Senior Day Sermon by Jacob Schafer | 26 April 2015

Jacob SchaferIn September 2011, I was a freshman living on Old Campus, as many of you are or were at one point. One Saturday, a knock came on my door. It was Abby Bok and Dacie Thompson, two ECY upperclassmen whom some of you may know. As I soon discovered, they were bringing me three things: an invitation to ECY, a small pamphlet with dates, times, and so forth, and, most importantly, a Snickers bar.

Now, at this point, I had not had much contact with ECY. I was a cradle Episcopalian, and so sure, I had turned in the card to the chaplain’s office identifying me as an Episcopalian. ECY had sent me a packet at the beginning of the year with, among other things, an ECY hat. I was now receiving periodic emails giving me information about ECY’s weekly services. But until then I hadn’t yet made the time to come to ECY and see what it was about. Whether it was the personal contact, my desire to find a home church at Yale, or the Snickers bar, I couldn’t say, but I ended up going to ECY the next Sunday, and I’m so glad I did. That Sunday, ECY happened to be doing a choral Evensong in place of the regular service, and were performing Charles Villiers Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. It immediately brought me back to my home church, where as a chorister I had actually sung the soprano solo in the Magnificat. Yet even more importantly, throughout the service I felt the presence of God and a connection to this place, and to ECY. From then on, I have attended ECY services, bible studies, evening prayer, outreach programs, anything ECY has put on, as much as I could.

At ECY, I discovered a place where every Sunday we reach God’s presence through worship and music. As many of you know, music has been an important part of my time here at Yale, and I’ve really appreciated being part of a community that has shared my appreciation of music, and where I can find not just an aesthetic or intellectual interest in music, but a deep spiritual connection to it as well. Yet at ECY I also discovered a place where we can have fascinating, insightful, and wide ranging discussions at Bible Study, where we strive to give back to the community, and most of all where there’s a community of friends in Christ.

Throughout my four years at Yale, a lot has changed. I’ve changed majors, taken different classes, and (I hope) grown as a scholar, a musician, and as a person. ECY has had changes, too, from its membership, to its choir and choirmaster, to, yes, its chaplain, but through it all, it has remained a supportive and close knit community, a community I have often relied on to get me through Yale. Even if I only got one Snickers bar out of it, ECY has been a constant presence through my college years, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

Senior Day Sermon by Austin Schafer | 26 April 2015

Austin PreachingMy sister, Allison Schaefer, is a sophomore at Brown University. Right now she’s taking a writing course in creative non-fiction, and she wrote her final paper on her faith journey in college. I’m going to begin with a passage that she wrote just last week:

It’s 5:27 pm. There are only two other people at the service—neither of them students. Today is the last day of “Spring Weekend,” Brown’s annual three-day concert extravaganza which features rappers and rockers, dazed and confused students, and dangerous levels of intoxication, amidst a general splattering of chaos. The silence of the small chapel is interrupted by music blaring out of a fraternity window across the street. The two other attendees, older gentlemen, exchange irritated glances.

Spring weekend is not over, I think. People are still partying—still having fun. Why am I spending my Sunday evening at Church when I could be out with my friends? There are four of us in the chapel, while thousands of students are tanning, dancing, and singing out on the green. Why am I here?

Father Blake glides in, wearing his long, black cassock. As he begins the service, I open to page 62 in the prayer book.

It only takes a few seconds for these thoughts to leave my head. The gentle rhythm of the opening prayer spoken in unison, the aroma of fresh candles burning before me, the rainbow pallet of colors shining through the stained glass window all cause me to understand why I came to Church at 5:30 on that day.

These words could not be more timely. Just yesterday, many of us in this room were similarly enjoying the debaucherous excess of Spring Fling just outside these doors. Luckily, we didn’t have to choose, as Allie did, between evening prayer and bacchanalian frenzy.

