Will Zimmermann '21 Reflects on Boarding School Experience in MAESA Newsletter

Will Zimmermann '21 wrote the following article that was published in the May 2021 Mid-Atlantic Episcopal School Association (MAESA) newsletter in which he reflects on his four years at Saint James School, an Episcopal boarding school.

Four years of an Episcopal boarding school have done their worst; now I’m at my best. For without the environment that a spirit of religion and meditation bring, I doubt I would be now writing this article, or even able to. 

But what do I mean? 

I mean that the Protestant work ethic is alive and well around here. And, in this age of online learning, online submissions, and the accelerated college process, the Saint James student is well-equipped to work his or her tail off. 

Looking out into the world, this is not how most schools are. Why? Look no further than our steeple. 

An inspiring energy flows from the chapel. The spirit of a pew – the meditation, the sense of thoughtfulness – follows the crowd out through the red doors. Were it not for daily chapel services, I doubt whether things would get done around here with the same care. I am glad I go to an Episcopal school; for if you get used to sitting and listening to long chapel services, you get used to biting the bullet during long classes. That is only a half-joke; but half of maturity is getting used to doing things you do not want to do! But the substance and style of the services have enriched me, not just the sitting in a room and waiting while tired. 

Our daily chapel services foster a mindfulness and patience that enhances academic life. While many are put off by the pomp of high church, to me, and to many, it is a source of stability throughout the day; whatever the day’s battle, it starts with quietly listening to the organ, the readings, and the homily; whatever we are inclined to do or say to friends, the prudence and properness of the chapel clings to us. Moreover, hearing the gospel and the stories about saints and good deeds first thing in the morning affects, I believe, even the most obstinate (and sleepy) mind.
And, so, the congregation goes out all ready with a heading and a spirit of mindfulness. When we take our seats in class, even if the words or meaning of the homily went through one ear and out the other, the feeling of chapel stays with us. As someone who grew up outside of the Episcopal church, where praise bands and sneakers defined the space, I am aware of the rigor of high church services, and it fits me well.

Well indeed – but what about the more active benefits of an Episcopal school, aside from the chapel’s charms and effects? It is one thing to benefit from the passive boon of old scripture, stiff pew, and moral lesson; but the most important opportunity – something to be seized, not to be washed over with incense – that an Episcopal church school can offer is the choir. 

I have sung in the choir for four years and have been transformed. Singing in a choir mills, molds, and works you into a more patient and hard-working person and the opportunities for meeting students whom you otherwise would not be acquainted with are irreplaceable. Moreover, it serves the student well to travel – to D.C., another state, or even England – all while having to practice that chapel reverence and ethic. 

And so we go: off to chapel, off to classes, off to choir – never an unbusied moment, a sacerdotal shove sending us off each day down a hill of tasks, all with the mindfulness and zeal that daily good examples inspire. 

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