When I first learned that I was coming to an Episcopal private school, I was less than thrilled about the required chapel services that were sure to come with the "Saint James Experience." You see, my family is not very religious. We call ourselves Christians, but Father Keyes would endearingly call us "Chreasters"; we only celebrate Christmas and Easter. Well, Mom and Dad. Look at me now. Just last week I decided that I'm going to willingly give up my Saturday of long weekend to come back here and serve in a wedding for somebody I don't even know.
At the first Wednesday chapel of my Third Form year, my first thought was, "Why are those people wearing weird clothing"? I never would have thought that one day I would be amongst the people wearing said robes. I first got involved in the Chapel in 4th Form. I was talked into acolyting by Heather Deiner, the Senior Marshal. For those of you who don't know what that is, she did what Armando now does. She was what I endearingly called the official book holder for the chapel. For those of you that remember Heather, she could talk you into anything. She just kept badgering me for weeks and weeks. Finally, I told her, "I will try it once, and if I like it, I will stay. But if I don't like it, I'm out." Satisfied with herself and with a not-to-subtle smirk on her face, she said, "Finally, I was about to give up." Obviously, I enjoyed it, or I would not be standing here in front of you today giving this chapel talk.
Halfway through 4th Form, I finally accepted that joining the acolytes and sacristans was the best idea for me. Ever since I first arrived on campus in 3rd Form, Mrs. Stowe had been after me, trying to persuade me into joining choir... I can't possibly imagine why. I think it has something to do with my voice, but I'm not sure. She went so far as to request me at one of her dinner tables, with the other six seats being filled by choristers. I asked her if it was all a plot to try and get me to join choir, but she played it off as if she had no idea what I was talking about. I knew that if I didn't stay on with the acolytes and sacristans, she would get me to join choir, which was the last thing I wanted to do. For those of you who know me well know, Philip Megrue plus singing do not go together. I may be blessed with a freakishly deep voice, but it does not translate over well to singing.
Well, as the year continued on, I just hoped that I would become a sacristan so that I wouldn't have another year of persuading from Mrs. Stowe. I constantly prayed during that moment of silence during contemplative chapels that Father Dunnan would claim me to serve as a sacristan so that I could finally get Mrs. Stowe off of my back. Finally, the time came towards the end of the year when Father Dunnan approached me after an evening chapel. Yes, we do have evening chapel, as crazy as that sounds, and he asked me how I would feel about becoming the Marshal for the next year as a 5th Former. I was excited, but I kept my composure and told him I would be honored. What Father did not see was that I was jumping up and down inside saying to myself, "Finally, Mrs. Stowe can leave me alone." Then, the time came at the end of the year ceremony when the Sacristans and Vestry were announced for the following year, and sure enough, I was named Marshal, and I walked up before the raised platform and received my "Symbol of My Office" from who else, but Heather?
It did not hit me until late that summer that Father chose me instead of one of the other rising 6th Formers, to be Marshal because he saw that I was a faithful student, and that my involvement with the chapel had actually helped me grow as a Saint James student, and it had made me a better person as well. I looked down into myself and realized that I finally found somewhere, and someone, to go to whenever I was stressed or needed guidance in my personal life. If I was too nervous to go to either Mr. Swartz, my amazing advisor for four years, or Father Dunnan, one of the few faculty members that I am close enough to talk about personal issues, I knew that I could come to this very building and pray to God for guidance. It did not always come, but it helped me clear my conscience, and it lifted the weight off of my shoulders that I could talk to someone about my problems.
That is why, when I was appointed Senior Sacristan at the end of my 5th Form year, I knew how much of an honor it was. I immediately thought of Heather and the countless weeks she spent badgering me about joining the chapel, and I thanked her for not giving up sooner. Without her, I would not be where I am, or who I am, today.