Religion at Canterbury

As a college-preparatory school providing a broad array of curricular and extracurricular experiences, Canterbury looks to its excellent university admissions profile, its strong standardized test results, its first-rate fine-arts opportunities, and even the records of its athletic teams to validate our program.

Yet Canterbury offers another dimension to school life. As we confirm our school philosophy, and as we interview prospective families every year for admission to Canterbury and present our school to them in every way, one question which frequently and properly comes up is “What does it mean that Canterbury is a Christian school?”

It is a question we expect, we encourage, and we take a good deal of time discussing. It is a question we continue to ask daily in some manner at school, as we conduct chapel services, teach religion classes, counsel students, and plan for curricular and extracurricular programs. It is also a question which deserves and requires an answer very specific to Canterbury, as well as a reflection of the wisdom and experience of many schools with religious traditions. Finally, it is a question to which there is no easy or pat answer, since the very essence of all religious understanding distills into an infinite spiritual dimension to our lives.

Canterbury is not a diocesan, parish or church school, does not teach its students to follow a specific doctrine, does not espouse the tenets of a denomination, and does not approach academic subjects from a specifically religious perspective. Students of all faiths have opportunities to express and celebrate the beliefs and traditions of their religions and those of their families. Such opportunities play a vital role in the life of a school which acknowledges and encourages an acceptance of spiritual and divine dimensions of our lives.

As we try to grapple with definitions, it is perhaps better to analyze and describe what we do, what we try to do, and what we can do, rather than prescribe a certain identity. First of all, Lower School, Middle School, and High School students meet together by division most mornings for a time we call Chapel. This provides an opportunity for us to pause for 10 or 15 minutes to consider, as a community, spiritual and moral issues which we face individually or collectively, and to share news and announcements about school life.

Secondly, in religion classes at various levels, we work to understand in more detail how such important questions of life have been and are faced first within the Judeo-Christian tradition and then by other world religions, and to consider lessons that are applicable in all our lives.

Thirdly, we view the various conflicts and difficulties that inevitably arise in a community such as a school as opportunities and challenges for us to practice the principles which Christianity, among other religions, holds as important.

Finally, we see the life and strength of our community as stemming from the interweaving of all of the above, as issues are addressed on an intellectual, spiritual, social and personal basis.

I would hope that Canterbury will always be seen by its students as a place where important religious questions can be asked, where a diversity of answers can be offered, and where the precepts of a Christian life as a model will be daily and actively mirrored by our school community. As such, it will be a community that is both consciously inclusive and at the same time true to its founding principles.

- Jonathan Hancock, Headmaster Emeritus