Outdoor chapel provides a much-needed break


Sarah Walker

St. Mary’s Upper School spends time outside during their chapel time. There are options to walk the track, lay on the field or play in a game.

Ella Curlin, Editor

On the last Monday of March, hundreds of students gathered on the track field for the first outdoor chapel of the semester. Taking place on a sunny, cheerful spring day, this chapel served as a much-needed break for students to walk, chat with friends and enjoy unstructured time outdoors during a difficult semester.

While simply having an hour to stroll around outdoors might not seem like much, for many students this precious free time is a rarity. Between school, homework and extracurriculars, many St. Mary’s girls find that their schedules are fully booked. 

An outdoor chapel can be an essential respite from routine. 

Lilly Coggins (9) finds that during a regular school day she has little time to enjoy the outdoors. Outdoor chapel changes this.

“[Outdoor chapel] just makes the day better,” Coggins said. “It’s just so nice to just enjoy some time outside when it gets warm, and the trees are turning green.”

This time outside is surprisingly important, especially for students. According to Healthline, lack of sunlight is a factor in vitamin D deficiency – a condition that impacts approximately 14% of teenagers and comes with side effects like depression, pain, and irritability. Studies have also found that time outside relieves stress, improves symptoms of depression and ADHD, and generally boosts mental health.

At a time when depression is on the rise among teenagers, benefits like these are vital.

Upper School Guidance Counselor Amy Poag believes that by putting students back in nature, outdoor chapel can promote mental wellness.

“Being in nature and being outside is therapeutic,” Ms. Poag said. “You’re getting the smells, the warmth on your face.”

This open format has its drawbacks, however. The unstructured nature of outdoor chapel might not be as appealing to those who enjoy the routine, community-based aspect of indoor chapel.

Poag said she recognized that the most important parts of chapel cannot always be recreated on a track field. 

“I happen to like [indoor] chapel – I like the space of coming together, I like the break in the school day, I like the time for sitting mostly quietly, I like hearing from different people,” Poag said. “It keeps us grounded in our Episcopal identity as a school.”

Chapel’s religious significance, on the other hand, might not always need an indoor framework. For school chaplain Mother Miranda, time outdoors can actually elevate the spiritual experience, giving chapel’s religious dimension a whole new meaning.

“Opening [chapel] up to the outdoors…makes a point of saying [that spirituality] doesn’t have to happen in a building, and it doesn’t have to happen with someone leading it,” Mother Miranda said. “I think it’s a lovely and symbolic gesture.”

Mother Miranda hopes to find more opportunities for outdoor chapel over the next few months.

“Health of mind and body and soul is the most important thing to me about what chapel time should be,” Mother Miranda said. “Sometimes we just need time to be outside.”