As I was working on my doctoral dissertation, “Moral Development and the Community of Faith,” I had the opportunity to visit many Episcopal church schools, as well as other institutions. One of the schools I visited was St. Paul’s School, a boarding school near Concord, New Hampshire, which has an international reputation for excellence. It was founded in 1856 on property donated by Dr. George Cheyne Shattuck, Senior Warden of Boston’s Episcopal Church of the Advent. At many boarding schools the first thing that new students receive is a set of keys and locks to keep their belongings in secure lockers or dorm rooms. Not so, at St. Paul’s! They endeavor—with surprising success—to establish a “community of trust” among their students, not through a strict set of rules and punishments, but rather through the example of behavior set by senior student leaders. They have an “in confidence” system, whereby a student can share concerns about dorm misbehavior with faculty mentors without fear that they or another student will be punished, but that together they can work to resolve the problem before it gets out of hand. Finally they tell incoming students “we don’t have a list of rules here, we have a set of expectations!”
I like that word! Living up to a community’s “expectations” is so much better than feeling you are under the compulsion to live up to a strict set of rules and regulations. If expectations are internalized they become a much superior motivation for behavior than the eyes of Big Brother enforcing his rules. One meets expectations because one does not want to let the family, the school, the larger community down. One wants to meet the expectations of parents or loved ones in a way that differs from taking orders from a boss or a drill sergeant. In fact, there is a theological and scriptural basis for this approach to community life. St. Paul tells us that we are no longer living under “the law”, the Mosaic tablets of God’s commandments and their rabbinic derivatives. We now live by grace, knowing that a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ is what “saves” us, not our deeds or obedience to “the law” (which is impossible for us, as sinners, to achieve on our own.) As people set free by Christ, we act in accord with God’s “expectations” of his sons and daughters not in order to “earn” his favor. We act in thanksgiving for His free, undeserved gift of forgiveness and grace. We have the power and the will to meet Gods expectations much of the time because He is there to help us, not because we fear His anger or punishment. His “expectations” are another way of talking about His will for us. Trust in his mercy and forgiveness is another factor helping us to do His will as we pray “thy will be done.”
We belong to a Christian family community. What then are some of the expectations we have for those who become members of the community? Some Christian churches are very strict about their rules of membership. The Episcopal church may seem to be too lax about its expectations, but they are quite evident for those who care to look, and who take their baptismal promises seriously. These are our basic expectations: to turn away from following temptations of “the world, the flesh and the devil” and “to follow Jesus Christ” as our savior and leader; to “love on another as he has loved us.” In very practical terms we expect our members to make three basic commitments: regular participation in our worship of God, and on going commitment of financial support of the parish and God’s kingdom at large and the gift of our time and talent to serve the needs of our church family and minister, in Christ’s name, to the cause of justice and reconciliation in the wider world.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer