Greetings Brownell Talbot Students, Faculty, Staff, Families, and Friends,
As another school year begins, I write to introduce myself to those of you who are new to BT and give you all a little preview of chapel for the coming year.
My name is Fr. Tony Anderson, and I serve as the school chaplain for Brownell Talbot, and as the Rector of Church of the Resurrection Episcopal Church here in Omaha. I am a native Nebraskan and have lived and served as an Episcopal Priest in the Omaha area for a little over five years. I was appointed as BT chaplain by Dr. Gibbs, in consultation with Scott Barker, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, just before the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Some folks may ask “why does Brownell Talbot have a chaplain and chapel services?” As many of you may know, Brownell Hall was founded as a girl’s school in 1863 by the Episcopal Church, and was operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska until it became an independent school in 1967. It was agreed upon by Brownell Talbot and the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska at the time that the land and property were handed over to the school that BT would retain its chapel program and employ an Episcopal clergy-person from the Diocese to serve as its chaplain.
While steeped in the Episcopal Christian tradition, Brownell Talbot is now a place where faculty, students, and their families come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. Yet, the core values of this Christian tradition remain an important part of the identity of the school. It is largely up to me, as the school chaplain, to interpret and relay those values to the school community. So, what are those values?
I believe that love of God and love of neighbor are at the core of the Gospel message. Everything else follows from that. I want students to understand that they are loved – by God and by those who care for them. And I want them to understand that the love they are given is meant to be shared with those around them. What does that look like in practice? It looks like respecting themselves and one another, it looks like showing compassion and empathy towards others, and it looks like being thankful for all the gifts they’ve been given and sharing those gifts and talents to make the world a better place. Throughout the year, I will talk to students about the importance of love, compassion, empathy, respect, gratitude, balance, and living in harmony with others and the world we are charged with caring for.
As a member of the school’s Faculty and Staff Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, I am aware of the importance of making sure that all members of the BT community feel welcomed, included, and valued. I want chapel to feel like a safe space for all our students, and I assure you that I am not at BT to proselytize or to tear down anyone else’s religious traditions or beliefs. In an effort to be more inclusive of other traditions, I will also be inviting voices from other faith traditions to join us more regularly in chapel this year. Throughout the year, we will have guest speakers joining us from the Tri-Faith Initiative, as well as other institutions, in order to better represent the varied traditions of the student body, as well as making all of our students more aware of the religious diversity that exists in the world.
If you are not familiar with the Tri-Faith Initiative, I would invite you to join them, members of the BT community, and other religious and community organizations from around the metro area on Sunday, September 11, from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm for United We Walk: A Walk for an Inclusive Omaha. More information about the event and a link to register can be found here.
I am aware that some may worry that this is a “watering down” of chapel, but I have found that my own experience of learning about and interacting with other faith traditions has only served to strengthen and deepen my own faith, as well as giving me a better understanding of those other traditions. My sincere hope is that all students will find something meaningful to take away from their experience with chapel regardless of age or where they are at on their own faith journey.
I understand that religion is a deeply personal matter, and decisions about what to believe and how to worship should be left to students and their families to decide. My desire is that all students will feel welcome in this chapel space, no matter what they believe. All I will ever ask in return is that they respect this space, and all those who gather here.
I feel so blessed to be your chaplain and to be a part of the Brownell Talbot family. Please know that I am here for anyone who needs me. If you ever have any questions or concerns or need to talk for any reason, don’t hesitate to reach out. Blessings to all of you as we begin this new school year!
- Cross Divisional