A New Chapter Begins…

A New Chapter Begins...

Reverend Judith Watkins, St Leonard’s College Chaplain, opened our JanCon 2023 event with an inspiring staff welcome service and blessing which we have shared below.

Here we are at the start of another academic year. Some will know each other well, some a little, and some not at all.  Like many communities, ours is constantly changing, and we create our village anew every year.  Together we will write the chapter for 2023 in the life of this College.

To begin, I light a candle. We light candles at birthdays and many other celebrations. We light candles to remember. I remember my mum keeping candles and matches close by for when the power went out, so that we could shine a light in the darkness. We light candles as a sign of hope.

And I open a book. It’s really a library, and in it there are poems and letters, narratives of friendship, of breaking down barriers, of facing adversity together, of love and hope. There are stories that inspire and stories that puzzle me. This library of 66 books reminds me that as we write the next chapter of this College together, we also bring our own stories.  It reminds me to honour those stories, to see the sacredness, the preciousness of them, and of the people who bring them and live them.

St Leonard’s is a school in the tradition of the Uniting Church, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a Uniting Church person to work or study here.  It doesn’t mean you have to hold a religious faith of any kind to work or study here.  I hope, though, that it does mean something.  I have a few thoughts on what it might mean, and to frame my ideas, I want to read a story.

Luke 10:38-42

38 Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

This is not the only time Mary and Martha appear as characters in the gospels. There’s a popular opinion that they were friends with Jesus, and supported his ministry.  Martha certainly has no hesitation in telling him what she thinks of the way the work is being divided, which suggests either that she’s very confident, or that she knows him well enough to put her case.  And let’s face it, Jesus and his friends might have been a bit annoyed if they hadn’t been offered anything to eat at the end of a long journey.  Someone had to do the work.  So Martha gets busy, while Mary sits and listens to Jesus talk.

I think there is a bit of Martha and Mary in all of us.  There are times when we’re so busy we hardly know where to begin.  I am in full on Martha mode at home sometimes when I’m cooking dinner, and while I wait for that to progress, I fold the washing, or do the dishes, or send some emails.  If someone offers to help, I’m much too busy to think of something for them to do.  The Martha in me disapproves of the Mary who wants to sit, to listen, to be.

Jesus says that one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen it.  I’m not sure that he’s dismissing what Martha does, but I think he’s reminding her that it needs to be grounded in love and grace. Hospitality is important.  So is taking the opportunity to pause, to notice, to be fully present to the moment.  Taking those moments where we can, before the busyness becomes overwhelming, or perhaps right in the middle of all the busyness, might just help us to work out the way forward, to know what is ours to do, to know when to ask for help, and to manage the busyness with grace.

For example, the Martha in me started this reflection multiple times and got nowhere until the Mary in me took time to pause, to listen, to notice and to be.  It’s in the spirit of both Martha and Mary that I offer some thoughts on what it might mean to be a school in the Uniting Church tradition.  They are in no particular order, and not comprehensive, because we have a lot to do today.  At its heart, the Uniting Church is a tradition which deeply values and respects the diversity of human beings. Hospitality, welcome, and acceptance of people is an integral part of the Uniting Church, and life is seen as a shared journey where we care for one another.  These are ideas which I hope transcend the particularity of one faith and speak to our shared humanity.

I hope that being a school in the Uniting Church tradition means we see potential and possibility, like Lavinia Wallace, the first principal of the school.  She was a church member who saw a need to provide quality education for girls and began a school in her living room.  I hope we see the possibilities in the year ahead, and the potential in each other, and the students who will join us here.

I hope it means we are open to changing and growing, individually, and as a community.  The school didn’t stay in Lavinia Wallace’s living room.  Change is an ongoing part of life, bringing endings and new beginnings.  We bring our stories and our lives to the experience of change, and our response will be unique to each of us.  We also have the capacity to shape and change the community, ourselves and each other.  We might impact one person, or one class, one section of the College, or the whole school.  What positive impact or change might we bring by our presence here?  What are gifts and skills each of us bring to this community?  How might this community shape and change us?

I hope being a school in the Uniting Church tradition means that we somehow find time in the hurly burly of school life to be aware of the whole of who we are, and the whole of who others are:  to pause, to be still, to be mindful, to nurture our spirit, our inner being, to honour the Mary in ourselves and each other.

Finally, I hope being a school in the Uniting Church tradition means that we can honour unity and diversity, recognising our shared humanity as well as the diversity of people who make up this College.  In my understanding, to honour unity and diversity means to offer each other hospitality, which in turn is about accepting and welcoming one another.  It means an openness to listening to one another and learning from one another.  It means we value the Marys and Marthas and everyone who makes up the community.  It means we hold on to hope with and for each other.

At the start of each year, I find my mind buzzes with ideas, plans, hopes and expectations – the latter mostly of myself, and which I inevitably, in my self-critique at the other end of the year, decide I’ve failed to meet.  Along with excitement and anticipation comes a healthy dose of nerves, which I have come to accept as a reminder that I care about what I do.  We bring our humanity to this place, in all its glorious strength and frailty.  At the start of this new year, that is a gift we can give to each other.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more. I got tired of making the same ones every year and losing my resolve in the first few days.  I have decided instead to have aspirations for the year.  I aspire to bring kindness into all my interactions.  I aspire to recognize and honour the humanity in others.  I aspire to learn and grow as a human being, in my chaplaincy and in my teaching.   I aspire to let others know I see them and value them.  I aspire to listen more and talk less.  I aspire to practice gratitude and to hold on to hope and love.  What aspirations or resolutions do you bring?  What ideas, plans, hopes or expectations do you have for the year, yourself, this community?


My prayer for us is that as our stories intersect and we shape the narrative of this place, we will do so with grace, humour, generosity and kindness.  The candle still flickers, a light of hope and love.  The book is open and waiting for stories to be shared.


Final Blessing by Jan Richardson:


Blessing The Threshold


This blessing

has been waiting for you

for a long time.


While you have been

making your way here,

this blessing has been

gathering itself,

making ready,

biding its time,



This blessing has been

polishing the door,

oiling the hinges,

sweeping the steps,

lighting candles

in the windows.


This blessing has been

setting the table

as it hums a tune

from an old song

it knows,

something about

a spiralling road

and bread

and grace.


All this time

it has kept an eye

on the horizon,


keeping vigil,

hardly aware of how

it was leaning itself

in your direction.


And now that

you are here,

this blessing

can hardly believe

its good fortune

that you have finally arrived,

that it can drop everything

at last

to fling its arms wide

to you, crying





Blessing The Threshold Source: Jan Richardson www.janrichardson.com