Sunday, March 30, 2014

Let us be upstanding

Last week I visited All Souls St. Gabriel's School in Charter's Towers in North Queensland. Br. Nathan is the chaplain there. The students come from all over northern Queensland, most from very remote farms, or "properties" as they are called. It is not an elite prep school, but founded by the Anglican Church to serve students in underserved areas. These are places so remote there are no schools within easy commuting distance. Many of the students see very few people apart from family and farm workers when they are at home. The school is one of those that several generations of a family may have attended. It is rich in traditions and yet forward looking too, working hard, to my eyes, to prepare students for life in the 21st Century.

During the course of my first evening, which was The Feast of the Annunciation (St. Gabriel's Day) there was a formal dinner. A student went to the podium and called for our attention. Once we were quiet and straining to see, she told us to "charge your glasses" (with mineral water) and then "be up standing" (i.e. stand up) and toast the Queen: "To the Queen of Australia and the Head of the Commonwealth!"  And all the students around me: "To the Queen!"

I've been in stranger circumstances, and this had more charm than a pledge of allegiance.

Private boarding schools address the whole student, and this particular evening was one of two formal dinners the school hosts for students, so that they will know how to comport themselves at such events. It was very exciting, especially for the new students. One asked Br. Nathan, as the food was served: "Is this what it is like to eat in a restaurant?"

Early each morning a group of about 14 boys race from the dining hall to the chapel for a quick Eucharist. (The first one there gets to read the Gospel.) I was surprised by the number, the most I ever got at a voluntary school Eucharist when I was chaplain was on average 0-1. The boys led much of the service, Br. Nathan celebrated and gave some apt remarks, and we stood around the small altar to share communion. Our celebration was one of the millions of points of light that give light to the world.

Standing in the crossroads of rural and urban, sacred and secular, churched and unchurched, public and private, young and old, friars serve a huge variety of people. We point to what is upstanding in the world and worthy of praise, seeking to collaborate with goodness and creativity wherever we find it. We challenge the places where people are being led astray. We make friends with lonely boarders, we visit the sick, pray with prisoners.

In all these places (and more!), and among all these people, we see Jesus.

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