Artwork by Elena Campos
Chapel in Cheney Parish Hall has led to a shift from kneeling or remaining seated to simply standing for the prayers. But is this single position meeting the needs of diversity at St. Mary’s?
If you listen very closely in the halls of St. Mary’s, you will almost definitely hear some kind of drilling, hammering or loud thunk of construction. Last year’s abundance of construction metaphors was forged into our minds with senior speeches and various speakers’ lectures. Yet all of these chapel talks took place in the chapel. But that has all changed; since we’ve entered Cheney Parish Hall’s “cozy” environment, we face yet another change in routine after the new route and new seating arrangements: standing for prayer.
Many of those who were here last year might remember that after a chapel talk concluded, Reverend Bush would lightly instruct the pew-inhabitants to “kneel or remain seated for our prayers,” which was followed by a sea of teens contorting their backs into yoga-like positions with eyes facing the floor and hands clasped together, deciding to use the kneelers, or something else entirely, whether it was praying, closing their eyes, or doing breathing exercises; the list is endless. The point of it all is that people had options.
In a school environment that welcomes diversity, choice is key. In the past, the simple use of an “or” designated a choice for people to kneel or remain seated, implying a choice to pray or not to pray. This simple word seemed to be a chance for students to follow whatever form of prayer they wanted in whatever fashion. Yet, in the first semester of the 2019-2020 school year, we have been told simply to “stand for our prayers.”
When asked why the chaplains chose standing, Reverend Bush replied, “We tried to think through all the options, and we knew we weren’t going to make people kneel on the cement floor. We’re still running into things that don’t work and having to work around them.”
If those in charge are flexible about this temporary phase of Cheney Chapel, why not just let people have the option to sit during the prayers while those who wanted to could stand? Amelia Dowling (10) explained, “Everyone standing for the prayers is less a statement of faith, and more a sign of respect for the religion itself and those who practice it. When everyone leaned forward during the prayers in the chapel last year, that was out of respect, and would be the equivalent of standing now.” Plus, if we were to have only a portion of the student body stand, it would put their beliefs out in the open, which is one of the hardest things to do at an age that sees belief and caring as “uncool.”
Senior and Chapel Committee Rep Abigail Apple offers, “I think it’s an option to say ‘please remain seated for our prayers,’ or even an option to bow your head or remain seated. Whether we change it or not, I don’t think the person next to you will ever judge you for not praying.” Obviously there are still options to consider. But even if a change is made, St. Mary’s is still an environment that tries its best to incorporate everyone’s beliefs and, because it is an Episcopal school, there are rules that students must follow, as we have the ultimate choice in choosing to go here. “It is a rule at St. Mary’s that you have to go to chapel, and we are very upfront about that in the admissions office. You can't get excused if you aren't an Episcopalian, but we try to create the most hospitable space that we can to a very diverse community,” says Rev. Bush.
Rather than directly stating it, there seems to be an understood “opt out” for prayer, like an understood “you” in our grammar lessons. Rev. Bush continues, “Asking you to stand to sing the hymn is not asking you to sing, and asking you to stand during the prayers is not asking you to pray.”
Religious practice for me is a bit of a question mark, so I don’t necessarily believe in the words of the hymns, but I find myself singing them every day. Similarly, Hita Mohan (10) has begun saying the prayer that differs from her religion: “It’s become a habit that I say it pretty much every day. But it’s a peaceful thing for me that’s become a ritual for my own self-satisfaction.”
In a time that’s become especially sensitive to offending different cultures, we are able to ponder these questions of “why should I” and “why should they.” But in all honesty there is no right answer. The beauty of chapel and the beauty of this issue is that it allows us to open our minds to different possibilities. Rev. Bush says, “I’m glad that you’re paying attention. The conversation has definitely made me more thoughtful.”
Whether we end up sitting, standing or maybe even dancing during the prayers, there will always be questions to ask. I know that Reverend Bush, because she is passionate about what she does, is doing her best to make sure chapel is a hospitable environment: “Chapel is what I love most about the school day. There's a structure to it and inside of that, everyone is having the experience that they need to have. It's a container that has boundaries, but there is room inside the container which is what I love.” ⧫
For & By Students
Our website videos were made in partnership with St. Mary's video-making publication, Bella Vista.
Click on the author or artist's name to view more of her work!
HAVE AN ARTICLE IN MIND?