Artwork by Hallie Anderson
Engines, steel, loud pounding hammers… limestone, beams and loud building workers. The community can work to build compassion, connection… and a new Chapel.
On any given weekday at approximately 10:05 A.M., the St. Mary’s student body goes forth with joy to love and serve the Lord after a hurried “Thanks be to God.” The daily turkey stampede out of the Cheney Parish Hall doors leaves dozens of hymnals on the cold, concrete floor.
Every Friday during Chapel announcements, school chaplain Katherine Bush (‘93) reminds us to place hymnals on the chairs in order to expedite the transition between the St. Mary’s Chapel and the Church of the Holy Communion worship spaces. Despite this weekly reminder, the hymnals that are thoughtfully placed on the chairs after services on Sunday end up abandoned on the ground once again by the Chapel dismissal on Monday. St. Mary’s is an institution that prides itself on producing respectable and well-rounded girls; however, the action of leaving hymnals behind is not only negligent, but also just plain careless.
In the midst of construction and in an unfamiliar worship space, both the church and school must learn to work together in order to ease this seemingly never-ending transition.
Rector of Church of the Holy Communion and St. Mary’s graduate Reverend Hester Mathes (‘92) explains the need for picking up hymnals by explaining, “It helps relieve the team of people who are taking all those chairs out on Friday.” The simple task of placing hymnals on the chairs during departure from Cheney Parish Hall not only relieves church staff and expedites the switch between St. Mary’s Chapel and Holy Communion worship spaces, but it also can foster the communities in both institutions.
In the Episcopal tradition, singing hymns has been an integral aspect of Chapel services since the beginning of St. Mary’s. This action not only celebrates the shared histories of past and present students but also creates unity as a school. Some good-old hymn singing always seems to make the cold concrete feel a little warmer.
The same can be said for church services; Mathes emphasizes the necessity of book distribution, “Especially if you’re a newcomer or visitor and you’re sitting there, and there’s not a hymnal within three seats of you, you’re probably not going to sing, and that’s an unwelcoming feeling.” Visitors and old-timers alike at Holy Communion and St. Mary’s can feel embraced by the community by participating in their respective services fully, and in Mathes’ opinion, “not have to go through the awkwardness of not being able to find a book.”
Most churches’ sanctuaries are used only on Sunday mornings; however, Cheney Parish Hall is used every day of the week by pupils and parishioners alike. Day by day, a few folding chairs, a concrete floor and some rectangular carpets are transformed into a sacred and meditative space. Chapel serves as an opportunity to be present amidst the monotony of quizzes and tests. It is a chance for students and teachers to gather as a great, big turkey flock.
However, the seemingly endless construction requires consideration and patience in these years of change. Parking spots are further away, construction noises distract during tests and St. Mary’s students are recommended to wear a sweatshirt to beat the hyperactive air conditioning in Cheney Parish Hall. The community can easily lose gratitude as members forget that these inconveniences are side effects of what Mathes describes as “a problem of abundance.” Both St. Mary’s and Holy Communion are benefitting from the renovations. These changes are to better and beautify the communities contained on the corner of Perkins Extended and Walnut Grove.
So, why not bother to show compassion in these days of transition?
Why not pay attention to the chapel speaker in spite of the drilling and hammering? Why not allow the middle schoolers to exit the doors first? Why not sit next to a new group of people because the seat in your friends’ row is taken?
Mathes gives advice for both communities, “Just know this is temporary, and we’re all a little bit squeezed in. The main thing is giving each other some grace as we all squeeze in and squeeze out.”
While squeeze we must, St. Mary’s students can show compassion and consideration for inhabitants of the space during this shared blessing and burden of remodelling.
So the next time you go forth with joy, take care to place your hymnal on your chair as you leave. Who knows? Maybe this construction can build more than a new worship space.
For & By Students
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