“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Book of Common Prayer, pg. 265.

Spiritual life at Berkeley Preparatory School is alive and well, with a vigorous excitement for God’s movement in our community.

This was evident yesterday, with over 200 students, parents, alumni, and colleagues gathered for an Ash Wednesday service before school even began. With the rains subsided and the sun cracking through the clouds, we were showered by our students with beautiful music, prayers, and words from Scripture.

As I gazed upon the mass of people in Aye Arboretum, with many spilling out into McCleary Mound, faces demonstrated a mix of hope, inspiration, longing, and a true desire to be next to others with similar purpose. Not only that, there was noticeable representation from each division in our school, from Pre-Kindergarteners all the way through our Seniors. Friends walked up together, families showed up as one, and even those from different religious traditions found their way to the gathering, opting for a Blessing instead of the ash sign of the cross on their foreheads. It was a sacred and holy time, sure to remain in the hearts of many for some time.

While listening to the booming voice of Katherine Nerro ‘20, accompanied by the instrumental wizardry of Bryson Forsmans ‘20, Markus Bynum ‘20, and Blaise Cozene ‘20, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Truth be told, on the verge of tears, and having a difficult time remaining composed in order to welcome the gathered at the end of their opening piece. In my years of leading services, these moments are sure signs of God’s presence – where the Spirit moves so palpably as to shake and rattle a body beyond poise. It most often happens at weddings and funerals, where the swirl of emotions stir and the mystery of love comes to bear.

But yesterday, I was overcome once again, knowing that so many people had freely come to be spiritually nourished and comforted – each in their own way.

This experience carried forth into the morning and early afternoon, with just as many more receiving ashes and blessings throughout the day, as had received during the service.

Several of the same students also came back for a “reapplication” of ashes, concerned they had faded or worn away. I saw the hesitation that often accompanies students in Middle Division, finding their way to me, seeming to muster courage and strength for a holy encounter with dust. My heart was further warmed with the slew of students I know from other traditions that felt compelled to receive a Blessing. Comments of gratitude continued to pour in, indicating the power that is offered with a holy observance.

Another spiritual highlight of the morning was meeting Coach Dominick Ciao on the 50-yard line of Newman Field, his cathedral of sorts, for the Imposition of Ashes (apparently, that encounter was worth receiving a coveted grey Berkeley football hat, reserved only for a select few).

I am encouraged beyond belief this Thursday morning, already longing for another gathering to celebrate God’s presence in the life of our Berkeley community.

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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 1,380 students gather here from the greater Tampa Bay area to form ONE Berkeley.