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 of St. John the Divine, our chapel programs are held in the main sanctuary of the church. However, on occasion, we hold chapel in our Lowe Theater because it better supports the audio-visual or space needs of certain presentations.
Other Virtues of Chapel
Our chapels serve other important educational purposes as well. As the primary occasion when all students within a division gather, our chapels help us to build community and to attend to our community’s needs. In addition, our chapels provide students with valuable opportunities to showcase musical talents, exercise leadership, and develop speaking skills.
Beyond Chapel: Religion at St. John’s School
Chapel is not the only or even the primary way the School asks students to explore the religious dimension of human experience. Knowing how important it is to develop students’ understanding of various faith traditions at an appropriate time in their education and maturation, the School incorporates significant education about various faith traditions in to our curriculum at developmentally appropriate times and ways. Teachers in the history department realize that one cannot examine the interconnection among civilizations and cultures without studying the religions and belief systems which buttress them. This is done in both the Middle and Upper School history courses. In the Upper School, juniors and seniors have the opportunity to enroll in elective courses focusing broadly on religion in America today, historical religious foundations, ethics, justice, and equity.
We prefer to make the academic classroom the primary site for education about religious traditions for several reasons: First, classroom instruction permits dialogue, monitored by teachers who can ensure that such dialogue remains respectful, and we consider dialogue essential to meaningful education about religious traditions. Second, unlike chapel programs, classroom instruction can be sustained and systematic. Finally, on a symbolic level, by incorporating instruction about various religious traditions into our core academic curriculum, we signal to students its importance.
Outside our chapels and our classrooms, the School supports a healthy religious pluralism. In our music program, students routinely perform sacred music from varied religious traditions. Our community service efforts often involve students in projects sponsored by faith-based organizations. We permit groups of students, with the appropriate guidance from sponsoring teachers, to become involved non-proselytizing faith-based activities open to the entire St. John’s community.
We hope that our shared understanding of religion’s place within the School will help us to view our religious diversity as a strength and our common spiritual aspirations as a foundation for understanding and respect.