What struck me most about Allie’s words was not this timely coincidence, however, or the way she’s grown into such an eloquent and expressive writer. It was the eerily parallel experiences we’ve had with faith in college. We grew up in Wilton, CT and regularly attended services at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church with our parents, who are seated here today. Faith, to us, was not an ecstatic emotional experience, but a weekly routine. Allie put it much better than I possibly could, so I’ll quote her again:

Going to Church had been like visiting a distant relative. I went when protocol required it. I was polite, gracious, and attentive. I went through the motions, but didn’t understand the movement. I recited the words, but didn’t know whom I was talking to.

Like Allie, when I came to college as a freshman, going to Church was a comfortable routine that, for reasons I couldn’t articulate, felt good to do. I lived in Farnam Hall, just across Old Campus, and when I heard the organ music start playing at 5 pm every Sunday, I would wrap up whatever I had been working on and amble across the green to Dwight Chapel.

Attending services at ECY was comforting, and it added structure to my week—dedicated time for solemnity and reflection. But at the same time, I struggled with my identity as a Christian. At such a highly intellectual, secular place like Yale, many people don’t openly discuss their faith. Atheists and agnostics enjoy a sort of intellectual satisfaction—or perhaps intellectual conceit—that people of faith don’t, and I’ll admit I was embarrassed to discuss my faith with people who I worried would consider me unintellectual. Even to myself, I was unsettled by my inability to rationalize my Christian beliefs. God, in fact, is easy to rationalize—someone had to invent the laws of physics. Christ is more difficult—how can I accommodate the Immaculate Conception or the Resurrection with my understanding of the universe as an orderly place, governed by strict rules without exception. And I’m not a deist, satisfied with an understanding of God as a disinterested, divine clockmaker. I’m a Christian, and I want to be a Christian. Like Allie, I could go through the motions, but I could not understand the movement. And I found this immensely frustrating.

Gradually, however, I came to realize that I had been thinking about this in entirely the wrong way. People here are really intelligent—often too smart for our own good—and we’re used to being able to figure things out. Not until I began to shed this intellectual vanity—the assumption that I could somehow figure Christ out—could I ever hope to be satisfied with my Christian identity.

Just as Allie found meaning in the scent of the candles and the light shining through the stained glass, I’ve finally started to feel Christ’s presence in the world in sublime, ineffable ways. When the choir sings the Anthem at the Offertory, when the organ plays the closing voluntary, when the Congregation reads aloud the ancient words of the Nicene Creed—this is when I feel the Holy Spirit. I shut my eyes, empty my mind of thoughts, and feel the presence of God.

I will never be able to rationalize Christ. Nor should I even try. All I can do is take comfort in the knowledge that Christ is peace; Christ is love; Christ is life.

Senior Day Sermon by Chamonix Adams Porter | 26 April 2015

Chamonix PreachingI was a bit of a late bloomer, spiritually. I never really belonged to a congregation as a child. When I arrived at Yale, I, like many freshmen, packed my schedule with meetings and decided that I couldn’t possibly make time for church.

By the summer after my sophomore year, I felt exhausted and aimless. I’d spent hundreds of hours on social justice projects, taken dozens of classes to teach me how to change the world, and yet I still felt stuck. So, early in my junior year, I came alone to a service at the Episcopal Church at Yale.

For me, ECY has been a place both of rest and of action.

As today’s readings remind us, God is a refuge—God makes us lie down in green pastures. Similarly, ECY has been a place of rest for me—a place of quietness, prayer, and reflection, a place to escape the busyness of campus and be still.

At the same time, as today’s readings remind us, God calls us to action. At ECY, I have learned that God calls us to so much more than just “being nice”—we are called, instead, to “lay down our lives for the brethren.” At ECY, we respond as a community to Christ’s call to action. In conversations and prayer, we have asked what it means to follow Christ. Our leaders, Rev. Paul and Rev. Kathryn, have offered us examples of godly lives. Together, we strive to love God and love each other.

When I first came to ECY, I could have never imagined the impact that it would have on my life. I saw it as an experiment, and it became a home. ECY is a place of rest and a place of action—just as our God is a refuge and a shelter, but also a living presence that moves our world to greater justice.

As we leave this place, I know that we will each carry this community with us. Together, we have built a community that strives every day to know and follow God: in rest, in work, and in every moment.