Night 2 of the retreat. Students are simultaneously exhausted and euphoric: they’ve had too much sun and too little hydration; they’ve played too hard and stayed up too late; and they’re far from home at a mountain lodge, sitting under a starry night listening to the best storyteller on our staff masterfully spin his tales.
All the above is pretty normal at our annual House retreat, but this year, something new happened. Student leaders approached Mr. Tucker and Mrs. Francis, our House governors, and asked if they could hold a voluntary, additional chapel service for interested students on the last night of the retreat. Mr. Tucker asked my permission, which I granted, fully expecting the elective chapel service to be poorly attended for all the reasons listed above.
Boy, was I wrong. (Lord, help my unbelief!)
Forty students ranging from 7thgraders to seniors gathered in the chapel and sang worship songs together and prayed for one another, their families, their friends, their teachers, and the coming school year. Mr. Tucker felt led to exhort the students in a particular way, encouraging any student in the crowd who might be on the fence about their faith or might be a cultural Christian, someone going through the motions just because their family or friends were Christians. Mr. Tucker encouraged students to seek God because He is good and all-satisfying.
Mr. Tucker’s exhortation struck a chord and students responded in a powerful way. Students felt a new freedom to seek God, and many were transformed as a result. For example, one student leader was praying for some students she had been mentoring; afterwards, as she was on her way out of the chapel, she saw her younger brother, who had attended the chapel without her knowledge, sitting by himself in the back. As she approached him, she noticed something was moving in him.
When this older sister, who had been praying for her little brother for years, sat down next to him to give him a hug, he unexpectedly burst into tears.
“My whole life I have believed in Jesus,” the younger brother said. “But now I feel God’s love in a new way.”
“That’s the Gospel!” his sister replied. “Jesus loves us perfectly, and when we accept it, it changes us!” The older sister and her brother prayed together, and the two were bound together in Christ, a hundred miles from home or church or school. However, the changes didn’t stay a hundred miles away; according to the pair’s mom, the younger brother has been transformed. While still a teenage boy, he is a new kid at home and at school, full of joy and sincerely following after Jesus daily.
This is just one of many treasured moments that made retreat this year our best yet (full disclaimer: my daughter tells me I say that every year, and she’s rarely ever wrong when it comes to her memory.)
All joking aside, this story of a teenage girl and her little brother is a great illustration of something unique about classical Christian schools like ours. As a classical Christian school, our primary goal is the formation of the soul; everything else – literary analysis, the quadratic formula, Newton’s laws, etc. – is secondary to this. If our students leave here able to argue articulately and persuasively, of if they can isolate a variable or balance a chemical equation, that’s great; but education can and should be so much more. It is our goal that students will leave Ambrose having encountered the Living God Who alone satisfies and gives life purpose, that our students will love the things that God loves and they will influence the world around them for Christ as a result, and that they will see God working in their own lives and cling to His promises no matter what trials life might throw at them.
That is soul formation.