“Faith at Work” is Theme for 2021-22 Chapel and Gathering

August 26, 2021 / Andrea Wenger
Maria Archer and Justin King in chapel.
Maria Archer and Justin King in chapel.

“Faith at Work” is the theme students in grades K-12 will explore with guests, faculty, staff and student speakers at Eastern Mennonite School this year as part of faith formation programming.

Pianist and chapel favorite, Dr. David Berry III, launched the series by sharing a about a time that he blanked out, right before he was to start playing a 40-minute piano concerto from memory in front of 800 people with jumbotrons broadcasting his image. (Watch the video to see what happened next!)

Berry, associate professor of music at Eastern Mennonite University, also wrote and performed a version of the Harry Potter theme, and a rap song especially for the EMS the school, where he sits on the board of directors and his son attends seventh grade. Watch his special recording of the rap.

“Clarity in my mind, strength in my bones, EMS Flames fire burnin’ in my soul,” is the chorus of the rap, which had the middle school crowd watching in the auditorium clapping and cheering for more.

Andrea Wenger, director of advancement and chapel coordinator, invited participants during another chapel to consider “What is this place?” The presentation included:

  • A land acknowledgement of the indigenous people who inhabited the school’s land tens of thousands of years ago;
  • A brief history of the school’s shared history with Eastern Mennonite University — including times of segregation and integration;
  • Recognition of several memorial sites on campus for students or family members of students who have died;
  • The story of the bridge that connects’ the campus’ two buildings;
  • And an invitation to upper grade students to become familiar with the elementary school’s outdoor play and learning space.

Watch a video of the chapel, which included comments from Lory Trissel ’81, mother of Kristy Trissel, a beloved class member who died as a result of a car accident in 2000, and remembrance of Brad Moyers, class of ’91, who also died in a car accident.

Maria Archer, K-8 principal, and Justin King, 9-12 principal, shared about their personal lives in another chapel, talking about their mutual love of the Atlanta Braves and the hymn “Come Thou Fount,” what shows they like to watch, hobbies, and favorite quotes.

“I am somebody,” is a quote that has stuck with King since a pastor mentioned it during a sermon in his childhood. “I challenge each of you to be SOMEBODY this year,” he emphasized. “When you see trash on the ground, or a student sitting alone at lunch, or hear someone picking on a classmate, and think, ‘Somebody should do something about that,’ YOU can choose to be SOMEBODY!” he encouraged.

Marsha Thomas, admissions counselor, harkened back to her days as a flight attendant with United Airlines during another chapel, and walked students through a “trip” for discussion about ways we do community life together. See the video. 

For our very first chapel, Paul Leaman, head of school, began with a slide show featuring all the faculty and staff along with the song “We are family,” remembering the year that song became popular and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. He also talked about the ups and downs of family life, including the EMS family, and encourages us to consider the tools we use as we live together. See the video.

Student Involvement

Students on the Chapel Planning Committee from grades 9-12 meet over lunch twice a month. On the third week of school, they introduced the chapel theme, and — a perennial favorite — shared a skit about how NOT to behave in chapel. See a video of the chapel here (which includes an introduction from this year’s student council leaders).

Read what Claire Parsley ’23 and Elisabeth Fink ’22 shared as part of their introduction:

Claire: As a lot of you have probably heard, the theme “Faith at Work” has been selected for this year’s chapel. This school has students coming from a wide range of backgrounds and students who have had vastly different life experiences, so “faith at work” in these chapels will likely have different meanings and impacts on each of you. Faith is our drive for each day so we can get up in the morning with a desire to accomplish something. It’s something I believe is crucial so that we can motivate ourselves to grow, improve, and put all the gifts we have into our world. It helps us wake up with a purpose and hopefully makes everything seem more possible. Sometimes faith is something that just keeps us alive but in any case, everyone needs a little faith that there’s some reason, some purpose to their life. I hope the chapels you see this year at the very least get you thinking about what you personally choose to put your faith in. 

Elisabeth: This year’s theme is important to everyone because the word “faith” may almost be misleading. It’s definition is only that of a strong belief in God or religion. It’s purely abstract and the word itself does not even imply physical action. This year, we want to look at how having faith leads people to do work. Whether that is physically serving others because you believe it’s the right thing to do, or whether it’s believing in yourself and making changes in your own life, faith is the core idea guiding these decisions. True faith, though it is technically invisible, is evidenced by visible actions. This is a short passage from the book of James: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (JAMES 2:15-17)

What this is saying is not that if you don’t meet some sort of requirements then your faith “doesn’t count,” it’s just saying that truly, if you believe something, it should change your actions. True faith is always at work.

The Chapel Planning Committee wants this year’s chapels to be engaging and something more students can participate in. This could include polls, asking questions from the audience, skits and the inclusion of more music. After all, the theme that’s been chosen isn’t all that important if you guys are resisting the urge to tune out or are daydreaming in hopes that chapel time will go by quicker.

Join Us

Chapel is being held in person this year on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, after a year of livestreaming to classrooms due to COVID-19. Mitigation practices this year mean that half of the 6-12 grade students attend in person, spread throughout the auditorium, with the other half watching from classrooms. On Tuesdays, students have class meetings, and on Thursdays they meet in small groups for Neighbor Groups with the goal to “Snack. Chat. Pray.”

Guests can watch chapel by livestream and see recordings after the fact on the EMS chapel YouTube channel.

Students in kindergarten through grade 5 meet each Wednesday for a time of singing, storytelling and, often, to hear from a speaker or pastor from the community. The first week, Mrs. Archer shared the story of the Good Samaritan and gave examples of how we can care for each other. Heidi Byler, third grade teacher, led the school theme song, Jesus, Help Us Live in Peace by J.D. Martin.

Guest speaker ideas and volunteers are always welcome for elementary gathering or 6-12 chapel. Email chapel@easternmennonite.org to connect with Andrea Wenger, who coordinates chapel planning along with Debbie Katz, high school counselor, Justin King and Maria Archer, principals, and a student chapel planning committee.

Check out some more photos from this story

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