Monday, November 29, 2010

Not sure what happened

So, all of the posts from Religious Emphasis week vanished. Working on that mystery and will update November Chapels over the coming days...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

St. Mary's Community Fund

For our second chapel sponsored by the SMCF, Barbara King director the Exchange Club joined our community. Mrs. King (a mother of two alumnae) spoke about the work of the Exchange Club to interrupt the cycle of abuse in families. She expressed her gratitude for the money given by the SMCF on behalf of the whole St. Mary's community.

This was also the day to kick-off the "Stuff and Name the Turkey" fundraiser. A mock-Glee television show inspired the girls to be a part of this wonderful annual event!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Alumnae Chapel

We welcomed "home" Ellen Clark Moore, class of 1973. After being introduced by her niece, a current Sophomore, Ellen shared the story of her year spent as Maid of Cotton. She highlighted the "glamorous perks" of the job while telling the community about the privilege of traveling all the way around the world. Ultimately, Ellen encouraged her listeners to take risks, even to act on whims, so that they might push themselves to have new adventures.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Eucharist

The Rev. Mark Rutenbar preached at our second school Eucharist celebrating the feast of All Saints. He asked on the morning after Halloween to consider "life without masks," and particularly to reflect upon who in each of our lives shows us how to live in God's love. Students in every grade then "decorated" the chapel walls with multi-colored post-it notes bearing the names of our saints: past and present. Amid the fluttering colors and these special remembrances, we shared Holy Communion together.

This enriching worship service was made even more beautiful by the offering of music from our Chamber Ensemble - what glorious sounds!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Indian Dance

I can't begin to do justice to watching one of our own fifth graders perform a traditional Indian dance as the first of our Diversity Club sponsored chapels. This is one that you just had to be there for!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Musical Chapel

We were treated to four gifted performances today in chapel. Three of the pieces were played by pairs of sisters no less! The St. Mary's community is blessed to overflowing with talent in all fields. What a treasure to share these talents with our school community.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This weekend brought the news that the chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary had burned and also a Toy Story movie marathon. These seemingly disparate events offered me the opportunity to reflect on my relationship with things: buildings, toys, gadgets, clothes, and other such stuff. A recent article offered the suggestion that our problem is not our stuff, but that our problem is our appetite for more and more stuff.

What if we took better care of our things? What if we let ourselves love our things, how they shape us and make our lives richer? What if we looked for things we lost, repaired things that are broken instead of just buying a new replacement? What if we honored the God who made this world by taking care of all that we have been given?

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Mrs. Shari Ray, twelfth grade English teacher and storyteller extraordinaire, retold a story from several years ago in which she met a Holocaust survivor. This elderly woman told her terrible stories to Mrs. Ray at a Passover Seder and yet had a surprisingly joyful demeanor. When asked the secret to her positive outlook, the grandmother told Mrs. Ray that it came from her choice to forgive her enemies.

In today's retelling of this encounter, Mrs. Ray added a coda, describing the joy and delight and dancing by this same older woman at the wedding of her granddaughter. We were all challenged to consider the choices we make: small ones about what to wear, medium decisions about where to go to college, and large choices - character choices - choosing to forgive and to live in joy.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Offering the wisdom of two of my favorite spiritual writers, Anne Lamott and Mary Oliver, today's chapel was all about prayer. The "please and thank you" prayers described by Lamott and the "paying attention" prayers as told by Oliver. After a discussion of the simplicity of these approaches, we talked about the return of student-led prayers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tuesdays will be an occasion to call each girl by name throughout the year as we recognize birthdays, and Thursdays will provide a space to lift up the concerns of our community.
If you're reading this blog from "outside" the community, please remember that the school prayer asks for blessings for all our alumnae and patrons everyday!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Our second outside speaker of the week: through the work of the Latin Club, we welcomed Shelley Sumner from LifeBlood to share about the literally life-giving work of our local blood bank. She challenged the girls to understand the need through a variety of "stand up if you ..." questions. Seeing the need played out (hypothetically) in our own community certainly brought the message home that we all can be heroes and we all should be donors.

The SMES Blood drive is on November 11. Won't you consider giving? You can save four lives, and the need is real.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The Rev. Ollie Rencher returned for a special Middle School chapel about peace. Beginning in our own hearts and homes, he inspired the girls to consider how changing the world was truly possible.
"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me..."

