I arrived in Philadelphia for the annual #iste2015 educational conference to facilitate a blended learning workshop. Having taught history earlier in my career, I always enjoy taking in the local history. On Sunday morning, I decided to attend church at Christ Church, known as the “the Nation’s Church” since it was built in 1744, seven of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in the nearby burial grounds and it was the church attended by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Betsy Ross among others. The 9:00am Episcopalian service was attended by about 100 people and was officiated by the Rev. Susan Richardson.
The Rev. Richardson began her sermon with “It’s been a hell of a week!” First, she talked about the tragic killing of 9 people at the Charleston Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal church and the inspirational eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and singing of “Amazing Grace” by President Barack Obama. Next she discussed the senseless terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. Then she discussed the decisions of the Supreme Court this past week. First, on Thursday, the decision of the court to “keep the Affordable Care Act on the table”so that millions of Americans would not suddenly lose their health care. Then, the historic decision on Friday that struck down state bans on same sex marriage. And then, in the Episcopal Church, they elect a “presiding Bishop” every nine years. Bishop Michael Curry was the first African American Bishop elected in the Episcopal Church and he is following the first female Bishop elected by an Anglican church.
She then turned our attention to the Bible reading of the day, which was the story of a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and touched the cloak of Jesus Christ and was then healed (Mark 5:21-43). The Rev. Richardson then asked rhetorically, “so what is the connection between the events of the past week and this reading?” She went on to explain that we are all human and that we seek connectedness and relationships with others.
As an educator, Catholic, father and as a gay man, I could not have agreed with her message more. Life really is about being human, connecting to others and relationships. Good educational leaders know that relationships built with colleagues causes others to think and transform in new ways – especially in the field of educational technology, blended learning and online learning. Good teachers also know that the best way to impact student learning is by building relationships with each individual student, learning about the interests and abilities of each individual student and then challenging them where they are at.
The message of Rev. Susan Richardson in Christ Church in Philadelphia almost 250 years after its founding validates the progress that has been made in America. It also illustrates the importance of valuing each person and respecting their opinion, while at the same time valuing the discourse. It took many years before the Declaration of Independence was shared for the first time on July 4, 1774. The Declaration was written and debated and developed for many years before it was officially proclaimed. In order for that to happen, there was much compromise, connectedness and relationship building.
Even more important today, for American society, churches and schools to remain viable, our relationships with one another, how we are each human, our ability to connect with one another as well as respect one another for who we are and where we are each at – are important qualities that lead to a successful nation, successful churches and successful schools.