Welcome to the 2019-2020 school year at St. Christopher’s School. What a glorious morning it is for us to gather in this space to officially commence a new school year. Welcome to all of our students, faculty, and staff, and to the many parents here to celebrate and worship alongside us. It has been an excellent opening week here at St. Christopher’s, setting the stage for an outstanding year to come.
I want to offer a special welcome to our new students, faculty, staff, and family members—If this is your first year at St. Christopher’s, will you please raise your hand, so we may identify you and warmly welcome you to our community?
I also want to offer a special welcome and thanks to the members of the Class of 2020. Thank you, gentlemen, for your leadership of the student body, and thank you, also, for spending time with our Kindergarten boys, members of the Class of 2032, and for escorting them in to our service this morning. I hope this is but the first of several opportunities for our seniors and Kindergarten boys to connect and form relationships throughout the school year.
We are fortunate to be blessed with an outstanding senior class, a group of young men from a variety of backgrounds who bring diverse talents and interests to our community. I know this will be an extraordinary year at St. Christopher’s, and an essential ingredient to that success will be your leadership and your example, gentlemen.
Let us turn our attention to this day, this stunning day shared with magnificence from the Grace of God. Let us offer thanks for this God-given beauty but also for the hands and hearts of the women and men who helped make this moment possible.
Let us thank Mrs. Brown in our Chaplain’s Office and Mrs. O’Connor in our Development Office; our outstanding maintenance team led by Mr. Gentry; our chaplains Revered Edwards, Reverend Steed, and Reverend Torrence; our musicians Mr. Covington and Mr. Brata; our sound technician Mr. Jump; and especially our student leaders Chas, Ned, and LT. Will you please join me in thanking all of these individuals for their service today?
In Ned’s scripture reading for us this morning, from the Old Testament’s Book of Isaiah, the Prophet tells us that “With joy” we will “draw water from the wells of salvation.”
Further, we are encouraged to “Sing praises to the Lord” and to “Shout aloud and sing for joy.”
We are encouraged to do these things—to sing, to praise, to shout—in part over our shared humanity and the worldly pleasures that such humanity provides. But more deeply, we are meant to find this joy, this peace, through the gift of God, through his presence, his salvation.
Now, hold on to that thought for just a moment.
St. Christopher’s possesses a distinct philosophy of education, our approach to teaching and reaching each one of you, our students. You can read about it on our website, where you will also find our statement of Core Beliefs. There are seven of them, and I am most drawn to the first one and even more drawn to the last.
Our first Core Belief is that “We love and understand boys.” I will take that statement one step further to say that at St. Christopher’s we know, love, and celebrate boys, all types of boys.
Our final Core Belief, the one I am drawn to time and again, states that “We care most about developing young men who possess character and integrity.” Let me repeat that—“We care most about developing young men who possess character and integrity.”
I love that St. Christopher’s places a stake in the ground and proclaims, unequivocally, that character and integrity are our most treasured attributes—we treasure them even above academic achievement, above how fast you can throw a baseball or how beautifully you can play the cello, above how eloquently you can recite a sonnet or how adeptly you can craft computer code. Let me be clear in saying we care about those just-mentioned attributes, too—they are significant in forming what we call the “whole boy” upon graduation. But, to be blunt, we don’t care about them as much as we care about your honesty, your compassion, your decency. This is an important distinction in the world today.
As we embark upon a new school year together, let me offer a new challenge to all of us—students, faculty, and families. Just as we care deeply about developing young men who possess character and integrity, let us display, in real and meaningful ways, our care for developing young men who possess joy, as scripture encourages us to do, and beyond that, to develop young men who are well, in the broadest sense of the term.
For, if we develop young men who are decent, honest and kind, and young men who can solve complex mathematical formulas, can speak multiple languages, and can craft coherent essays, but they lack in joy, health, and wellness, then what have we created?
As we think about the role of joy in the St. Christopher’s community, I might encourage us to differentiate joy from happiness—Happiness being a moment or a series of moments, often caused by outside forces or circumstances, often fleeting, temporary.
It may derive from earning a good grade on an exam, playing first chair in the orchestra, or making an important play in a game. Joy, on the other hand, is a form of being, nearly impervious to the inevitable ups and downs of school and home life—it can be transcendent. Joy, so often, radiates from within one’s core—from God’s love and care, from a safe and nurturing home environment, from an intimate educational community, based on relationships, in which boys are known, loved, and celebrated for exactly who they are.
Adela Rogers St. Johns, a pioneering 20th Century writer and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said it well by offering that “happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.”
I wish each of you many moments of happiness this school year. Beyond that, I pray that the qualities of hope, faith, and love bring you joy this day and in the days to come. Amen.