Be assured that lots more praying was going on as the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades were taking the PSAT!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Thanks to the invitation of the tenth grade, whose focus is on environmental issues, the SMES community heard from a representative of Americorps. After watching a short video about the work and mission of this amazing organization, a young woman shared her personal, transforming experience of spending several months working all over the southeast. She told us about the work she had done and what it had meant to her life, and she also took a few questions from the crowd. We all caught a glimpse into this world of service to our country.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Alumnae Chapel

We welcomed home Carmen Carson, class of 2003, for our second Alumnae Chapel. Carmen works in L.A. as an event coordinator for Wolfgang Puck, and she shared many funny moments and brushes with celebrities. More than that, though, Carmen reflected on the circuitous path that brought her to this current work, encouraging the girls to be open to all possibilities - even seemingly dead ends. Following her passion of cooking, instead of her major coursework in college led to a challenging and fulfilling opportunity. She shared that while she's not using her Biology degree, she is definitely using the organizational skills and stress management techniques she honed in her time at St. Mary's.
Her non-traditional work was entertaining to hear about, but her message was truly inspiring - follow your passion!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Operation Smile

We heard from an Upper School student and member of the St. Mary's Service Organization about Operation Smile, a global organization offering surgeries to children for the treatment of cleft palate and cleft lip. She spoke movingly of how she first became aware of the work being done, and how she pursued an opportunity for her own involvement as a student. After sharing the history of the organization, she challenged all of us to consider how we might support this group and their work.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Double Header

Today I shared the wisdom learned from a woman who flies planes for FedEx, the world is always spinning. The application of this truth, in my life, has been the understanding that I'm never really "stuck." Often feeling stuck with a relationship problem or a new skill that seems beyond me, I can wake up in the night struggling with these issues. Remembering the pilot's words, I know that when I wake in the morning, I am actually "in a new place," no longer wherever I was when I went to bed simply because of the earth's rotation. From a new vantage point, solutions and movement forward seem possible.

As a special gift, and dedicated to the seniors, one of our Middle School girls sang "On My Own," as a solo from Les Miserables. What talent!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Student Council Guest Chapel

Our Student Council Vice President kicked of the first SC Guest Chapel by inviting Dr. Fred Johnson to speak. Dr. Johnson has a long and distinguished career in education, particularly in Shelby County Schools. After remarking that he predicted a future US president to be sitting in our ranks, Dr. Johnson spoke passionately about the building blocks of a good society: respect, compassion, ingenuity, among others.
Acknowledging previous generations failures, he inspired and challenged us to accomplish no less than world peace. What a gift to hear from someone with a storied career and a passion for the future of our community.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Serve?

Head of School, Marlene Shaw challenged the MS and US students to consider what they "get" from giving.

"If you are like me, you wonder what can you do? How can I make a difference? Will my small contribution make any difference when others give so much? Most of our questions are about what we are doing for those we are helping. How we are going to make a difference in their lives.
Today----let’s think about community service differently? How will it make a difference in your life? Are you willing to learn something valuable from your service and reflect upon it? In fact, Service to others actually serves us. Service learning helps us as the volunteers to learn about ourselves."

Mrs. Shaw went on to recount a vivid encounter with a 20th century pioneer ...
"The evening I met Margaret Mead, she stood on stage and talked for an hour—smart, witty, and full of life, she was a gifted educator who cared deeply for humanity---all of humanity. When she finished her remarks, a man in the audience challenged her saying, “It sounds like you are asking us to love and care for each other---to be our brother’s keeper so to speak.”
Without hesitation, Margaret Mead in a strong voice replied. “Yes, Absolutely. You are to love and care for your brother---your sister---your neighbor, and every living creator that God has created.” Everyone in that room was silent listening to her words and moved by her passion. We knew we had just witnessed a truly special event. That night Margaret Mead went on to encourage us to engage in service to others because they need our help, but in fact, she encouraged us because she said that service would make us better people. That we would learn valuable lessons in service to others."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spilt Milk

It was a Middle School only Chapel today, and the girls were introduced to Christy Beesley, the new Associate for Youth Ministries at CHC.  After sharing a few "random facts" about herself (fave color: yellow), Christy got to the heart of her message: laughter.  She shared a story about her sixth-grade self knocking over a glass of milk during family dinner and actually crying over spilt milk.  Christy told us that her mother's response was to knock over the other five glasses of milk on the table!  Amid laughter and a really big mess, Christy began to get the point.  Life will provide moments for us that are truly challenging, but often times we are just plain taking things (and ourselves) too seriously.  Life is full of joy, and we all ought to laugh much and often ... even laughing at ourselves ... for a better life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Race for the Cure

St. Mary's is celebrating a record fifteen years of record-breaking participation in the Race for the Cure with a "Sweet 16" challenge to do it again!  This morning in chapel, we heard the personal story of how the St. Mary's community rallied around one senior student's family two years ago as they faced her mother's diagnosis with breast cancer.  She thanked her class and the whole school for being her companions during a painful time: offering her hugs, shoulders, casseroles, and Christmas decorations when she and her family needed their support most.  What a blessing that her mother was with us to hear her tell the story.
SMS Race coordinators invited everyone present to stand up if she or someone she knew had been touched by breast cancer.  Our hope is that our work now means that someday these Chapel talks won't be necessary.  Sweet Sixteen - sign up and race for the cause, the cure, and the future!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

St. Mary's Community Fund

For the first of several Community Fund Chapels, we welcomed Ms. Angela White of Agape Ministries.  Angela thanked the St. Mary's students and supporters for the grant Agape received last year, and she explained to the MS and US audience some of the work made possible by the gift.  Telling us the story of one woman and her children who came to Agape, Angela revealed the multi-layered work that is done by their organization: pre-natal care, residential treatment, life-skills training, child care and child assessment. 
Her commitment to this meaningful work shone through her words, and her gratitude to St. Mary's was sincere.  Ms. White left us with a challenge to remember those whom it would be easy to forget and an invitation to work even more closely with Agape in the future.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rejoice with those who are rejoicing

The Rev. Mark Rutenbar, Rector of Church of the Holy Communion, joined the St. Mary's community on Monday and shared a series of stories revealing, perhaps, one of the darker sides of our personalities: the tendency to resent our neighbor's success.  With a Gospel parable and a Jewish folktale illuminating the same message, he encouraged us to resist the temptation to begrudge another person's accomplishments and instead to rise to the occasion to celebrate the joys of our friends and companions.  Students and faculty recognized the reality of his message, and many shared reflections throughout the day that followed about sharing in the happiness of others' good fortune.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Constitution Celebration

This morning's chapel was filled by the sounds of Schoolhouse Rock, game show questions and new lyrics to a 90's rap hit.   What do these have to do with our nation's history?  Today we celebrated the 233rd year of the Constitution, and through a series of presentations by students in eighth grade and tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades, we were all reminded of the core tenets of American history.
The Preamble was sung in the mock-old fashioned way of Schoolhouse Rock.  Then everyone in attendance was challenged with trivia questions about the three branches of government; enthusiastic flag waving marked all correct answers.  The Bill of Rights rap served as an entertaining finale, and if your faithful blogger can figure out how ... we'll post the video here!

Cum Laude Inductions

Speaking to the themes of excellence, justice, and honor, the six current members of the Cum Laude Society inducted seven new girls into this national society.  Recognizing their academic achievements as well as their personal commitment to make a contribution to the greater good, Dr. Ray and Mrs. Shaw welcomed these seniors and charged them with their responsibility.
The distinguished record you have made at St. Mary's Episcopal School has won for you membership in the Cum Laude Society.  This society is a fellowship of scholars whose purpose is to recognize excellence in academic work.  As you pursue your education, it is our hope that you will accept the honor of membership in this Society as a responsibility to make some contribution to the on-going search for greater understanding of humans and society.
When asked "Do you accept this charge?" They each responded, "I do."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not Your Typical Alum Chapel

Morgan Beckford '06 might have brought the walls down with her amazing voice today in chapel.  She sang three songs, delighting everyone and demonstrating her extraordinary talent.  Significantly though, she began by sharing her evolving story from dreaming of stardom to coming to appreciate that she had a passion for "educational outreach."  Morgan's purpose now seems to be to infect everyone she meets with love for song, and particularly operatic song.
If today is any indication, she's quite contagious.  Look out world!

Monday, September 13, 2010


If I can be a runner*, what can you be?  It is possible to recreate, reinvent, reshape and change who you are.  You'll have to be patient as others around you adjust to your new identity, but in the mean time you can practice making space for those around you to change who they are.

*runner:  noun, something that Katherine Bush has never been, and in fact is an identity that she has actively avoided, even derided.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Constance and her Companions, Part 3

Enjoy these wonderful pictures from our Constance Celebration by Lisa Buser

Constance and her Companions, Part 2

We were honored to worship today with a delegation of sisters, brothers, associates, and friends of the Order of St. Mary and the Brotherhood of St. Gregory.  Coming from "the mountain" (Sewanee) and as far away as Wisconsin to mark the occasion of the Martyrs of Memphis, our guests brought us the "Memphis chalice," a gold chalice that was originally used for worship by Constance and her companions in the 1870's.

Our visitors were here to worship with us as we celebrated our first service of Holy Eucharist for this school year.  Commemorating our heritage through the remembrance of this day with Holy Communion has become a tradition for the Middle and Upper School student bodies. 

We reflected upon the theme of looking deeply, caring actively and loving recklessly.  To engage fully in life and to reach out to those in front of us is not a religious calling, but a path to a rich, full and beautiful life.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Constance and her Companions, Part 1

Assistant Chaplain Susan Snodgrass shared the story of the women (and men) collectively known as the Martrys of Memphis.  Today is the day when the Church remembers their story, and tomorrow our St. Mary's community will celebrate Holy Eucharist in commemoration of their legacy.  After reminding the girls of the key pieces of the Sisters' story, she focused on the "companions."  Who are the people in your life who walk with you through good times and bad?  Who are your companions?

We are looking forward to a special celebration tomorrow, and we are honored to welcome five Sisters of the Order of St. Mary "from the mountain" who are visiting Memphis this weekend to participate in many events at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Friday, September 3, 2010

19th Century?

I'm not ready to give up my ordination, my right to vote, my air conditioning, but I do wish that it was easier for me to slow down.  And not just to slow down, but to stop.  I love texting and facebook and my car and all kinds of 20th and 21st century advances, but I'm thinking of stepping back for a little while this holiday weekend.
Much like our 20-minute-chapel-respite provides, I am looking for a time when I am not producing or consuming or communicating: a time not to do anything, but instead to be.  The 19th century was far from an ideal time, and I wouldn't want to live there ... but I might like to visit.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Community Service Trip

With pictures and stories, the thirteen girls who participated in this past summer's service trip to the Gulf Coast told the Middle and Upper School students all about their adventure. Working with Habitat for Humanity and Americorps volunteers, the students helped with the construction of two houses near Mobile, Alabama. From their telling, it seems that lessons about laminate flooring and grout went hand-in-hand with lessons about sweat equity and the gift of time to a greater cause.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Not To Wear

The St. Mary's Chapel Committee brought "Stacey" and "Clinton" of TLC's What Not To Wear fame to take a look at what some might consider wearing to chapel, and the verdict was a very clear thumbs down. No phones for texting, no headphones under a hoodie, no snacks, no study notes, no blankets, no purses ...
Special thanks to all the faculty who so fashionably modeled these DON'TS on the chapel runway.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Middle School Chapel: A Word to the Wise

Mrs. Snodgrass (US Religion teacher and Assistant Chaplain) shared a "word" with the Middle School girls. After reminding them that she had been a new girl at St. Mary's as a fifth grader and also a former MS teacher, she told them how much she LOVED Wordly Wise! This weekly workbook is a foundational teaching tool for the development of a strong vocabulary, but in Mrs. Snodgrass' view, it became a vehicle for conversation about the difference between smart words and wise words.
Not surprisingly, the girls immediately recognized that wise words came from "thinking before speaking," and that wise words are kind, complimentary, and healing. May these wise words be on our lips throughout the year.

If you're wondering where the Upper School girls were today, rest assured that their experience of "Henrietta Lacks Day: Conversations about Immortality" was a profound, eye-opening, and occasionally mind-blowing event. You're sure to see more about it on the school website and in upcoming articles.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Early Childhood Chapel "Whoever You Are"

From Mem Fox's Whoever You Are:

Little one,
when you are older and when you are grown,
you may be different,

and they may be different,
wherever you are,
wherever they are,
in this big, wide world.

But remember this:

Joys are the same,
and love is the same.

Pain is the same,
and blood is the same.

