Together 6.2.23

June 1, 2023 | Nancy Van Epps

by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi

A consistent theme in the annual autobiographical profiles composed by our eighth grade students this year mirrors a tenant of our Portrait of a Graduate brochure under the heading: A Child of God. A Mustard Seed graduate exhibits self-knowledge and understands that they live a life of meaning and purpose.

Profile after profile convey the student’s desire to make the world a better place and their confidence that they will achieve their goals. They often express an intention “to be known as a person that inspires others,” and a “hope to be a great friend to . . . future classmates” after leaving Mustard Seed.  One student communicated the concept in practical terms: “He loves exchanging ideas and thought processes with teams to work together and make the best thing they can make.“ Another student wrote, “After almost a whole lifetime of study in a very kind environment, [he] is ready to help the world by creating solutions for small or big problems.”

Plunging into the Bible’s splendors and mysteries during daily worship together provides space for the contemplation of the vastness of the world and the validity of adopting a positive outlook in life. The invitations to meditation every day support a life of active engagement, connection, and commitment to serve others.

“That sense of wonder was always present,” says Lillian Meyer Taylor, MSS ‘04 and MSS Board member. “I can still remember the Time to Reflect during Lent. That opportunity to learn to embrace silence and to reflect when I was six years-old was unique and meaningful. Only Mustard Seed could have provided that opportunity.”

A Mustard Seed family does not need to be invested in institutional religion to draw benefits from the transformative spiritual practices and deep community of our school. Although Jill Kastner, a mother of three graduates of Mustard Seed, was raised in the Presbyterian church, as an adult, she no longer considers herself to be religious. Jill does, however, appreciate the universal tenants of major religions which espouse the concepts of striving to be a good person and making the world a better place for those around you.

For Jill and her husband, Tim Rice, these ideas were the emphasis of morning worship. “For my children, MSS worship provided tools to explore who they wanted to become as people and allowed them to contemplate their place in the world. The school encouraged them to pursue something greater than themselves—a concept that is more important now than ever. I also appreciate the school’s commitment to advocacy for those who are underprivileged, unhoused and in need, as well as Mustard Seed’s belief in inclusivity—the idea that differences are embraced and not just tolerated.

In addition, the sense of community at MSS was invaluable to my family. In my oldest child’s first four years at the school, parents were invited into the classroom every morning. With our travel mugs of coffee in hand, we’d watch our children prepare for the day. We chatted, got to know one another, and formed friendships. While some of us rushed off to work, others remained for worship and continued our conversations. But it was that time in the classroom that solidified many friendships that are still strong almost two decades later. That kind of community was instrumental in our early years as a young family.”

Those friendships were so strong, in fact, that, along with another family in her oldest child’s first grade class, Jill and her husband Tim, started the MSS camping trip tradition in 2006!

That view is echoed by young alum and successful entrepreneur, Brynn Wallner, MSS ’04 who is based in New York City and travels internationally for her business, Dimepiece.

“At Mustard Seed, you learn to seek and recognize the goodness and beauty in the world. I am not a religious person, but I do consider myself to be a spiritual being,” says Brynn.

As a child in worship, I heard stories about the struggle between good and evil. Rather than brushing complex issues under the rug, I considered difficult philosophical questions along with my Mustard Seed peers at a very young age. What is the value of being kind to your neighbor? Jesus was kind to the lepers and modeled behavior for my current encounters with the unhoused in my neighborhood.”

“You learn to be gracious,” says Brynn. “Even with the small sample size of 15 students in my class, there was tremendous diversity that I would not have experienced in the suburbs. You go to school with all walks of life and it teaches you to nurture a curiosity about others and become a good listener. Making new friends is easy for me because I feel like I can get along with everyone.

The key to life is to have an open heart. If you can hold onto that premise, it will carry you into adulthood.”

Nancy Van Epps

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