In accordance with the School’s Mission, Guiding Principles, and Articles of Incorporation, our chapels operate within the Judeo-Christian tradition and adopt an inclusive Christian orientation and liturgy, sensitive in developmentally appropriate ways to students from other faith traditions while seeking to remain faithful to the Judeo-Christian and Episcopalian roots from which the School sprang.
The oldest tradition at St. John’s School, the chapel program ministers to students’ individual and collective well-being by setting aside a special time and place for communal contemplation of religious faiths, virtues, spirituality, and community.
While the School is aware that primary responsibility for children’s spiritual development rests with their families and allied religious organizations, we also believe that an institutional indifference to spiritual concerns would undermine the School’s efforts to develop in our students “a perspective larger than self-interest” and an ethos of “service to others.” Aware that “piecemeal values do not long survive outside a comprehensive value system” (SJS Guiding Principles), the School focuses attention on the spiritual needs of our students because we believe that a solid spiritual foundations is essential if we want to prepare our students “for a lifetime of personal fulfillment and contribution to society” (SJS Mission).
Our chapel programs are not focused exclusively on religious concerns, and often explore ethical or spiritual matters unaligned with a specific faith tradition. For instance, an Upper School chapel might focus on the spiritual dimension of artistic creation. Many of our chapel programs, however, do focus on religious concerns. Regularly, they incorporate Christian hymns, prayers, readings, symbols, liturgy, and ritual. On occasion, they incorporate materials from Jewish traditions. Whether learning about Easter or Yom Kippur, Buddha or Krishna, our students are learning how to engage meaningfully with belief systems other than their own and be respectful of and knowledgeable about those who hold different beliefs. While students are required to attend chapel, they are not required to patriciate in songs, prayers, or other elements of the liturgy. All we require is that students remain respectful throughout chapel, and what we hope is that our students will seek greater understanding of beliefs and faiths and perspectives presented.
The School’s chapel program is grounded in a single faith tradition in part because our chapel program cannot validate all faiths and should not celebrate an unavoidably low common denominator among all belief systems. In this, as in other areas of school life, our aim is to achieve a sensible balance. On the one hand, our chapel does not try to be all things to all people. Yet, on the other hand, the School’s chapel program cannot, should not, an does not try to duplicate the worship experiences that many of us have on Saturdays or Sundays, for two reasons: attendance at school chapels is mandatory, not voluntary, and the community that gathers in our chapel is not a community of believers, but a community of students whose religious diversity is sought and valued.
None of our chapels are trying to proselytize. Regularly, our students are offered opportunities for spiritual education and development in which a specific set of beliefs is presented in a forthright, yet sensitive way. Beliefs and symbols are offered for what they are – powerful expressions of a specific faith tradition that many find sustaining – and, in presenting them in a forthright way, our chapels reflect an appropriate reverence for each faith tradition.
Most often, thanks to the incredible generosity of our good neighbors at the Church at St. John the Divine, our chapel programs are held in the main sanctuary of the church. However, on occasion, we hold our chapel in Lowe Theater because it better supports the audio-visual or space needs of certain presentations or because St. John the Divine does not allow in their sanctuary professions of faith outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition.