As many of you probably know, there is no graduation requirement for community service at St. Andrew’s; there is no threshold of hours that a student must fulfill during her time at St. Andrew’s in order to receive a diploma. This is intentional. We believe that service should be a response to need that flows from a generosity of spirit and a self-sacrificial attitude. What’s more, we want our students to understand that service is its own reward. One does not need accolades, credit hours, a t-shirt, or the promise of a heavenly reward to derive the spiritual uplift available each time we encounter another human being and serve him. As Paul Farmer, the Harvard-trained physician who brought modern health care to Haiti, and who spoke at SAS several years ago, puts it: “That’s when I feel most alive, when I’m helping people.” So how do we lead our students to this realization, and better yet, how do we get them excited to help others?
When I was a sophomore in college, I went on a mission trip to Central America as member of a freestyle wrestling team. While we were traveling through the countryside of Guatemala, I had an experience that changed my outlook on service and inspired me to devote myself to serving others. Looking out the window of the team bus, I saw human beings, no different than me, living in such abject poverty that it deeply disturbed me. I could not make sense of how I could have so much, relative to the people I saw living in corrugated tin shacks, who seemed to have so little. In my attempt to understand this dissonance, I said a prayer and asked God to show me something in the Bible that would help give me any comprehension. I opened my Bible, and here is the passage that I immediately flipped to:
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (I John 3:17,18)
The call to serve should not come from an externally imposed requirement or even from the desire to be regarded as a “good person," but rather it should be a response to the realization that those people you see begging on the street, poor, hungry, homeless, infirmed, are just like you and me. Therefore, instead of requiring service at St. Andrew’s, we teach compassion. We teach the act of “coming alongside of” another human being and trying to comprehend what they are going through, and how we might stand for them and by them on their journey. We teach this act by putting our students in proximity each week with people in need, through trips, for example, to Andrew’s Place, Epiphany House, local senior centers, and local schools, or by bringing differently-abled children to campus for swimming lessons, dance workshops, and Special Olympics events.
Our Chapel program furthers this mission by imbuing in our students the value of self-sacrificial love that provides the inspiration for our outreach. Gathering together in community, we challenge ourselves to let go of self-centeredness, abandon our “comfort zones,” and share the love that we feel in our hearts. Our students know that the true measure of the Chapel program is not in the prayers we say, the hymns we sing, or the Chapel Talks that we hear, but in whether we “love in truth and action” when we go up the Chapel stairs and out into the world. Mother Teresa reminds us, “Love is a one-way street. It always moves away from self in the direction of the other. Love is the ultimate gift of ourselves to others.” St. Andrew’s ethos grows out of connecting our spirituality with our love for humanity in order to create students who are devoted to service.
- Faculty Essays