“In the beginning.” These words begin both readings read in the first Chapel services of the year: one from Genesis 1.1-5, and the other from John 1. 1-5. “In the beginning God” … “In the beginning was the Word.” They are profoundly formative and foundational texts that belong to a long and complex history of human culture. The start of the School year is certainly a beginning for half the student body of the School who are new this year, but for everybody, there is a sense of excitement and, no doubt, a mixture of uncertainty about the beginning of the year. It is all about stepping into the order and pattern of the life of the School.
Chapel is an integral part of the School’s life. It relates to all four pillars of the educational project at King’s-Edgehill and in a sense holds them together: academics, athletics, aesthetics (Arts) and leadership. All four are front and center in each Chapel service. We sit to listen and think about what is being read and said just like in class, hence academics. We stand to sing and praise - ‘Yay God,’ and all that jazz, as it were! We kneel to pray. Thus standing, sitting, kneeling (or squatting) are our morning callisthenics, thus athletics! The Arts pillar is there in terms of the music and the spatial qualities of the Chapel in its architecture and stained-glass windows which, of course, tell a story. Our Head Boy, Will Ahern, is also our organist on Mondays and Tuesdays while Mr. Steven Roe plays on Thursdays and Fridays. We may not have a mass choir but at present we have a masked choir - all the students in Chapel! Singing involves paying attention to written words and music and so contributes to the acquisition of two skills and certainly this is important for students who are learning English as a second language. Leadership is present by way of the Chapel Prefects under the direction of the Head Chapel Prefect, Stanislav Matkovskyi. Students exercise leadership in reading the Scripture lessons, in leading the Prayers, and in serving. All these pillars go together and reinforce each other.
The Chapel service is intentionally and explicitly Christian and reflects the School’s history and Anglican origins. But faith or religion like education cannot be forced. Students and faculty come from a great variety of religions and non religions, cultures, and linguistic communities. The point of Chapel is educational. It is about exploring the great questions that belong to human culture and which never really go away. Through the readings from the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures, we engage the philosophical questions that relate to other religions and philosophies as well such as Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the different forms of atheism. The point is to do this through the idea of the dignity of difference; in other words, respecting the different outlooks and thinking that belong to our humanity in all its remarkable variety.
The readings from Genesis and John are particularly significant and illustrate the point about engaging a range of cultures and religions. It is not hard to see how the reading from John’s Gospel is a commentary on the reading from Genesis. Both highlight the idea of an ordering principle. The beginning is the arche, the principle upon which the intelligibility of creation or nature depends without which there could be no science as we understand it. Interestingly enough, though, what Genesis and John present to us is not description but explanation; a way of thinking about the natural world of which we, as we shall discover, are a part, thus a way of thinking about ourselves and about ethical concerns as well. God speaks the world into being - hence the power of God as Word which draws explicitly upon the philosophic wisdom of the ancient Greeks. Logos means word or reason. It signals the activity of our intellects in grasping what is in principle intelligible, able to be known in some sense. The light that God speaks into being is said to be good, not just in the sense of fitting but, I would suggest, in terms of a moral order.
The created order is said to be good both in its parts and as a whole. This acts as a counter to some of our fears about the world as evil and chaotic. Here we begin with the idea of an order in which we find ourselves. In other words, we are being challenged from the outset about how we think about nature and about ourselves.
We do so together in an intellectual and spiritual community. Religion is an essential aspect of education. There is not a single academic discipline that is not shaped in terms of its history and development by religion in one way or another.
What happens in Chapel extends and connects to every other aspect of the life of the School - cadets, sports, the social, and the academic. It is a kind of miracle because it is about doing things together. This is the formative idea of education. It is about character: learning how to be together, saying things together, singing together, respecting one another, and learning about the dignity of our humanity as well as the evil of our humanity. Every Chapel is a new beginning, a renewing of ourselves in the questions and ideas that matter and that become part of who we are. And so, we begin!
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English and ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy