Many of you don’t know that I attended an Episcopalian school for nine years, from fourth through twelfth grade, and that part of my daily school experience included attending chapel. During chapel, we would sing hymns, recite the Lord’s Prayer (just hearing “Our Father, who art in heaven…” triggers the rest of the prayer in my well programmed brain) and listen to a daily sermon from our dean. Every year during the school’s Homecoming, we would visit St. John’s Cathedral, and though I enjoyed the beauty and majesty of the church, it was all sort of lost on me because at my core, I wasn’t an Episcopalian. Every year we observed Lent, and I agreed to give up something during that period that could be considered a vice for a child.
By the time I reached high school, I was fed up with being force fed a religion I did not practice outside of school, so I gradually began to rebel. When we were in chapel, I would refuse to sing the hymns or recite the Lord’s Prayer. By the time I was a junior, I had fallen into the occasional habit of completely ditching chapel and taking that 45 minute period to hang out in a quiet spot on campus with my best friend Diane or with my friend Shari. Though there were a couple of occasions in which we nearly got caught and spent a few tense minutes standing on toilet seats in the bathroom stalls and stifling nervous giggles, we never got caught. Diane was my best friend, soul sister, bad influence (according to her mom and mine), partner in crime and fellow bad Christian, whereas Shari was a defiant Jewish girl forced to attend a strongly Christian school. Between these two girls, I had rationalized the chapel-skipping behavior quite convincingly.
Looking back at the nine years of chapel which helped to shape me, I am actually grateful for the experience. I may not be a religious person, and I may not attend chapel or go to church, but I truly believe that the Christian environment I was exposed to gave me structure and discipline and helped me to find my way spiritually. Even when I dodged chapel, I learned a great deal about friendship. Teenagers need to challenge constraints every once in a while to help them find their own way.