Light streams into the gym, splattering sunshine-glitter across the light wood hatchery floor. Soaring violin ushers in lines of short humans. Smiling adults accompany them, some (including me) clutching tightly to travel coffee mugs. It’s the preface to Thursday morning chapel for our Early Childhood Center, and depending on where you work on campus, you may not have even known it exists. If you have attended a new faculty campus visitation day or an admissions visit for your own child you likely have experienced the joyful phenomenon that is Lower School Chapel. But the ECC-specific chapel is a fairly recent innovation, one that came to be (like many things) during covid, when we were forced to rethink large gatherings. And it is one pandemic-conceived thing, unlike the masks and the “let’s concurrently teach kids at home and kids in the classroom with iPads,” that many have grown to treasure.
In some ways this chapel is reminiscent of the lower school chapel gatherings. The children sing “This is the Day” with robust vocal stylings. They recite the Lord’s Prayer and 23rd Psalm.
But there are distinct differences too. Missing are the waving parents that flank the youth in the larger 1st-4th gathering. The room feels more intimate. Our little saints clearly feel more comfortable asking questions and giving feedback. Rev. Hailey also takes on homily with a delightful spin. She rotates ECC classrooms, asking them to illustrate the Bible story of the day, and then uses their creative drawings as the anchor text for the chapel. The result isn’t merely “cute”; it is breathtakingly poignant. The children who create the art are lit up with pride and excitement. The children who didn’t create this week squirm in their seats to get a closer look at the butterflies, the color choices, the angle of the figures. Even the adults, such as myself, who had heard the story approximately 1052 times feel something fresh being birthed by the artistic representation. One child stops Rev. Hailey mid-sentence: “Did you say Jesus was going to die?!” The room grew silent with the heavy-truth. I had thought of it a million times. But I felt it anew.
Even prayer time has a spin. Rather than just an abstract reading of the prayers, Rev. Hailey picks out symbolic pictures from a box to represent prayers for our families, communities, school, pets and teachers. It strikes me hard then. When you have a more narrow audience you can so much more precisely hit appropriate development levels.
A mere 15-20 minutes later the service is over. The children file out of the gym and back to their worlds of circle time, phonics, centers, lofts, snacks, outdoor play, recess. But the sacred follows them. It can come in so many shapes and sizes, after all: in the arc of a musical expression, a hug from a friend, the art of a four year old, the laughter of play.