Phillips Exeter defines “religion” broadly, borrowing from its Latin roots. Religion is a “re-ligamenting,” a joining or re-joining of individuals to each other, or of the individual to his or her best self. The Religious Services Department is that portion of Phillips Exeter Academy whose responsibility is to celebrate and deepen the religious life of our community.
Our mission is to support the particular journeys of faith lived by members of our community; to awaken a sense of wonder, awe and reverence in our common walk; to encourage living the highest standards of care and responsibility in relationship to the earth and all its inhabitants, through service and reflection; and to celebrate, through varieties of worship, the connections of belief and shared journeys that strengthen our spirits.
Phillips Church, where we gather to worship and where most of our musical performances are held, is home for established religious groups and a gathering place for many other groups of Exonians, both adults and students. For most who are part of a particular religious tradition, their regular observances are held in the building. For those unaligned, or without belief in God , there are opportunities for worship and for spiritual practice that both spark the religious and spiritual imagination and provide substantive experiences and opportunities for reflection.
In answer to the challenge in the school’s Deed of Gift that the faculty should be committed to teach our students “ . . . the great end and real business of living,” the Exeter Social Service Organization (ESSO) offers opportunities for action and reflection in a wide variety of settings in our immediate community and the larger areas of our concern. Through direct service, directed, activity-connected fund-raising and continual reflection upon our experiences, we hope to honor another aspect of our Deed of Gift, the motto, “non sibi” or “not for one’s self.”
The Reverend Robert H. Thompson, an ordained Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, directs the ministry. As Phelps Minister of Phillips Church, he oversees all offerings of the ministry, fills all traditional priestly functions when appropriate and is the Faculty Advisor for ESSO, the Exeter Social Service Organization. Generally speaking, he serves as Pastor of the school, regardless of an individual’s or group’s faith orientation. In the supervision of the building, Linda Safford, Administrative Assistant to the Ministry, assists him. There are others who are called upon to offer support to the various constituencies of the ministry: Elizabeth Reyes is the Coordinator of ESSO. Matthew Daniell teaches dharma and leads Buddhist Meditation. Khadijah Campbell serves as Advisor to the Muslim Student organization. Rabbi Jennifer Marx Asch serves as Advisor to the Exeter Jewish Community. Lavina Richter serves as Advisor to the Catholic Exonians. The Reverend Thompson guides Indaba. Todd Hearon organizes the Wednesday Morning Meditation Series. Many people are called upon to give support to the Catholic Exonians and the Hindu Society, both from on campus and from off campus.