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Aug 07, 2017 | The Rev. Keith Pozzuto

Where Faith Meets Education

Chapel services are a foundation of Episcopal identity at Episcopal schools, whether they be preschool or high school. During the school year, students gather regularly to hear from the school chaplain about life and God, struggle and grace, to hear words of encouragement and words of warning.

Tuesday morning was my favorite part of the week at All Saints Episcopal School, Tyler, where I served as chaplain last year. I loved waking up and getting to school on Tuesday mornings because at 8:30 a.m. a little gaggle of 3k - 1st graders would stream into the Chapel. All of them wiggling and keeping quiet with fish faces (that is when you pucker your lips to make a fish face so you don’t say a word). We prayed and we sang. We said the children’s creed and we asked Jesus to be with us. We taught the Lord’s Prayer and I read out of the Jesus Story Book Bible. What a morning!  When the children would kneel and pray, all you saw were their little hands above the pew.

Episcopal schools are places where faith matters. Of course, the academics are great and the competitive sports are important, but you don’t have to be silent or resistant about your faith. We wrestled with tough questions in Chapel. What do we do when a student passes away unexpectedly? A parent? How are we to treat those who differ from us in lifestyle, faith or socio-economically? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? How do we live in grace and love?

Sometimes, it’s as simple as being available to listen. When one student was going through a particularly painful stretch of time with his family, he stayed after class to just talk. In speaking of his pain, there was relief in a listening partner who could help him ponder what God was doing in the midst of his pain and confusion. I listened, lunchtime passed and the bell rang, and still he talked. Problems may persist or pass; however, when there is someone who takes time to listen, to care and to pray, part of the burden is lifted.

At All Saints, students would sit in Chapel and reflect upon a question. Every week I would share the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. I reminded them that there is nothing they are struggling with that is not common to all people. I shared my own struggles, my own joys. All Saints Episcopal School is a place where we try to build 21st century leaders who can be both entrepreneurs and responsible citizens. That takes faith. It takes character. It takes a moral compass and a knowledge of who you are and how you ought to conduct yourself.

“Sometimes people just get stuck in the mud,” I told my congregation of students. “I did when I was growing up. I used to canoe across a river to see a friend of mine and one time the river was a little high and I was a little impatient. Instead of taking the long way, I decided to jump across a section of shoreline to get to my friend’s a bit quicker. Well, I failed ... Two feet stuck and clothes ruined. I worked harder and harder and harder and finally, ’plop’ came one foot out of the mud. But no shoe. Then the other foot with the shoe came.”    

The students and the faculty realize that, sometimes, you might feel stuck. Plans don’t go the way you want, but, as I reminded them, “Thanks be to God, He makes the crooked path straight.” 

In the end, I learned from my time as chaplain that it is a great gift to be able to influence and work with students from the youngest to the oldest. Episcopal schools are not only great places to be educated, they are great places to explore your faith. 

Pozzuto is college missioner in Waco.