Masked teacher teaching elementary school children.
How do we support the spiritual health of our school community?


Centering silence around three candles. Collective tone singing followed by reflection. Listening to others’ experiences with discombobulation. Identifying the sacred in whatever you do. Sharing on how to enrich Meeting for Worship.

Welcome to Friends Council’s Spiritual Life and Religious Studies Educators Peer Network – the oldest of Friends Council’s peer networks.
This year’s peer network gathered in person in December around the theme, “How do we support the spiritual health of our community in the midst of the current discombobulation of civic and cultural norms?” The session was facilitated by Tom Hoopes, head of Religions Department, George School (PA) and Amelia Shull, art teacher and upper school Quakerism coordinator, Carolina Friends School (NC). Quaker author Pamela Harris gave the keynote presentation and the group engaged in a number of small-group sharing and whole-group interactions. 
Haines’ presentation focused on showing up in service to the sacred, using the framework of sacred moments, sacred places, sacred people, and sacred institutions. For each of these categories, Haines lifted up examples and quotes. 

  • Sacred moments: Her grandchild noticing a puddle as “a portal to the sky” and Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Life, “Pay attention, be amazed, tell about it.”  
  • Sacred places: Her community garden and Wendell Berry’s line, “there are no unsacred places, only sacred places and desecrated places.” 
  • Sacred people: She referenced the Quaker belief of “there is that of God in everyone” and the importance of continuing a thread of a relationship. “Sometimes we follow people and it leads us to places we never imagined,” shared Haines. “It can really take courage to open our hearts, and we may need to change.” Haines described her own decision to apply to tutor in a certain neighborhood because she realized she was not interacting with those different from herself. “If you are not bumping into people you have been separated from (by race, social status) you need to change your daily routines.” She also changed from making a “to do” list of tasks to thinking about her day in terms of webs of relationships and planning her day that way instead.
  • Sacred institutions: She referenced theologian Walter Wink and his suggestion that it was the work of the church to call our institutions back to their divine vocation.

“What keeps us from noticing sacred moments and sacred places?” Haines asked the group. “It’s about remembering the sacredness in whatever work you are doing. If we can plant ourselves in places we see as sacred, if we can play a role in maintaining those sacred places, we stand on more solid ground.” Haines is the author of Money & Soul: Faith and Practice and the Economy, and Encounters with the Sacred and the Profane and offers a monthly blog and podcast. 
“Pamela Haines offered so many gems to carry back to the classroom! I have incorporated talking about the sacred and using the Wendell Berry poem in our unit in silence,” says Jennifer Chernak, William Penn Charter School (PA) visual arts teacher and 7th grade coordinator. “I was surprised to find 7th graders could define sacred in their own words in a meaningful way.”

In the afternoon, educators engaged in group conversation around what they envision for the peer network, where they see sacred spaces in their schools, various ways for approaching Meeting for Worship, and the upcoming 2023 Quaker Youth Leadership Conference.
“I appreciated the different perspectives on Meeting for Worship. We all hold it as a central Quaker practice to preserve and also see the need to make it more meaningful and relevant,” shared Chernak.
“The workshop was fantastic in providing the space, time and structure for me to think productively about the challenges of not just teaching Quaker-centric Spirituality in my school but of caring for the spiritual life of my school community as a whole,” shares educator Thomas Soper of Friends Central School (PA). “Attending the workshop has given me renewed energy to grow into this work, a clearer vision about how to enact needed change in my institution, and congenial connections with teachers and administrators across the Friends school network.”

“As one of the co-coordinators of this event, I feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to bring together such a wonderful group of colleagues and fellow spiritual travelers,” shares Tom Hoopes. “I feel refreshed in my commitment to Friends education, and in my connection with this community.”

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