A Reflection from Chaplain Intern Pete Nunnally on His Time at Boys Home Over Summer
My father grew up at Boys Home from 1956-1963, and so I very truly am a product of his experience here. As I packed and planned to spend my summer at Boys Home as a chaplain, I reflected on the circularity and completeness of the opportunity to give back to Boys Home what it had given to me-Dad would not be the man he is without the men (and a couple women) who mentored and cajoled and loved him here. Having never spent more than a few hours here, what I did not anticipate upon arrival was the distinct and holy feeling of returning to Boys Home for the first time. The following is a snapshot of my time here.
Chaplaincy is first and foremost a ministry of presence, and so for the whole of my time I accompanied the boys on trips "off the hill," and most of the activities on it. Meals, basketball practice, etc. I met the large staff of committed people who work behind the scenes and in the fields to make Boys Home run smoothly. It takes a village, and this village is a special one, filled with people who, for sheer love of the boys, live up on this fairly isolated hill and give their lives to the transformation of others. Many of them are former Boys Home boys. All of them are faithful to God and Boys Home.
I helped lead a storytelling session with Pastor Anne the chaplain, connecting the powerful changes of Jacob and Joseph to their lives, and had a follow-up conversation with a few boys. On hikes and kayak and fishing trips I talked to them about the beauty of nature, our relation to it, and the powerful smallness of our own little selves in the great forest of God's imagining. We twice made Alglican prayer beads, sponsored by friends, and the boys loved them! Each time they asked to make more, and wanted to make them not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. And in the interstitial spaces of life on the hill I took time with boys to know them, talk about their lives, and offer care, compassion, and love.
The most profound and unexpected experience of the summer for me, and for many of the boys and houseparents, was our evening candlelight compline service. About halfway into my time I began offering compline each weeknight, with instrumental guitar before and after. After our first service a couple boys asked, "Can we do that again?" Each night I unfolded a little more about the prayers, the psalm, the recitations, the antiphon. Where they came from, why we say them, what they mean to the church and to each individual. Most of the boys quickly took to compline (all came), and stayed after the service to quietly pray. Sometimes tears were shed, hands were held, and always prayers were silently cried heavenward from boys who finally had brief moments of holy stillness in their lives. Borrowing from Carl Sandberg, in that plaintive, sacred space, Christ crept in on little cat feet. Several boys asked to lead, and so they did, and I believe some of them will continue to have compline in their cottages after I leave. As they fell in love with compline, I fell back in love with the Episcopal Church and our Apostolic Tradition that stretches through time to the earliest days of Christian communities gathering and praying together. The whole communion of saints gathers when we pray the beautiful words of compline, I told them, while there is space for extemporaneous prayer-which is often powerful-the gentle rhythm and repetition of poetic liturgy reminds us of God's faithful and constant love for us, a reminder that sinks into the spirtual bones. At my final compline last night I looked up and saw boys saying by heart the exquisite prayer of the antiphon: "guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping. That awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace." Indeed, may God continue to guide and guard Boys Home. Amen.