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The Story I Don't Have to Tell: A Homily on Missed Mentors
Father Nate, Senior Chaplain

In honor and remembrance of Father Swann's birthday, October 13, Father Nate presented the following prayer, scripture readings, and homily during upper school daily worship on Tuesday, October 12, and at middle school daily worship on Wednesday, October 13.

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Father Stephen Swann, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Three Readings from Scripture about mentors and mentoring:

From the Letter to the Hebrews [13.7-8] Remember your leaders who spoke God’s word to you. Imitate their faith as you consider the way their lives turned out. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

From First Corinthians [11.1-2] Follow my example, just like I follow Christ’s. I praise you because you remember all my instructions, and you hold on to the traditions exactly as I handed them on to you. 

From Second Timothy [2.1-2] So, my child, draw your strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Take the things you heard me say in front of many other witnesses and pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others.

Homily

“THE STORY I DON’T HAVE TO TELL”

Have you ever missed an opportunity that you cannot get back? Have you ever had a chance to experience something that you passed up, and that chance never came back around again? Have you ever passed up a time when you could have said something to someone, and you wish you had said that thing?

We celebrate the birthday of our Founding Rector and Headmaster The Reverend Stephen B. Swann. And we will have a birthday cake at lunch in his honor! Fr. Swann was born this day 77 years ago, about two hours down the road in Longview, Texas. At ESD, we have tons of people who can tell hundreds of Father Swann stories.

We have stories about how in 1974 (the year I was born), at age 29, Father Swann founded ESD with a handful of students and a camping trip to Galveston Island.

There are stories about how Father Swann caused ESD to grow from 11 students in seventh grade in two rented classrooms in the basement of Saint Michael and All Angels Church to a 42-acre campus with nearly 1200 students in 12 grades plus Primer, Kindergarten, Pre-K, and Beginner.

There are stories about how, in over 40 years of education and ministry at ESD, Father Swann impacted countless lives. In everyday kindness. In hard conversations. In compassionate ministry. In the chapel, in the classroom, and the boardroom. There are stories of people profoundly moved by Father Swann and his care for them, and their children, and their grandchildren.

There are stories about how Father Swann met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the Dalai Lama and about how he impacted the entire Dallas community: 

He served on the boards of numerous organizations, including SMU’s Distinguished Lecture Series, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dallas, and the National Association of Episcopal Schools. He received honors, including the National Jewish Humanitarian Award in 2001, the Dallas Historical Society’s award for excellence in education, and the 2005 Hope for Humanity Award benefiting the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

But perhaps my favorite story, which I have heard so far about Father Swann, is about how he and his twin brother were frequently dressed the same by their parents when he was growing up. And how awkward that was for them. And how that led him to create a school where everyone dressed in uniform so that no one had to feel awkward or left out.

And how Father Swann even made sure that the tables in the Dining Commons were round, so everyone had a place at the table, and all were included. Because ESD is a place where we ALL have a place at the table, and EVERYONE is included.

But in the midst of all of these Father Swann stories, I want to tell you a different kind of story. Or rather, I want to tell you the LACK of a story.

You see, just as Father Swann was reaching the golden era of his ministry here at ESD, I was just beginning my ministry in the Episcopal Church. In fact, I was right up the road in Flower Mound. Only 30 minutes away. I started as a youth minister at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in the year 2000, working with children grades 6-12 and their families. The very age group served here by ESD. By God’s grace, I was pretty good at what I did. But I also had a tendency to think I knew it all.

After St. Nicholas, I went to serve as youth minister at Church of the Apostles in Coppell; Then I helped run Episcopal Youth ministries and Summer Camps for the Diocese of Dallas; And then I became the Episcopal College Chaplain at SMU right down the street. 

For a time, I was even the director of Young Adult ministries at the very same Church where Father Swann started his career: Saint Michael and All Angels. But one of my problems is that sometimes, I get a little too focused on what I am doing. Sometimes, I have a tendency to think I do not need any help, and there’s nothing I need to learn. Sometimes, I miss out on opportunities to expand my vision of life, and my relationships with others.

Even though Scripture constantly tells me to “Remember my leaders… and imitate their faith.” Even though the Bible reminds me to find mentors and follow their example. Even though God wants me to seek out people who are excellent at what they do and listen to their experiences. Sometimes I let these opportunities pass me by. 

And that’s why I do not have a Father Swann story of my own. Father Swann and I both worked with young people. Father Swann had decades of wisdom and innovative ideas that changed the educational landscape of Dallas. At any point, I could have picked up a phone or fired off an email and said, “Howdy, Father Swann! I have heard a lot of great things about you and your ministry! Could I take you out for coffee and get to know you better?”

I have no doubt he would have kindly taken me up on the offer and probably even bought the coffee. But I didn’t pick up the phone. I didn’t send the email. I didn’t make time for the conversation. I was too “busy”. I thought I knew what I needed to know. I thought I knew what Father Swann’s ministry was all about without meeting him, and I thought I knew what ESD was like without stepping on campus. 

And now I know I was wrong. My experiences in youth and college ministry had similarities to school chaplaincy, to be sure. But also tons of differences. Interesting, life-changing differences. Differences I have come to love and embrace over the last 11 years of school chaplaincy. And I could have begun learning that with a simple phone call or email that I never made to Father Swann.

What could I have learned if I had made that call? How would my life have been enriched if I had made that appointment? What Father Swann story would I have now? No one knows. Because it didn’t happen.

What about you? Who is the person you have ignored or written off because you think you have them all figured out? Because you have heard about them from others or think they might not have time? Because you are just too busy to make time for them?

We only have a finite amount of time to make connections with others. We only have a certain number of opportunities to send that email, to make that call, to have that conversation. We are only given so many chances before those chances slip away, never to return. 

Make the most of your time. Make the most of each opportunity. Make the most of each relationship. And you will have better stories to tell and a richer life to lead. Amen.