The study of faith and service is not contained within the Lewis Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd or the religious studies classrooms. Spirituality concepts are integrated into the Episcopal academic curriculum with faculty offering creative courses designed to make students think and explore. This time of year, there are numerous opportunities for students to put what they learn into action, such as the recent food drive in support of the Shepherd’s Market Food Pantry. Members of the National Honor Society and student athletes delivered 4,600 pounds of food donated by the Episcopal community just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. While the holidays are a time that inspires service and celebrates faith, these concepts are a year round focus at an Episcopal school.
Episcopal schools are described as Christian communities whose missions integrate spiritual formation into all aspects of the educational experience in a graceful and inclusive way. In the Principles of Good Practice for the Study of Religion in Episcopal Schools, the National Association of Episcopal Schools states, “The study of religion in Episcopal schools is a serious and intentional endeavor, and its place within the total curricular offerings is both secure and central.” Episcopal Chaplain Rev. Kirkland “Skully” Knight is proud of the variety of classes offered in the Religious Studies Department and beyond. “We have passionate teachers who find creative and inspirational ways to teach students about faith and spirituality, as well as their relationships with one another and ultimately with God,” he says. From art and English to Pinwheels for Peace and Advent season, Episcopal students are invited to make connections between subjects in meaningful ways.
An Artistic Examination of Faith
Episcopal’s new Choral Director Carrie Poynot is taking students on an artistic journey involving faith. In the Faith and Music class, Upper School students explore the role music plays in faith. Poynot says students study a variety of Eastern and Western faiths and the ways in which music is incorporated.
“For the purpose of our class, students must have some understanding of the elements of music and be able to communicate as such in assignments and discussions,” she says. Once students have that understanding, the discussion shifts to different faith practices. “As we learn about each faith, we will discover the commonalities and differences between the music and beliefs of these religions,” says Poynot. “Eventually, in non-COVID-19 times, they will be able to take field trips to Baton Rouge’s Buddhist Temple and Jewish Synagogue. They will hear live music performances in Christian places of worship, experiencing the wide variety of genres in religious music.” Poynot says students’ final class project will be to design their own worship service using music and readings of their choice.
Students also have an opportunity to explore concepts of faith in the Theater and Religion course offered by Arts Department Director Paige Gagliano. Gagliano says the objective is for Upper School students “to identify who they are i.e. their spiritual compass, understand how their actions affect others and what a spiritual superpower they have in that.” To accomplish this, Gagliano uses traditional theatre exercises such as ensemble building, improvisation, Theatre of the Oppressed and Stanislavski’s Acting Method. “Through these exercises we make a connection to how an actor achieves a goal and the tactics an actor uses to how we (at our most authentic selves) achieve goals and what tactics we will use in real life,” says Gagliano. Ultimately, Gagliano wants students to understand that the tactics they use will define their moral compass.
Exploring Faith through Sacred Landscapes
Upper School English teacher Scott Engholm highlights the English and Religious Studies class titled Sacred Landscapes in the school’s course catalogue. Engholm writes “to make sense of this interdisciplinary nature, it would help to think of the study of literature as facilitating a foundation on which to explore themes of religious inspired contemplation, such as existence and purpose, good v evil, fate v free will, religiosity and spirituality, death and after-life, divinity v humanity, as well as many issues involving our relationships to nature and others.” Engholm uses an exploration of places including rivers and oceans, the jungle, the desert and the city to demonstrate the relationship between religious studies and English. Throughout the semester, students delve into the role of water as a force for good or evil, the wildness of civilization and Eastern versus Western philosophies.
Integrating Lessons in Faith
These courses are just a few examples of how spiritual integration takes place in every division. The faculty who teach them hope the experience inspires a lasting interest in the subject. “My hope is that the students will find music to be the perfect means to a deepening faith practiced throughout their life, either as the listener or the performer,” says Poynot. Gagliano, who describes the theater course as soul building, affirming, vulnerable and brave, hopes students ultimately understand their authentic selves. “I want them to leave loving and understanding themselves and working to love and understand every person they come into contact with,” she says.
Read more about Episcopal’s focus on faith and service here.