Below are the prepared notes from the sermon delivered by CCES Senior Chaplain, The Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley on February 2, 2020, Episcopal School Sunday at Christ Church Episcopal.
Acolytes from each division served during the mass, and the Lower School choir and CCES Orchestra performed. We are so blessed to serve together at this school and show our gratitude and appreciation to our founding parish.
Dear God, take my lips, and speak through them;
take our minds, and think through them;
take our hearts, and do with them what you will.
The primers (ages 5 & 6) were sitting “criss cross apple sauce” on the brightly-colored rug, in the center of their classroom, gathered there with Mrs. Adams-Riley (my wife, Gena) for a session on meditation and mindfulness. Only,.. Gena noticed that little Charlotte was tenderly holding her ear; and it was evident that Charlotte was in some genuine discomfort. And so, diverting from her lesson plan, Gena said, “Friends, we have a classmate whose ear is hurting. She has an ear ache.” Gena was thinking that they could, you know, be quiet, not make a lot of noise. And she asked the class, “What can we do to be kind?” Several hands shot up! “Give her a hug!,” one girl suggested. And a little boy said, “Give her a kiss?!” And then Gena asked, “Charlotte, is there something in particular that we could do that would be of help to you?” And Charlotte answered, “A cuddle...” “…A cuddle would help me.” “And is there someone here you’d like to cuddle with?,” Gena asked. “Yes. Anna.” “Anna,” Gena asked, “are you feeling up for a cuddle with Charlotte whose ear is hurting?” “Yes,” Anna said. And Charlotte gets up to relocate herself next to Anna. And Anna takes off her sweater, folds it neatly into the form of a pillow, and puts it in her lap. And Charlotte comes over and puts her head in Anna’s lap. And the class of primers was soon moving on into the lesson planned for the day.
And, to borrow a line from today’s gospel passage:
“And the children grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon them.”
And, indeed, that is what we’re about at Christ Church Episcopal School, the school this parish founded sixty years ago, and which this parish still warmly supports and encourages.
CCES is, of course, about academic excellence and college preparation – calculus, physics, the periodic table of elements, Spanish, and English composition – no doubt about it. And, we are also, at the same time, about something still larger and deeper and more profound than any of those particular skills, as valuable as they most certainly are.
We are indeed about something holy.
The prophet Malachi speaks of gold and silver, of the purifying and refining of silver and gold, of offerings made to God, offerings that please the Lord as in the days of old, as in former years.
And there is indeed something timeless that we are engaged in on that 72 acres that is our campus: as, each day, we do all we can to help each boy and each girl, each young man and young woman, beloved of God, become everything God created them to be.
This week in our chapel services, for our homily, senior Porter Brown shared with all three divisions – Lower School, Middle School, & Upper School – the story of quite a scary experience he had as a nine year old: when he was helping his older brother start a lawn mower, and the machine suddenly lurched forward, the blade spinning, and coming down on his right foot. And Porter talked about his confusion and fear, in the emergency room, and in the days and weeks and months that followed. And what it was like to be told that he had lost a part of the inside (the instep) of his foot, as well as his big toe. And to be told that he’d never run again. And how he can now look back on it all and see how, by God’s grace, he was not defined by that terribly tough and disorienting experience; and how many blessings followed:
That he would eventually play varsity lacrosse and swim varsity as well, but, still more: that his faith in God was deepened through the whole experience and that, Porter said, was the greatest success, the greatest blessing, the great gift of all. A faith Porter now shares through a Bible Study for sixth graders that he and his fellow senior Chapman Mann lead together before school each week.
Again, with Jesus as our model:
“The children grow and become strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God is upon them.”
On this Episcopal Education Sunday:
I give thanks that CCES is a school where a Porter Brown could and would get up and tell that story in front of his peers.
I give thanks that CCES is a school where Charlotte, Anna, and their classmates would together, with support and encouragement, work out so beautifully what kindness would look like in their class on that day.
I give thanks that DJ Harvey will give a talk at the Middle School assembly tomorrow. DJ, an eighth grader, is on our varsity basketball team, and sometimes starts. And DJ sometimes leads devotions for the team. Tomorrow he’ll be talking in front of his Middle School peers about what it means to believe in yourself and how to overcome self-doubt. And this from a young man who carries himself with a genuine humility – something I can testify to from my own experience.
I give thanks that we are a school community who believes, — in the words of our strategic plan, — that, quote, “we must put the care of our souls above all other priorities.”
Believing that everything else flows from there, from that foundation:
It is hard work.
As our school motto says, “Kalepa ta kala.”
The beautiful is difficult.
It is hard work.
And indeed it is holy work.
And it is worth every minute.
It is the refining of silver.
It is the purifying of gold.
It is the flourishing of the beloved children of God.
“And the children grow and become strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God is upon them.”
Not merely for their sake, of course, but for the sake of the world.
Christ Church Parish, you have done a good thing.
You have changed the world.