Joint St. Christopher’s-St. Catherine’s Opening All School Service

August 26, 2021
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-10

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith[a] our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Good morning. What a pleasure it is to gather in community and in communion with all of you this morning. 
I want to thank our hosts, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, for their hospitality and sharing of space with us today. This church has been a wonderful partner to the Saints schools for decades, and we are grateful for it. 
I also want to thank Becky McDaniel and Whitney Edwards and all of our wonderful chaplains and musicians for their leadership and service today and every day. How fortunate we are to be a community with strong and present pastoral leadership and such rich musicianship. Thank you.  

Thanks, also, to all of St. Catherine’s for hosting this gathering today, for providing refreshments and collegiality in meetings later this morning. Cindy, a special welcome and thanks to you—We are all eager to partner with you and to support you in your leadership of this incredible community. Welcome. And welcome back. 

One of the many lessons COVID has taught us—though we knew this already—is that we are stronger together than we are apart. Our two schools, when working in coordination and collaboration, are capable of strength and community impact that is unparalleled in the independent school world.

As we gather this morning, on the cusp of a new year, I want to ask you all a question, rhetorically, but I hope each of you will answer for yourself in your mind.

“How are you doing…? How are you doing right now?”

I ask you this question not in the cursory, pass-you-in-the-hallway, feigned-interest manner that many of us, myself included, are guilty of. Rather, I ask it with sincerity and seriousness of purpose.

Right now, as we prepare ourselves and our campuses to welcome nearly 2,000 young people back to school, our third such school year operating amidst a once-a-century pandemic that is starting to feel more entrenched than novel—How are you doing?

Now, if your honest and complete answer is, “Great, thank you. I’ve got the typical back-to-school butterflies and excitement over the promise of a new year. I can’t wait to see the kids next week,” then I’m going to need to spend some quality time with you this fall and perhaps all school year, hoping your pure optimism is contagious or at least imitable.
As for my answer, at this time, just before the start of every school year that I can remember, both as a student and as a teacher, that was pretty much the summation of my answer—Butterflies and excitement, deep appreciation for the re-start and clean slate educators and students are afforded every fall. 

This year, I will confess, I am feeling something different. The butterflies and excitement are still there, thankfully. Very soon there will be a buzz and vibrancy in our schools that is truly beautiful to behold. And I am ready and excited for it. 

However, there is also something else. As we mask up, attempt to socially distance, contact trace, and quarantine for the third consecutive school year—there is definitely something else. 

There is fatigue. There is literal fatigue from the taxing effect all of our COVID precautions and mitigation strategies have on all of us—the layering tactics that are so important to prevent COVID are also layers of burden and complexity to faculty and staff who have challenging jobs even absent a pandemic.

I visited divisional faculty meetings Tuesday afternoon, and considerable time at each was spent asking questions that we could not have even imagined needing to ask three years ago—Can the kids play soccer at recess without masks this fall? Can they check out books from their classroom libraries and take them home? Can we sing in groups, distanced and outdoors? I say “yes” to all three questions, for the record. 

Trying to manage these myriad novel and ever-changing issues, on top of the routine wonder and anxiety of a new school year is, frankly, overwhelming, for all of us.

Even so, I believe that the more potent fatigue we face now is weariness, weariness of not knowing, not knowing when these precautions will end, what new guidance may be coming from the CDC, FDA, VDH, or American Academy of Pediatrics, or any other state or federal agency we now find ourselves clinging to in ways that are unfamiliar yet comforting.

As we layer all of our unknowns on top of the typical anxieties of a new year, it’s enough to make even the most sure-footed among us tremble and wish, more than any other school year I can remember, we had just a little more time, maybe a few weeks or even a few days, left in August to steel ourselves for what is to come.

But come it will in just a few days, and here is the good news I want to leave you all with this morning—We are ready. We are ready. 

We are as ready or more ready than any school community that I know. There is no place, no community I would want to be in throughout the entire world right now than this Saints community. We have the talent, the conviction, the capacity, and the commitment to serve our boys and girls in a way that few, if any, communities possess. I would argue that this talent, this capacity, this commitment compels and commands us to do things that other communities cannot do right now because we can, in the name of children, who have but one childhood to cherish.
Our reading from Hebrews this morning tells us that, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

We all hope for a return to pre-pandemic freedom and normalcy. And I have faith, raised up by the love, care, and service offered so freely by all of you these past 18 months. Likewise, I have conviction in things not seen—namely an end to this pandemic—and I draw blessed conviction from you, your selflessness, your courage in the face of the unknown.

As I crafted my message for you all this morning, I so wanted to provide a gem of insight, an anecdote that captures this moment in history and foretells our path forward. I searched, and I read, I considered, and I searched some more.

Failing discovery of that perfect gem, I will leave you with these two thoughts—

First, when the story of COVID is written, and when we search for the better angels among us to help fill that record, I believe that teachers around the world and especially the faculty and staff of this Saints community, you who showed up and served our children in person and at some cost to yourselves, should be and will be regarded as heroes. Thank you.

Second, as for what we do in the uncertain days to come—We will walk together, step by step and day by day. We will place faith in hope, we will hold fast to the conviction of things unseen, and we will know that we have all that we need, together and with God’s love, to prevail. 

Finally, recently, my family and I watched the film, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, based on the book of the same name, which is required reading in our Middle School. The film, which is stirring, closes with a proverb from the southeastern African nation of Milawi, offering, “God is as the wind, which touches everything.”

Just as we recognize God’s influence at all times and in all places, so, too, must we recognize reasons for hope, faith, and conviction in the future, even or, especially, one that is unseen—the markers are all around us. We must simply stop and recognize them. Amen.