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Together 5.27.22

May 27, 2022 | Nancy Van Epps

by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi

What Kind of Christian School Are You?

Due the worship rotation, third grade teacher Cindy Kuperus happened to be the one scheduled to lead prayer services the day after Tuesday’s Texas elementary school tragedy. (Sandwiched between opening and closing singing in the 12 minutes of Lower School daily worship are 4-5 minutes where teachers take turns presenting a Bible story or lesson that follows a prescribed curriculum, and then guiding prayer.)

Students have been studying the adventures and Epistles of Paul in the Bible over the past several weeks, and Ms. Kuperus had been given Romans 12 for the week of letters to churches.

“I had planned to avoid the assigned verse for the day, ‘Don’t let evil overcome you, but overcome evil with good,” because it felt too heavy, abstract and harsh for this age. I had actually prepared a lesson around, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers,” says Ms. Kuperus.

“Then the devastating shooting occurred. I truly felt the Holy Spirit working through me. I wanted the children to feel empowered in the face of this tragedy, so I returned to the primary lines.”

After reading Paul’s words aloud at worship, Ms. Kuperus offered three ways for younger students to work when confronted with evil in the world:

  1. Sing: The students had just completed work on their spring concert. Using the moving spirituals of the American slaves as an example, she suggested that singing can help students feel connected to others and lift their spirits.
  2. Share: The first grade is currently conducting a service project to collect commodities like laundry detergent, soap, and toothpaste for The Lighthouse, a project run by the Episcopal Churches of Jersey City. She proposed that contributing is a concrete action that students could take to overcome evil.
  3. Pray: Communicating with God and asking for God’s help and comfort is doing something. I believe that God’s work happens through prayer. When Jesus was innocent and on the cross, he offered a prayer for those who persecuted him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Ms. Kuperus’ sharing goes to the heart of our answer to the question, “What kind of Christian school are you?” Rather than composing a hollow social media post in the standard political parlance of the day or at the other end of the spectrum, giving a speech to students that could elevate alarm levels during an era of so much alarm, Ms. Kuperus offered a sense of connection and compassion that forms the center of our daily lives at Mustard Seed. These practices are readily available in a place where all students are beloved children of God, and we care for God’s world together.

If her students had not heard about the shooting, that day’s worship service would have felt like any day’s worship service. But for those who felt alienated or sad or had come to school knowing that their peers in Texas were in this unsafe place, Ms. Kuperus seamlessly provided both a philosophy and practical strategies in a space where students have enjoyed community and tackled complex questions since they were three years old.

“Children know when you are not being authentic,” says Ms. Kuperus. “I wanted to help them navigate their thinking with such a complicated problem and to feel empowered. I closed with the prayer that Jesus taught us. I don’t know if you noticed, but I repeated ‘deliver us from evil’ three times.”

We know the value of daily worship from talking to our young alums. What we practice as a community, espouse in our beliefs, and enact in our ethics, enriches our graduates as they live complex lives in an ever-changing world.

Nancy Van Epps

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