Why you should listen in Chapel

Henry Charmichael is the 2020 Sir Kingsley Norris Orator. A Year 12 student, Henry won the annual award by composing and presenting a speech on a topic of his choosing during the Sir Kingsley Norris Oratory Competition. Here is his presentation.

I’m beginning to worry that Nietzsche was right when he said, “God is dead and we have killed him”. I think it’s safe to say that Chapel services aren’t as fondly anticipated as say having double spare or not having homework. We can all relate to the blasé eye roll after someone yells “Chapel this morning boys” around the lockers.

But where does this reaction come from? Why resort to lethargy and forgo an opportunity to engage in teachings greater than life itself? There are so many different sources of inspiration in the bible from which we can learn and grow. In an orderly and structured way, these teachings form a framework which fosters our journey in the pursuit of, simply put, the good life. For it is what is beyond the words of the bible and beyond the ontological debate of God’s existence where lies the most fundamental and crucial wisdom we need as a society. We cannot lose touch with this.

Why do we go to school? Of course, we make friends along the way and have a hell of a lot of fun… but what is all this for? I guess the word education springs to mind as a pretty conventional answer. But by ‘education’, I am merely peripherally referring to the ATAR that we frantically obsess over. Because the ever-expanding portfolio that is our education comprises of experiences and lessons learned about ourselves, about others and about life.

That’s why we’re here. That’s why school is vital for shaping future generations for it is the vessel by which we develop an understanding of how to be a good thinker, a good listener and a good person. And where is it where these lessons are the forefront idea of discussion and reflection? For me, it’s Chapel.

Simply being at Chapel encourages us to introspect and learn about ourselves. There is a particularly vivid and even observable dichotomy between the ambiance and peace as we enter the Chapel, and the chaos and stress of the day that lies ahead. It is as though when we walk through those grand doors; greeted by a relaxing tune from the organ; whilst the herbal incense manifests in our nostrils, we are invited to stop looking outwards for a while, and look inwards; to reflect and meditate.

There is a beautiful ode to the real world behind any reading we hear in Chapel. Realising this ode is essential for understanding virtue on a societal scale. Amid countless examples, for me, one that delineated the sheer profundity of a Chapel Service was in the one dedicated to John 13, when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.

Seeing the school executive washing the feet of some students was, granted, particularly weird. But in a fascinatingly deep way, we were taught a unique lesson about humility; contributing to the expansion of our wisdom on a broader scale.

You know, I walked out of that service and overheard a conversation between three boys. “Mate what on Earth was that? That was so weird”. His friend responded, “yeah mate, what a waste of time”. But the third boy saw it differently.

The third boy understood the bigger picture. Because you know what he said simply, yet brilliantly? “come on guys, that was so powerful”. And he was right! It is so powerful that this search for virtue can open our minds to a proverbial pilgrimage towards the eventual Jerusalem that is finding meaning in life.

Appreciating this world of wisdom and potential for growth is not only inspiring, but exciting.

Exciting too is that with this understanding of self and society, we can begin to form a moral code (relative only to ourself), around which we conduct our lives.

There is no one answer that the word of God provides as to what the purpose of life is, or how to lead a good one. Yet, in a similar way to how beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning and purpose are contingent upon how we individually decide to interpret the bible. You see, I’m inspired by this. I’m excited by this. I’m intrigued by this. Because if we don’t buy into this intrinsic endeavour, what happens to our ability to think, to debate or even to grow?

The Chapel of St Peter is significant to our school in many ways. It is one of the oldest Chapels in Melbourne. It is geographically the centre of Melbourne Grammar. But to me, it means so much more…

At school, I learn about maths but in Chapel, I learn about myself. At school, conversations centre around test results but in Chapel, it is ideas. At school, my mind is concerned with learning content but in Chapel, it is reflection. Spiritual exploration has been the cornerstone of society for thousands of years. Reigniting this flame and regaining passion for this journey would give society a fresh imperative to pursue meaning and virtue. There is something curiously stimulating about this leap of faith. So take it.