Chapel for Parents of New Students
Matthew 18: 1-7
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.
In this journey we begin together today–your son and you, his parent, and all the faculty and staff of this School–St. Albans over the course of time will pass along to you a veritable flood of information about him. There will be numbers: grades and stanine rankings and ERB and SAT scores. There will be letters: more grades and athletic honors. There will be symbols–a star for participating in fine arts, a plaque for winning an award, a certificate for being a member of a society–and books for academic awards or for confirmation class or as a token of appreciation. And thousands and thousands of words you’ll receive, from written comments with the grades and letters about your son’s performance, to conversations over the phone and at Parent Teas and class meetings and at the athletic field or the grocery store. You will not want for our best assessment of how he’s doing, year after year.
But the first information I want to give you is our profound understanding that you have brought to St Albans this morning what is absolutely and unequivocally precious to you (though if your family is anything like mine, it’s high time our children finish the summer and get back into school). We find meaning only a few ways in life, and not all of our ways are common to each other’s. But one that is, is the relationship we have with our family–with our own parents, with our siblings, with a spouse, and–if God so chooses to give us children–with them. Please remember that the significant majority of the faculty in this School are parents themselves and have sat in this place, as you are now, or in similar places, and began this journey through School with their own children. And for the people here who have yet to have children, or do not, for whatever reason, they are nevertheless here with a burning love for young people. Your child is precious, we know that, and though we will discipline him and insist that he learn self-discipline and serve this community, we will always remember how precious he is to you.
And we look with hope toward his becoming precious to us, as quickly as by tomorrow. There are many reasons people choose to send their sons to St. Albans. I imagine–and I hope–that one of them is a reputation for excellence. We have a rigorous college preparatory program. We value athletics because it teaches sportsmanship, discipline, teamwork, and competition, and we compete on the highest level for a school our size. Our fine arts program includes magnificent student art shows every year, a world-famous choir at the Cathedral, and music and theater programs that round out every boy’s experience and provide the exceptionally talented boy with professional training. We are also known for our emphasis on character. We teach honorable behavior by Thou Shall Nots–lie, cheat, or steal–but also by daily positive attention to integrity, compassion, and service. But while we very much want your son to have graduated from our School having been challenged by our academic, athletic, and fine arts programs, and having been taught how essential to our lives ethical behavior is, we want most of all for him something else.
This something else has to do with–let me repeat–how precious he is to you, and how precious we know he will become to us. The comment I most value from parents is, My son just loves being here. However he will grumble about the work load or our high expeditions, I want you to have a hard time keeping him away. This is a passionate, committed, fun, and exciting place, and in some mysterious way it breeds a love for itself, and I want for the rest of his life your son to look back on this experience and know that while he was challenged, he was loved, and that while it might be hard, this was where he wanted to be and where he would want to send his own son.
I believe that a significant part of why this love for St. Albans develops comes out of this place where we now sit. We honor all religious faiths in this School, and we encourage boys who see themselves as agnostic or atheist to continue to debate and search. But we bring the boys in here and ask them, year after year, to ponder essential questions–What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose in life?–and we hope that this tone of worship and meaning radiates throughout the entire School and grounds it.
Finally, let me remind you that when Jesus called the child toward him in this morning’s Gospel reading, he was responding to the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” Having studied the Gospels, we know well enough that the subtext of the disciples’ question was “Who is the greatest on Earth, and among us?” I chose this text for two reasons. First, Jesus makes clear that no matter how prestigious a person, or an institution for that matter, we are to learn true humility. At St. Albans we believe that humility comes through service to others. Second, Jesus directly links himself to a child—“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Being a parent to a child is a sacred trust. Being a teacher is also. How passing marvelous will be these upcoming years together. Amen.
This homily was given to parents of new students on September 5, 2000, in the Little Sanctuary.