Jacob said, “I will not let you go, until you bless me.”
Last Saturday, I was privileged to speak at the Bishop Walker School’s dedication of their new facility. If you haven’t seen the new building, it is a testimony to what God has done through the collective investment of the diocese and the faithful, persistent work of so many. The Bishop Walker School is now part of the Town Hall Education Arts Campus (THEARC), one of eleven non-profit agencies on campus, all dedicated to providing excellence in education, healthcare, and the arts in southeast Washington, D.C.
The fifth spiritual practice in our Episcopal rule of life, The Way of Love is to bless, a powerful gift that we as Christians can offer one other and our world. The Celtic poet John O’Donohue defines blessing as “a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, bless and strengthen.” “It would be infinitely lonely to live in a world without blessing,” he writes. “The word itself evokes a sense of warmth; it suggests that no life is alone and unreachable.”
The Bishop Walker School was built on dreams and blessings.
Kindness lies at the heart of blessing. “When someone is kind to you,” O’Donohue continues, “you feel understood and seen. There is no judgement or harsh perception directed towards you. Kindness has gracious eyes.”
Kindness is also a core value of the Bishop Walker School, embedded in the school prayer, which the boys recite daily:
Grant, O Lord,
that in all the joys of life,
we may never forget to be kind.
Help us to be unselfish in friendship,
thoughtful of those less happy than ourselves,
and eager to bear the burdens of others.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Every person who has played a part in the establishment of the Bishop Walker School and who remains committed to its mission has been swept up in a God-sized dream: to provide the blessing of a tuition-free Episcopal school education for African American boys living in underserved communities. The Bishop Walker’s School’s mission is clear: “to foster a love of learning, intellectual curiosity, spiritual foundation, and moral character that each boy will need as a student, as a citizen, and as a child of God.”
To offer such a blessing to an individual child is a transformative experience. There’s nothing quite like being the one to say a kind word, offer encouragement or instruction at the precise time it can be received; to be the one to open a door that would otherwise be shut, cultivate and nurture giftedness, expand a child’s horizons of possibilities; to be, as St. Francis prayed, an instrument of God’s love.
To contribute to the creation and support of an institution such as the Bishop Walker School moves our blessing into the realm of social transformation. For our individual blessing now extends beyond personal limits into the arena of sustained, collective engagement and leveraged impact.
So it is that the blessing of the Bishop Walker School extends far beyond the care and education of individual boys. It also blesses adults–parents, teachers, administrators, artists–who feel called to dedicate their lives to a cause greater than themselves. It provides those with financial means the opportunity to give generously to a truly inspiring organization that can also handle the responsibility of stewarding those gifts well. It symbolizes our church’s commitment to participate in the creative, redemptive power of God at work in the world, and it embodies God’s dream where all children can grow into their God-given potential.
“There’s always a certain innocence at the beginning of a great adventure,” O’Donohue reminds us, “with all the excitement and promise of something new.” Many at the dedication on Saturday have been with the Bishop Walker School from the beginning, and they will tell us that pursuing a God-sized dream requires God-sized faith and perseverance in the hardest of times. Had they known at the beginning what the dream would require of them, they may not have pursued it. But that’s true for all of us, in all endeavors worth doing. And the chance to be part of such a dream’s realization is among life’s greatest blessings.
I hope everyone in the Diocese of Washington knows that you have been instrumental in the creation and establishment of the Bishop Walker School. For without the Diocese of Washington’s collective commitment to this dream, the Bishop Walker School would not exist and could not continue. Every day, you bless each individual at the Bishop Walker School, and you bless their families. You bless the adults who have been given the chance to offer their gift in such an inspiring context. You bless the neighborhood of Anacostia.
God only knows how far the blessings you provide will extend, as these boys grow into men, and the school’s capacity grows.
Thank you. May blessings return to you one hundred fold.