St Paul’s School responds

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Yesterday, we published a pastoral letter from the Rt Rev A. Robert Hirschfeld, responding to the trial of a former student at St Paul’s School, and examining the relationship between the school and the wider Episcopal community in New Hampshire.

The Rector of St Paul’s School, Michael G. Hirschfeld, along with the President of the Board of Trustees, James Waterbury, Jr., has also published a letter to the St Paul’s Community in the wake of the conviction of Owen Labrie for sexual assault. Michael Hirschfeld is the brother of Bishop Robert Hirschfeld.

Many terms, including “senior salute” and “score” that are part of the student vernacular, have been discussed as part of the trial. These terms, and the behaviors they suggest, have and will continue to be addressed by the School community. There is no place for inappropriate and hurtful behavior that disrespects any member of our School. Conduct that is damaging to the fabric of our community and inconsistent with our values has never been – and will not be – tolerated….
During the last 15 months, we have continued to learn much about our School and the students it serves. We have learned that we must do more as a School community, students and adults alike, to support those who stand up for themselves when they feel they have been wronged. Our ongoing work will be even more difficult having witnessed the challenges of the trial, but it remains our responsibility to make our School the safest place possible.
We have been painfully reminded of the fact that social media can provide an adult-free space for negative student culture to form and perpetuate itself. We have learned that what was once termed “dating” or “courting” behavior has been inverted in some instances from our traditional sensibilities – sexual contact is now seen as the point of origin of many relationships, not a part of an emotionally developed relationship. These issues have highlighted some of the differences in educating students in the 21st century.
In a poignant counterpoint, the Rector’s welcome to the school on its website tells us,
I graduated from St. Paul’s in 1985 and have served on the faculty since 1994. Now that my daughter has graduated and my son attends, I can attest to the intensive and transformative – and joyful – experience that students encounter at this school. Graduates return year after year. They tell us what St. Paul’s has meant in their lives and, especially often, how their best friends remain fellow students from their years here.
The Rector’ and Board President’s current letter concludes,
The School has changed in a number of ways over its 159-year history, but it has never wavered in the expectations it has of its students – that they live honorably and respectfully and that they never forget to be kind. These are our core values – ones that will continue to guide us.
Read the whole letter here.
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8 Responses to "St Paul’s School responds"
  1. Hmmm. Not a single reference to Christian faith and practice nor role and responsibility of an institution claiming affiliation with the Episcopal Church.

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  2. I've been on a tour of St. Paul's recently, and I got the sense that they are working hard to emphasize their inclusivity rather than their Episcopal roots. Whether that's good or bad, I can't judge.

    Being there in person, it comes off as not so much a horrible bastion of power and privilege, and more of an American (also, real) Hogwarts. Even in the midst of this awful situation I'm inclined to think that St. Paul's is a pretty special place, and though I'm disgusted by the things that have come to light here, I have faith that these problems will be addressed, and I'm proud to have a school like this *on the whole* associated with the Episcopal Church.

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  3. For a prep school, this letter was more than appropriate. For a school that educates the wealthiest 1%, I am grateful of the stance the "rector" presents. The letter presents a snap shot of the morals and values of our culture today and this letter is no more than a mirror. For a school that prides itself of being "spiritual but not religious" this letter was the best one could hope for. My gripe: this school does not reflect the values and the mode of being our Lord conforms us to. Other than that, the "rector" should sleep well and the board of trustees rest easy on a job well done.

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    • Chuck, may I ask what kind of moral demands your local parish puts on parishioners? This letter not only fits the culture in general, it fits my local parish, which in trying to be inclusive is very permissive of pretty much anything besides adultery or what's illegal. If you're single, they really won't say anything no matter how you live and the priest avoids the "Husbands and wives and single" passages. I'm rather curious whether this is just a local attitude and what, if any, "values and mode of being" TEC in other areas expects Christians to live up to.

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      • Chris, Thank you for your question. I think your question is what many inside and out of TEC wonder about the values and mode of our being (which is, by the way, Jesus). For starters, our baptismal covenant is a great place to start. I won't insult you with a litany of scripture references that guide disciples of our Lord to live and participate in expanding the Kingdom of God. However, I will leave you with one that is ever present in the life and conduct of the parish I am doing my best to shepherd, "But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy." 1 Peter 1:15

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      • Brother Chuck, good to hear from you!

        Brother Chris, I appreciate your concern. I try to live up to high expectations and fall short (noting that the Baptismal Covenant says not if ever but "whenever you fall into sin...." as much for me as for anyone else). I hope that high standards of reflecting Christian living are always preached. The struggle is to expect all of consistent standards of behavior; consistent call to amendment of life; and consistent forgiveness. I think we lean into forgiveness hoping it encourages repentance and amendment; and while we don't see that result as often as we might wish, neither are we a community that practices shunning or excommunication with any frequency.

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  4. If the Episcopal Church is nothing more than a mirror of the secular culture, why bother? Oh, yeah. Good music, costumes and choreography and ya pays what ya wants.

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  5. I wonder what others think about that paragraph starting "We have been painfully reminded...."

    Misogyny and sexual assault have been around a lot longer than the hookup culture. What is it that St Paul's is most concerned about? Misogyny and sexual assault have changed, that sexual mores have changed, or that parents don't want to send their kids to a place where in loco parentis isn't preventing sexual contact between students?

    Or authors' position that misogyny, sexual assualt and the hookup culture are all of one piece -- if that's their position they didn't say it.

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