Keeping Faith and Community in the Conversation

During a challenging year, the bi-monthly Matters of Spirit presentations have offered spiritual food for thought to the upper school community.

Matters of Spirit is the current incarnation of a campus practice that began when students were required to attend chapel during Masters’ early days. Today, the program places an emphasis on community, activism and service through a spiritual lens. A diverse lineup of guests from within and outside the community are invited to speak at the Upper School's Morning Meetings. 

Upper school history and religion teacher and Matters of Spirit faculty co-advisor Brian Cheney says the presentations have been a great way to show “how spiritual principles can be applied in everyday life.” It helps students to “see how the faiths we learn about in history or religion class actually impact people's lives, and inspire them to make a difference in a world marked by suffering and pain.”

The program has been held virtually this year until Tuesday, April 27, when student panelists presented in person from the Claudia Boettcher Theatre stage and remotely via Zoom. 

In honor of Earth Day the previous week, Anna Drattell ’22, Maddy Israel ’23, Cameron Lovett ’23, Francesca Gossett ’23, Karina Mangru ’23, Ana Lucia Eisenbeis ’23, Tara Phillips ’23 and Owen Higgins ’22 looked at various faith communities’ responses to timely environmental issues. The Lenape Indigenous tradition, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism were represented. 
 
“Whether students were practitioners of these faiths, or simply scholars, they all powerfully revealed how these traditions have at their core a care and concern for the Earth and its flourishing,” Cheney explained.

Fellow upper school history and religion teacher, journalism teacher and Matters of Spirit faculty co-advisor Ellen Cowhey has been pleased with the community’s response to the program this year. “I’m grateful for the speakers and it’s been a beautiful resonance within the community,” she added.

The visits have been both varied and enlightening. In February, Reverend Adam Taylor, president of Sojourners, a progressive, social justice-based Christian magazine and organization, brought stories of inspiration.

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, Rabbi Mara Young, of Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains shared insight into the importance of “telling the stories of people whose voices have been purposefully or inadvertently left out of our history books.” And, also in March, Reverend Mary Grambsch, of the Zion Episcopal Church in Dobbs Ferry provided perspective on being a woman in church leadership and spoke of her interesting career journey.

When it comes to “matters of spirit,” being exposed to these deep learning experiences has touched many. "It allows students the opportunity to ponder life's 'big questions,' and opens them up to a much wider range of possibilities,” Student Government co-chair Sophia Viscarello ’21 said. “It's another way that we, as a school community, experience diversity of thought and perspective.” 
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