In recent years, silence has defined Upper School Meeting for Worship. It has been common for the quiet to remain uninterrupted during the span of 45 minutes, as few have chosen to speak.
This year’s Meetings for Worship have been markedly different. Many students and faculty have been moved to speak, often sharing messages of deeply personal significance, including several that touched on illness, death, and coming out. Meeting has become a space where members of our community can feel safe expressing their thoughts to their peers, without necessarily initiating a dialogue about topics that may be very sensitive. The one-way nature of this exchange provides speakers with a sense of control; they are not required to argue or answer for their messages. However, for every person who feels able to share in Meeting, there is likely another who has a message, but feels uncomfortable expressing it within this context.
In order to meet the needs of all students, alternative support spaces for personal expression should be created. To be effective, these groups should reflect the qualities that have made Meeting a safe environment in which to be vulnerable. In Meeting, we slow down and make ourselves available to our thoughts, to the revelations of others, and for some, to God. It is in this state of awareness that we may best bring our empathy to others.
These small group meetings might bear resemblance to the current Upper School Worship Sharings, both in size and degree of intimacy. However, the smaller groups should have the opportunity to have unprogrammed meetings, allowing for free expression and for topics relevant to the group to arise organically. Whether these groups should meet in silence or have discussion could be explored by each group individually.
There is already time available in our current schedules for these group meetings, we just need to take advantage of it. For example, the groups could be implemented within the current grade advisory structure. Advisory periods that typically have been used for administrative purposes could be adapted to include time for sharing and reflection. For juniors and seniors, who do not have regular advisory periods, class meetings could sometimes be used for the same purpose. Our advisory groups and grade-level meetings have the potential to become micro-communities of support, offering a valuable outlet to the student body.