Episcopal schools have been established, however, not solely as communities for Christians, like a parish church, but as ecumenical and diverse ministries of educational and human formation for people of all faiths and backgrounds. – National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES)*
As an Episcopal school, we seek to remain faithful to our identity in tradition and practice. This takes many forms at Berkeley Preparatory School.
Convocations at all divisions begin with the school prayer. Days of Christian significance are lifted up in those gatherings, as we follow the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth. Our eighth-grade students spend nine weeks of the school year in the classroom learning about the Judeo-Christian tradition. Upper Division students in the Bible Fellowship Club gather each week to study Scripture. We offer the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday. When prompted by a faculty member, we joyfully Baptized her two children in the Hellenic Quad. A faculty Bible study is held every Wednesday afternoon in the Chaplain’s office, with the group following the Lectionary Cycle, the weekly Scriptures appointed for the Episcopal Church. Our Moms in Prayer group, Faculty Prayer group, and fifth-grade Chaplain’s Council all maintain the discipline of praying for each student, faculty and staff member, coach, and Board member by name. We are active members of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES), attending conferences and offering workshops. Our by-laws stipulate that at least 10 members of the Board of Trustees identity as Episcopalian. When gathering for business, the Board begins with prayer.
These traditions and practices help to ensure the integrity of our Episcopal roots. They are important to the life of our campus, and hold deep meaning for many in our community.
As an Episcopal school, the richness of our identity is also lived out through embracing other religious traditions and practices. This too takes many forms at Berkeley Preparatory School.
Our student and faculty body is diverse in faith expression and practice, adding to the positive experience of all on campus. In the Upper Division, students spend a semester learning about World Religions, followed by another semester engaging Ethics. In convocations, we observe days of religious significance of other faith expressions, seeking to honor, learn, and grow. We have an active Jewish Cultural Club in the Upper Division, along with substantial participation in the Diversity Club. The fifth-grade Chaplain’s Council is charged with learning and helping to respond to the diverse spiritual needs of the Lower Division. We offer a safe space for each to discover and express their own identity at Berkeley Preparatory School, founded with the belief that all are beloved children of God. As such, the belovedness of God is sure to be radiated in a variety of ways!
In addition to these tremendous ways of calling us together from different perspectives, I have sought to further develop this embrace.
Since November, I have gathered over lunch each week with a group of Upper Division students to study various sacred texts. As we read and reflect together, we listen for how each text and tradition is able to challenge us to grow spiritually. To date, we have examined several texts from Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, and Buddhism. In doing so, our group has explored such themes as virtuous living, fasting, mortality, afterlife, selfhood, and the power of breath. Over 30 students have participated to date, with the group consistently drawing more than 10 each week. Of those, several Christian denominations are represented, along with Greek Orthodox, Hindu, and Jewish students. A couple more have identified as agnostic. Each time we meet, I am amazed with the openness, freedom, and fluidity of the conversation. We begin with the assumption that all sacred texts have something to teach – and each discussion bears that fruit.
Throughout this past fall, I spent time to develop and propose a semester-length Elective course for the Global Studies program in the Upper Division. With consultation from Tim Torkilsen, Director of the program, as well as Jeremiah Gregg, the Chair of the History and Religious Studies Department, a new course titled, “The Spirit World” emerged. This elective is offered next academic year for juniors and seniors, and engages how different cultures and religious traditions around the world understand and interact with spirits. Through study and conversation, we hope to gain a greater appreciation for the various ways spiritual movement is articulated and expressed.
As we remain faithful to our Episcopal tradition and practices at Berkeley Preparatory School, may we all come to know various ways to identify and embrace those on our journey.
* For more on how NAES articulates Episcopal Identity in schools, visit this link on their website.
Founded in 1960, Berkeley is an independent, Episcopal, college-preparatory day school located in Tampa, FL, for boys and girls in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12. Approximately 1,400 students gather here from the greater Tampa Bay area to form ONE Berkeley.