Smiles are the same,
and hearts are just the same -

wherever they are,
wherever you are,
wherever we are,



Spanning Disney history from black and white Mickey Mouse to Nemo to Hannah Montana, the Junior Class enthusiastically encouraged the St. Mary's community to sell wrapping paper and to support this important (think Prom) fundraiser. A lively and laughter-filled series of songs certainly made their point boisterously clear!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Senior Speeches

Stay tuned as we bring you links to hear the talks given by each graduating senior. These wonderful talks offer each girl an opportunity to reflect, laugh, share poignant moments and hard-learned wisdom. What a gift!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's an Honor Thing

The Upper School student representatives who make up the Honor Council took the floor today. Instead of reading dictionary definitions of honor, though, they demonstrated for the SMES community just how the process works. With the help of a "cheater" and a "concerned student" (wonderfully willing faculty sponsors - Latin and Spanish teachers by day), the girls unpacked the journey from bad choice to resolution. This peek behind the veil gave everyone a chance to understand that the Honor Code isn't just words on a plaque, but a way of living together in trust.

It's an honor thing ... and now you understand.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Do-Overs (a.k.a. Be gentle)

My first week of school didn't go perfectly. It was wonderful ... just not "perfect." I made a few mistakes; well, okay, a bunch. Fortunately, we are part of a community of grace and forgiveness, and I know that I shouldn't just give up on the whole year at this point. We seek excellence around here, but we do so as imperfect creatures.

A few words from Always We Begin Again, which happens to have been written by John McQuiston, my father.

"When we rise from sleep let us rise for the joy
of the true Work that we will be about on this day,
and considerately cheer one another on.

Life will always provide matters for concern.
Each day, however, brings with it reasons for joy.

Every day carries the potential
to bring the experience of heaven;
have the courage to expect good from it.

Be gentle with this life,
and use the light of life
to live fully in your time."

Friday, August 20, 2010


St. Mary's enjoys a wonderful relationship with Church of the Holy Communion, sharing not only space, but also a commitment to honoring the role of the sacred in our lives. Regularly, we hear from the clergy and staff of CHC, and the Rev. Ollie Rencher, Asssociate Rector for Pastoral Care and Social Ministries, offered the following words from Henri Nouwen as part of his talk:

"Compassion erases the mistakes of life, just as the rubber end of a pencil removes the smudges on the paper."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Early Childhood Chapel Begins

The ECC began a new year of chapels with a wonderful celebration of the first days of school. Click the link to catch the joy!

Lions and Tigers and ... Golden Tickets

With a chorus of Ooompa Lumpas, the Middle School Student Council and Pep Club members warmly welcomed new students and faculty to the MS Family. From where I was sitting those "golden tickets" looked suspiciously like candy bars ... lucky girls!

Then the zoo animals broke loose all over the Chapel, and the Upper School Student Council leadership welcomed all of us to the St. Mary's Zoo. They called on all the new girls and teachers to come forward and receive a cup full of treats.

Lively and filled with laughter, we come together in chapel to celebrate those new people who will make our school new, and we move into an exciting new year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Night Prayer

it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.

from The New Zealand Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Feast of St. Mary

Greek Lesson for the day:
Theotokos = God-bearer

Mary was a God-bearer which tells us something of her strength and courage.
Likewise, we are bearers of God ... We demonstrate our own strength and courage when we carry God with us and when we see that God is carried within everyone we meet.

Sculpture by Margaret Adams Parker

Monday, August 16, 2010

Opening Chapel

Here are a few words from Mrs. Shaw's opening address ...

This morning, you are sitting in a sacred place. As you sit in the Church of the Holy Communion during St. Mary’s opening chapel service, you begin your school year with all the opportunities a sacred place can provide. If you are to gain from those opportunities that are waiting for you here, you have to come to chapel—respectful, reverent, and willing to be open to the experience. And what an experience it can be—to sing and worship together, to hear from priests and rabbis, and to hear seniors share their senior chapel talks and learn more about them. Chapel can be a time of quiet reflection and meditation during a hectic school day. Chapel can be a time of joy and laughter.

At St. Mary’s, we have chapel everyday for good reason. We have chapel everyday because we value faith and reason for all, whatever our individual faith might be. Chapel is a time for personal reflection and for shared moments when we can celebrate our differences and learn from them. Our chapel calls for reflection, reverence, and respect. This chapel reflects the St. Mary’s community. In fact, it is the St. Mary’s community.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Faculty Chapel

"To Be of Use"

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy