentimental gesture … another good and laudable theme.

I must confess to you a fourth theme that crossed my mind yesterday — the efficaciousness of prayer. As I offered prayers for a certain baseball team in New York City, and after I returned from performances last night at Memorial Hall and eagerly turned on the television. I realized that my prayers had not been answered. It was the bottom of the eighth inning, the score was 3-2, the Mets were ahead, and so I prayed all the more fervently. Liz was beginning to have concerns about me. But lo and behold what happened in the ninth inning — the bottom of the ninth — they tied it up. I continued my prayer vigil until the twelfth inning when finally a heroic single home run brought about the desired result. The Yankees 4, the Mets 3. Hallelujah!

Seriously, the four themes that I have outlined are really all contained in what I offer to you this morning by way of an address, but I hasten to add this — this address is intended primarily for the parents — I invite the students to listen in because they have heard a variation of this theme before. In so noting — parents, you need to know this: a homework assignment will come to you by mail in a week or two, so pay attention!

Last week our students considered elements for the formulation of a St. Paul’s School Covenant — an opportunity for us to be explicit about those ideals to which we aspire and those realities that inform our life together. They spent a Residential Life session talking about the ideals and core values of the St. Paul’s School family. They tried to identify what things had not been named in the values and ideals that we have inherited as a School in terms of our tradition, symbolized on this banner the symbols of generosity in the pelican, service in swords, and scholarship in the book. And, the values that we have inherited symbolized in the other banner, and St. Paul’s injunction we find quoted today in Ephesians, “to speak the truth in love.” They also considered the values and ideals that have come out of our common experience as a community over the past several years — the need to respect God, to respect one another, to respect the environment, and finally the need to have a deep sense of self-respect. Similarly, when we were in the midst of considering changes last year around schedules and term length to address stress, we discussed the theme of freedom and responsibility.

We recognized, however, that the list is partial, and students this past week offered other thoughts expressing the ideals and essential values that should be a part of a St. Paul’s School Covenant. We are in the process of compiling the responses which will be compared to the responses that the faculty, staff, and Trustees made in similar exercises.

The homework assignment is an invitation for you to be a part of this important process. What prompted you to send your son or daughter to St. Paul’s School? I know … it is a great academic institution, it is a wonderful school with a long tradition and “goodly heritage,” but what was it in conversation with your son or daughter that made the difference? Why did you want to send your child here as opposed to one of the other fine boarding schools, one of our sister schools? I ask you to think about these questions before I send you your homework assignment. I hope that you will consider the characteristics of St. Paul’s School that informed your decision and that of your son or daughter in deciding to be a part of this family.

As background information for this homework assignment, let me say a word about why we are calling this a “Covenant.” In so doing, I want to contrast two ways of living, two ways of being together. The two ways are, on the one hand, covenant existence, which frame the four possibilities that I mentioned as themes that we could have considered today: thanksgiving, servant leadership, truth, and prayer — all of which is contained within a way of life; a way of being together called covenant. We heard about a covenant in the passage that you may recall from our Chapel service yesterday; from Genesis, the book of beginnings, where God establishes a covenant with Noah after the flood; or in this morning’s lesson from Deuteronomy, “I am one, you shall love me with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and you will keep the words that I am commanding you today. Recite them to your children; talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.”

Covenants—not an everyday household word. Theologians and lawyers alone offer fourteen different ways of defining covenant. I want to talk about covenant in a more basic way as living one’s life opposed to, or perhaps as a complement to, another way of living, contractually — living life as a series of contracts. What do I mean by living contractually? How many of you are engaged in some sort of contractual obligation right now? Raise your hand. I have a contract with the School. Faculty members have a contract. Students have a contract found in the Student Handbook outlining what is expected of them.

We all know about contracts. They are part and parcel of what it is to live in our time and in our culture, a culture of litigation. When something goes wrong, we find a lawyer. I am not in any way trying to denigrate the importance of contracts, because we all need them to protect ourselves. We need contracts to make sure that individual needs are met, and that is the basis for contracts. Perhaps best known is the work of philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and others who talk about the need for clear rules, obligations, and compacts or contracts to protect the individual within society. Contracts are necessary. We have such contracts at the School. We subscribe to being good citizens and obeying the law. Contracts are essential for community.

But there is something higher that distinguishes St. Paul’s School — a covenant. As something higher, our covenant is for the individual within community—care for the self framed in concern for others. That is what covenants are all about. A covenant is not just an agreement between two parties for mutual self-fulfillment; a covenant is an agreement that invites a third party to be a part of the relationship; invites a higher party, if you will, to adjudicate according to certain principles; invites God to form and inform a relationship. That relationship can be marriage, and, unfortunately in our culture and in our society, far too often marriage is reduced to a contract for the fulfillment of self rather than understanding it as something that results in a new relationship or a new creation wherein two become one flesh and something new is formed, a covenant that we call Holy Matrimony.

Students from time to time, it will not surprise, shock, or amaze you, get into trouble here. They do things they shouldn’t do. That is why we have contracts, rules, expectations. What happens when a student gets into trouble? If we treat it contractually, when a student breaks the rules, he or she is separated from the School. Period. In our society if you fail to make a payment, if you fail to live up to your end of the contractual agreement, what happens? The contract is null and void. It is over, done, finished. In covenants, grounded to some extent in contract, there is an opportunity for something else. You heard it yesterday in the panel. I hope you heard it in the classroom. I hope that you have heard it from your sons and daughters. There is the opportunity for forgiveness, for grace, a second chance. We are not a one-strike school. By virtue of our covenant, we invite individuals to learn from their mistakes. We also aspire to certain ideals and values that go beyond contractual obligation. Second chances, opportunities for confession and forgiveness grounded in truth, are not a lesser way of relationship, but require more from members of a covenant community striving for and to a higher ideal.

What do covenant relationships look like with God? Far too often we reduce our relationship with God from a covenant to a contract and try to work it out through a series of bargains. “Oh God, if you will just get my son or daughter into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, I will be so grateful.” “Oh God, if you will just get me through this examination tomorrow morning, I promise to reform my life and study more.” “Oh God, if you will just heal me of this disease, I promise to live a better, healthier life in the future.” Now it is important to pray. It is important to pray for good health. It is important to pray for readiness for an examination. But when we don’t prepare, when we are not ready, when we don’t take care of ourselves, and then try to manipulate God, that is not covenant. That is a misplaced understanding of contract, isn’t it? God doesn’t do contracts, only covenants.

We aspire to be a community that stands for some things and against other things. Much of what will be contained in our code of conduct and profession of values we will call a St. Paul’s School Covenant. We need your help in shaping and making this covenant. I am asking each member of the St. Paul’s School family to help in the development of it; for alumni to remember the most important things that formed and shaped their lives at the School. For students to examine their experience and ask what sort of covenant is characteristic of our life together versus what we strive to be as a covenant community (some of the things that we explored yesterday in the panel). For faculty to look at the values that they model and espouse in the classroom in addition to the disciplines that they are called to teach. For the Trustees — what is it that they hold in trust? Not just physical buildings or a large endowment, but the values that inspired the founding of this School almost 150 years ago and continue into the present — our goodly heritage. All of us need to be clear about our Covenant so that we can live by it, so that students can take it with them, recite it to their children. It should be a sign on their forehead or, as Jeremiah the Prophet says, “Something that is written in the heart” resulting in a wisdom that comes from “learning those things on earth, the knowledge of which will continue in Heaven,” as we say in our School Motto. The essence of who we are and what we hope to become … that is covenant. It does not negate contract. It fulfills contract by going beyond it. Covenant is what brings us to this Chapel every morning where we recognize our common humanity and dependence on one another and God; to be a community that works, prays, and plays together in ways that promote values that can be learned and taken, by our gifted students who will become servant leaders to other communities. That is the obligation of covenant. It requires more than contract, it requires a deeper sense of loyalty because we have been given so much. We are blessed here, and we are called to be a blessing to others.

And so my friends, members of this extended family, you will be receiving your homework assignment shortly. Amen.

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