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The Heart of Things
Posted 05/14/2014 11:00PM

Why do we have to go to chapel every day and be made to suffer and endure the short pain?" asked students in the 1969 St. Andrew's School newspaper. "Why do we have to attend Chapel?" is one of the great unifying questions across time and campuses for our alumni and our current students.

The senior religion course provides a way to reflect on the question of compulsory chapel by introducing students to a language about the very nature of religion. Students learn that we are all religious if we understand that religion is our drive for a sense of meaning; it is the centering act of the personality; it is answering the Basic Questions that all of us contemplate. Our actions, including our ethics, spring from our answers to those Basic Questions. For each school on the Mountain such things as the Honor Code, the discipline system, and intentional care for the individual grew out of the Episcopal Church's understanding of its center.

But the resultant action in the religious process is not just moral behavior, it also involves developing a language to express that center. As the notorious (at least for SAS seniors!) theologian Paul Tillich argues, the language of faith is the language of symbols. Myths, rituals, music, and the like become cumulative traditions that help us to be in relationship to our center and to communicate that center to others. We want to hand on to those entrusted to our care that which we ultimately value. Required chapel is simply a way for a school to communicate its center, its answers to the mysteries of life.

The schools on the Mountain have always been clear about their center. As a division of the University of the South, the Academy came into existence because of the vision of Bishop Otey: "The prime end aimed at in our projected University is...to make the Bible the ultimate and sufficient rule and standard for the regulation of man's conduct...to cultivate the moral affection of the young... (Sewanee Sesquicentennial History: The Making of the University of the South, p. 7). Over a century later the last Order of the Holy Cross Prior to have oversight of St. Andrew's School, Father Lee Stevens, wrote: "...St. Mary's and St. Andrew's... are rooted in the prayer life of a monastic community; this is the 'heart' of things, and the students unite their prayer and worship with heart," (Letter to St. Mary's alumnae about the co-ordinate program, Passiontide, 1969). From the beginning of St. Andrew's-Sewanee it was made clear that the "heart" of the school was "to be a Christian community in which the Episcopal heritage is central."

Sewanee Military Academy cadets no longer march to All Saints' Chapel nor do the young men and women of Sewanee Academy walk to the Sunday service. SAS students don't attend chapel every day and High Mass would not be a term to characterize the weekly Eucharist. Being chosen to play the role of the Virgin Mary for the annual Christmas pageant is not a tradition that continued after St. Mary's closed. The St. Andrew's- Sewanee tradition of reading the story of Barrington Bunny met its demise. But chapel is still required three times a week (plus Compline on Sunday for boarders). Chapel is not required to inflict pain. Just like the requirement over 146 years of secondary education on the Mountain, chapel is required to share the school's heart and to proclaim its center to those entrusted to its care.

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