ʻIolani School Chapel in COVID Time: A Focus on Spiritual Formation
By The Rev. Andrew Arakawa & The Rev. Tim Morehouse, Chaplains at ʻIolani School
Masks, Shields, and Distance Set the Scene for a Focus on the Inner Life
Safety protocols, PPE guidelines and traffic patterns have become the new normal for our students as they adjust to ʻIolani School’s return to campus life. The expectation is that everyone in our ʻohana follows our guidelines to protect not only those of us at school, but everyone on our island as well. So, everyone wears a mask and a shield and practices physical distancing. Large groups only meet outside, and everyone does a health check on an app every morning before coming to school. In St. Alban’s Chapel, these protocols also apply, and mean that we can only seat a small fraction of the number of students we normally do. In the Upper School, a few homerooms each week attend chapel in person, while the majority of students view Chapel on screens in their homerooms. Lower School meets in smaller numbers when in chapel, and also in our One Team Field House, which allows room for distancing. In every setting the effect is what one would expect -- physically separated children gathered for chapel find themselves in islands of quiet -- removed from the normally hectic rhythm of their academic and social lives.
Chaplain Tim Morehouse during Upper School Chapel
Our quiet COVID induced setting has thus brought distance and stillness, and we’ve decided to capitalize on this. Rather than attempt to broadcast what would feel like a thinly attended worship service, we’ve fashioned chapel as a quiet, contemplative exercise in spiritual formation. Because singing is prohibited by the Mayor’s current order, we begin with quiet organ or electronic keyboard music. Three rings of a singing bowl calls us to order. A scripture reading follows, and in Upper School particularly, the student Chapel Council has decided that the content of chapel should be devoted (more often than not) to exploring practices of Spiritual Growth that will nourish us in this time of stress. They are interested in teaching and offering students habits of life that will expand our Inner Lives so that we are able to reach out and connect to: friends, family, sacred scripture, to God, to our responsibilities as citizens, to the natural world, and to our island, itself a living thing. Prayers or a guided meditation follow the reflection, and we finish with a Benediction. In sum, the content of Upper School chapel this year will center around stories of spiritual guides and the practices that they teach.
So far, we’ve received feedback that this “pared down” session of spiritual formation actually does translate into distant homerooms where people watch from afar. Students and teachers find good reasons to put down the work of school so they can focus on the works of their lives and God’s work in the world around them.
Chaplain Andrew Arakawa during Lower School Chapel
The safety policies and protocols of the school has offered us an opportunity to re-imagine how we do chapel services in the Lower School. Similar to the Upper School, the Lower School is focusing on having more quiet and contemplative services. The services begin with three rings of a singing bowl. The first ring calls the community to attention, the second is a signal to get prepared (sit a little straighter, take a deep breath), and the third ring is offered as a time to simply listen to the sound of the bowl until it disappears into silence. Having chapel services in the open and airy One Team Field House, in addition to services in St. Alban’s Chapel, has offered the Lower School students a lesson in flexibility and gaining an appreciation that there are often many different ways that gathering prayerfully as a community can happen. The prayerful presence of the students, faculty, and staff in the One Team Field House for chapel creates a sacred place out of the ordinary, allowing the Lower School to live into a sense that location is not as important as what Jesus tells us that, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20 NRSV).”
The following is from an ʻIolani School news article on their website:
One Team video premieres at convocation
On August 24, the first day of the 2020-21 school year, a video about 'Iolani School's unique One Team culture debuted during an online convocation for Upper School students.
Head of School Dr. Timothy Cottrell introduced the video via Zoom with this message:
"For the students new to our school, the video is an authentic portrayal of our One Team spirit. Returning students, you will recognize this well and you will also see the many ways that we compete, achieve, and celebrate each other. The video showcases these things, many of which we cannot do right now and we all feel a loss in our lives because of this. So the video might pull on your heartstrings a bit. It does on mine.
"Please know and keep faith that we are going to get back there, back to all the things that fill out our lives at our school. As we do, as we work our way back to normal, we need to take all that One Team energy and focus it on keeping each other safe. We need to do this with the same level of commitment we give to our teams and teammates."
To view the full article along with video credits, click HERE.