Grammar School Chapel | Good Morning Friends...
At the conclusion of the SCL Pre-Conference this summer, I asked attendees to offer me warm and cool feedback but also pose questions or propose topics that they would like to see me address on this blog. Several attendees asked about the grammar school chapel experience at Covenant Classical School. This fall will mark the end of a season of serving the school as the Interim Grammar School Head and the beginning of a renewed focus on my primary position as Dean of Academics. During my time in the interim position, I was blessed with the opportunity to lead chapel each morning and enjoy worshipping together with all of our kindergarten through sixth grade students, their teachers and occasional parent visitors. It was hands-down my favorite part of serving in this position and I will miss it greatly moving forward.
In this post I will walk you through a typical morning chapel - describing the common elements of the chapel as well as offering reasoning and reflections upon the role each element plays. Chapels occurred every Monday through Thursday morning from approximately 8:20 AM to 8:40 AM and were always composed of the following elements:
Chapels all occur in our auditorium in our recently built upper school building. After arriving to school no later than 8:15 AM, grammar school students settle into their rooms (hanging up backpacks, setting their lunch boxes on a shelf, turning in papers, sharpening pencils, etc.) and then line up to walk their way across campus to the upper school building. Upon entering the building students walk silently down the hall to the auditorium where I greet them at the doorway with a smile and a "good morning."
It is our hope that over time the practice of entering silently will habituate students into approaching worship with a posture of respect, reverence, and humility and a readiness for focused participation. For some students, this element alone stands in stark contrast against the casual entrance their families might make into a Sunday morning service with a loose start time and baristas in the lobby.
As the students are seated, the screen shows the Proverb of the Day. The date of the month determines the chapter from which the Proverb is selected. For example, on September 16th the screen might display Proverbs 16:32: Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. The proverb selected for each date does not change so that students see the same proverb several different times throughout the same school year. Click here to read the Proverb of the Day for the 2018-2019 school year.
In past years, the morning greeting may have been "Good morning students" or "Good mornings teachers and students" after which the students stood and responded, "Good morning Mister Elizalde." Now the students are greeted with "Good morning friends." Why? Because I am not simply in some kind of transactional relationship with students but rather I am living in a community of faith and learning alongside them. Yes, I am their teacher, but first I am their brother in Christ and their friend.
In past years, the confession of faith was prompted by "Please join me in our confession of faith." Now students are prompted by the question, "Brothers and sisters in Christ, what do you believe?" Having called the students friends, I now call them my brothers and sisters. In an age when "identity" is considered by many to be fluid and a matter of personal preference, I look for as many opportunities as possible to remind students of their real identity in the solid rock of Jesus Christ. Students are my friends and brothers and sisters. They are also fearfully and wonderfully made image bearers, children of the King, forgiven and washed clean and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, saints and fellow heirs of the kingdom.
To my question "...what do you believe?", we all confess aloud together the Apostle's Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit;
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate;
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
The third day He rose from the dead;
[He descended into hell / to the dead;]
He ascended into heaven
And sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit;
The holy catholic church;
The communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.
It is worth noting that our current practice is to not include the line "He descended into hell" or "He descended to the dead." This line was excluded for some reason I am unaware of well before I worked for the school. Some day I would like to see the line included so that we confess together the entirety of the Apostle's Creed.
One other reason why the prompt was changed from "Please join in me in confessing..." to "...what do you believe?" was to emphasize the confession as an act of stating one's personal belief. Now students are faced daily with the question of what they individually believe. For this reason, I make no objection to a student deciding that he cannot in good conscience recite the creed with his classmates because he does not actually believe what he is confessing. While we are a "covenant" school (as opposed to being an "evangelical" school) this in no way guarantees that all of our students are Christians. For him who conscientiously abstains, my prayer is that regularly hearing the corporate confession of his classmates, will keep the doctrines of the faith stirring at the forefront of his mind and that God willing, they will one day be spoken with conviction and thanksgiving from his very mouth.
After confessing the creed together, students sit down and open their Bibles to the reading for the day. Selections are typically approximately one chapter in length or less and are arranged according to a framework known as CASKETEMPTY. This framework is the work of authors Carol Kaminski, Ph. D. and David Palmer, Ph. D., both professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I encourage you to learn more about the framework at their website: www.casketempty.com. Our readings are mapped across the school year in the order of the acronym as follows:
September: Creation, Abraham
October: Sinai, Kings
November: Exile, Temple
March: Teachings (Missionary, Prison)
April: Teachings (Pastoral, General)
May: Yet to Come
Specific chapter and verse selections for the entire school year are determined before the year begins and the selections are shared with parents at the annual beginning-of-year parent orientation. Sharing the readings comes with the invitation and encouragement to parents to consider discussing the readings at home with their children in the evenings. Click here to view the reading schedule for 2018-2019 school year.
Without launching into a sermonette or excessively sentimentalized "deep thoughts by..." moment, the readings were often accompanied by some brief commentary in order to draw students' attention to a particular idea and more actively listen. For example, in our reading of the parable of the prodigal son, students were asked to consider the reality that we too live in the perpetual embrace of a loving Father who ran to us even when we were a long way off. In order to further focus students' attention, the screen displayed a corresponding image. In the case of the prodigal son parable, the image displayed was Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Following the reading of scripture, students are invited to stand and join me in singing our song of the week. Selections span a wide range of traditional hymns and popular contemporary worship songs. Most often they are accompanied by me singing and playing piano as well as a colleagues singing and playing guitar. An attempt is made to correlate the song selection to the scripture reading, both situated within the CASKETEMPTY framework. For example, while considering Creation in August, we read Psalm 19 and then sang Behold Our God.
There have been moments over the years where a song did not just correlate to a scripture reading but also correlated to the very life of the school community. This was not always obvious to everyone in the chapel service but sometimes for a few students or teachers, a particular song struck a deep chord with their very present experiences. The mass of voices singing It is Well once included the voice of a teacher publicly declaring through the words of the song that despite the relational storm she had just weathered in her life, it was indeed still well with her soul.
Two years ago, the song We Will Feast in the House of Zion became the anthem for the school year and the favorite song of our kindergarten students. Now our kindergarten graduation concludes with students, teachers, and parents singing this song together. My heart is stirred now as I write this blog piece by the image of our youngest students passionately singing aloud, "We will feast in the house of Zion. We will sing with our hearts restored. He has done great things, we will say together. We will feast and weep no more."
After singing, students remain standing as I close chapel in prayer. My prayer often includes praise for some truth conveyed in the scripture reading and/or some further reflection on lyrics from the song. After reading Joshua 4, I once prayed, "Dear God as the Israelites built a memorial of stones so that they might be reminded of Your goodness and faithfulness to them let us remember the many ways, even the miraculous ways, in which you have already shown yourself to be good and faithful to us."
Prayer is followed by a simple, "You are dismissed." Students are prompted by their teachers to stand and silently exit the auditorium together. As they await their teacher's direction, the screen again shows the image corresponding to the scripture reading and/or a particular verse from the reading. This past October a chapel that included a reading of Exodus 12 and a prayer thanking God for salvation through the shed blood of the Lamb of God over the doorsteps of our hearts, concluded with the screen showing this painting by Arthur Hacker (1897) titled And There Was a Great Cry in Egypt.