Taken from the opening devotions at our Fall General Meeting by our board chairman, Peter Schuurman.

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Members, Parents, Community Partners, and Staff:

Keeping company with Jesus, walking with him, learning the unforced rhythms of grace—that’s the heartbeat of our school.

As we deliberated the new Strategic Plan, the focus groups and surveys made this undoubtedly clear: keep the Christian mission of the school first and foremost. You might suspect that some people even worried it might be slipping as we moved to a bigger, better building on a more prominent street, and some Guelph parents begin to see our school as a place for children to be educated and nurtured but less importantly inspired in Christ-centred learning and serving.

It is not a bad worry to have. A Yale University law professor (Anthony T. Kronman) wrote a book a few years ago entitled Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (Yale, 2007). In it he makes the case that universities have stopped asking the question: What is it all for? While the book is an argument for a position we would resist (secular humanism), it claims we live in a “spiritual crisis” that leaves us “spiritually empty” and yearning for something more. Our culture, so focused on technology and science and the control the natural world, has forgotten about the true human condition—our limits, our mortality, and I would add, our brokenness. I would say we are so focused on the HOWs of living, we have forgotten the WHYs. At heart, in our country and in our educational system we have forgotten about the mysterious presence, power, and passion of our divine Creator and Redeemer.

We know Yale, Princeton and Harvard began as church institutions and have since left their faith behind in the pursuit of an academic reputation, wider markets, and more pragmatic concerns. These are magnificent research centres, but they have come to resemble something of a donut: lots of running around in academic circles but with no unified religious or philosophical commitment at the centre. No “uni” in the “diversity” of the university. No common source, guide or goal. No humble, faithful recognition of God’s moral order or his grace and mercy.

“Get away with me,” says Jesus, “and you’ll recover your life.” The most important part of our school motto is in the middle: “to nurture, educate and inspire students in Christ-centred learning and serving.” Christ-centred is appropriately the centre of our motto. Jesus Christ—his cross, his resurrection, his promised return—give meaning to our school—meaning to the nurturing, educating, learning and serving. Jesus Christ gives meaning to history, to suffering, to victory, and to the future. Education is not just about information, but formation—developing a Christ-like character in our children. Being Christ-centred makes our school thick with meaning, mystery, and something more.

You know, I wish inspire had come first in our three-part motto, because our inspiration is the foundation of the other two pieces: the nurturing and the educating. Would you agree?

Foundations. Jason Stoter gave an inspiring devotion at our spring meeting. We had a difficult year, and he gave us the image of his burned down barn. The walls had collapsed, but the foundation was preserved and strong.

Foundations. Organizational management guru Jim Collins says the key to building a lasting institution is two things: stimulating progress while preserving the core. I want to tell you tonight we are in a phase where we emphasize more on preserving the core.

God willing, we will have a new principal in place next July. That means we’ve had four principals in four years. That is a lot of change. Our Strategic Plan has many important ideas and goals, but it is not an outrageously ambitious plan. The message we got from people was this: stay true to the mission, consolidate what we have, develop depth and mastery rather than radical change.

The image we worked with as a Strat Plan committee was that of a mountain climbing expedition: we’ve covered some great ground and we now rest at a plateau: we need to re-tool, send some scouts ahead, and find a good guide. Then we will embark on another phase of climbing, of stimulating progress. There is a rhythm to institutional life.

Hear Jesus saying: “Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Our school motto this year is focused on grace. You can’t miss grace in our school: as soon as you walk through the front door, the word presents itself to you in the form of a vertical garden: grace in the form of good green growth.

Anyone who is inside the school for five minutes knows everyone here works hard. This is not a lazy community. Staff are busy, and the new report card template was stressful, but they told me there is a positive culture in the staff. There is grace.

What is grace? Its the opposite of compulsion, drivenness, and relentlessness—all things that are forced, pushed, coerced. The opposite of panicked work. A school cultivating grace is more organic: it welcomes, it receives, it reaches out, it rests, and it grows. Grace allows for natural growth—not only in the branches, but in the roots. The deeper the roots, the healthier the shoots, and the fruits.

Jesus says to GCCS this evening with a depth of meaning, mystery, and so much more: “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life… Learn the unforced rhythms of grace… Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

We’ve got a beautiful building, we have a conscientious staff, and we are going to get a fresh new principal. God’s grace lines the walls of our school and it shapes the hearts of each and every child that walks through our doors. And if you forgot about it already, as I said earier, the word “grace” in the form of a vertical garden grows larger every day in our foyer.

Organizations, like life itself, have rhythms, and our school seeks to move in step with the unforced rhythms of grace expressed in Jesus Christ.

That’s our mission and vision. That’s why we are here today. That is what motivates us to do the extra work, pay the extra fees, and go the extra mile at this school. Our deepest desire is that our children know true life, and that comes when they encounter the unforced rhythms of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The nurturing, educating, teaching, administrating, governing, learning and serving all flow out from there.

Thanks, everyone, for all you do in Jesus name.

Peter Schuurman