Rockbridge Academy Blog
“When we pray, we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts.”
Recently, Rockbridge Academy hosted an Auxilium conference, where about 40 parents and pastors dedicated to starting new classical Christian schools around the country spent two days at our school taking in our culture and watching the daily grace that goes on in the classrooms. Starting a school takes vision. When I was a young teacher here many years ago, the founding board members around me talked about having a 500-year vision for Rockbridge Academy. The thinking went like this: If we really are about making a difference in the culture and in the kingdom of God through the education of children, then let’s make it a lasting vision… one that has eternal consequence.
Vision is a powerful thing. Consider the vision of Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper, a pastor in the Netherlands at the end of the 19th Century. He led the establishment of a new denomination that freed themselves from the state church; he founded the Free University of Amsterdam; he started and edited a newspaper. Then he served as the Netherlands Prime Minister from 1901-1905, vigorously leading his political party for over forty years until his death in 1920. Kuyper’s grand passion was to see the Christian faith impact all of the spheres of Dutch culture, even though he was cognizant of his limits working in a democratic and pluralistic framework. Despite the challenges, Kuyper said, “One desire has been the ruling passion of my life… It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school, and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God.”
Regardless of how you may feel about Kuyper’s brand of culture making, the fact remains that his work left a profound mark on Dutch society. A generation of godly, faithful, no-nonsense Christians salted Dutch society.
However, dark days would shake that legacy. In fact, author George Grant points out that in 1940 when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, Adolph Hitler purposefully targeted the academic and social institutions that had been established by Kuyper because Hitler saw Christendom as the arch-enemy of Nazi-ism. Kuyper’s legacy did, in fact, produce heroes of the faith who formed the backbone of Dutch resistance during the war, heroes that hid Jews from the Nazis, heroes such as the family of Corrie Ten Boom and others.
Interestingly, Rockbridge Academy holds a connection to that era and Kuyper’s legacy. Years ago, one of Rockbridge Academy’s first grade teachers left to move back to New England and care for her ailing parents—Dutch immigrants who had grown up in WWII Netherlands. About eight years ago, as that teacher’s mom finally passed away, her mom’s sister, a family member we have never met before (then in her 80s) sent a monetary gift to our school, along with a letter thanking Rockbridge Academy for our work and echoing that profound vision from a former time. I’ll share an excerpt of the note. The syntax is a little broken, and you can tell English was not her first language:
…We in our church are in the third generation of Christian [schooling] where Jesus is Lord. I’m very grateful to the Lord [for] the influence of my Dutch teachers… how they were praying teachers who’s influence is now reaching into your school through [my niece]. God is so good! We were so taught to have a good conscience toward God and man.
The school [where I grew up] was the place where, during WWII, the Germans placed the rocket launchers so we were a target for bombing. We lost 68 people in 20 minutes of chain bombing. Our teachers were there to bury the dead… [They] were there at the burial with the parents. The relationship between the teachers and the parents were so close knit that if I misbehaved at school, my mother new it before I got home. My teachers visited the families of the pupils every year to see their home life. They were like extra fathers to us, and they shaped our lives after Christ first.
This poignant letter went on to tell details about friends lost during the bombing, and the impact of the war upon the school. However, it ends with this hopeful refrain of vision:
…I may never see you on the face of this planet but I truly love you all. May the Lord bless you all the way and every day. God be with you till we meet again… May God grant that we are standing for all what God calls right with all our might. May Jesus be Lord in everything we are and do. Amen.
Have you ever stopped to think from where we stand in the stream of history that the community at Rockbridge Academy that has existed over the last 28 years may well be part of some previous generation’s 500-year vision for God’s kingdom? Could it be that the children walking Rockbridge Academy hallways today are a fulfillment of prayers uttered by faithful saints centuries ago? And despite the setbacks of war and the enemies that sometimes surround God’s people, when things look darkest, aren’t we—those who happen to be alive right now—called to take up the refrain and continue trusting that God will be faithful to that vision planted in the hearts of steadfast people? Might we pray a similar prayer for the generations to come? Let’s be known as a school that prays and pursues a 500-year vision.
Among the folks attending the recent ACCS Auxilium conference at Rockbridge was a young pastor and an administrator starting a classical Christian school in Clarksburg, West Virginia. When I found out they were from Clarksburg, I relayed that my wife spent many days of childhood visiting her grandmother who lived there. I later recalled how, as a young married couple, we would visit her aging grandma in the summer, passing the time taking walks through her little Clarksburg neighborhood. I remember praying as we walked that the gospel would come to that city in fresh ways. Who knew that 30 years later, a new classical Christian school would be one tangible fulfillment of that meager prayer? Come, Lord Jesus!
The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Heidi Stevens on September 29, 2022, at the Rockbridge Academy Library Grand Opening.
Long before Rockbridge Academy opened its doors in 1995—with three teachers and just shy of two dozen students—a small group of families gathered to dream and plan what a school like this could be. The founding families met together, read together, and prayed together, talking about building a place where our children could thrive and grow, where they could learn in an environment committed to academic excellence that encouraged them to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
We loved our own children, of course, and dreamed of how a school like Rockbridge could come alongside and complement what God called us to as parents: training the children He’d given us to love their Creator with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We also spent a lot of time talking about how what we were building should be built on a firm foundation that reached beyond our own generation. We spoke of cultivating a “500-year vision” for a place that would serve the parents of our community in educating our children’s children, and their children, and the children for generations beyond, if God would graciously bless and prosper the work.
In addition to talking about those things, you might be surprised to learn how that group of men and women regularly prayed for YOU. They prayed for you, and for your children, even as they went about the arduous work of building a school for their children.
Of course, we who were part of that younger Rockbridge Academy prayed fervently for our own children. But we knew that it was the next generation—and all the generations to come, long after we were gone - that would prove whether our work had been built on the right foundation or on shifting sand. Consider the communion of saints—across time—who prayed for YOU, the Rockbridge parents of the future! You were prayed for: that you would be found faithful in seeking to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
There were so many other things prayed for, But one thing—of particular significance for this night—was the prayer that the future students at this school would be lovers of the Word … and lovers of words.
● Words! The means by which God chose to reveal Himself to His people, even before His incarnation as the Living Word.
● Words! The amazing vehicle of language through which so much of our learning happens.
● Words! The mysteriously powerful, beautiful medium through which we can bless or curse, bring healing or hurt, speak life or death.
● Words! The avenue of our understanding, the tool through which we read and speak truth, and the stuff of which stories are spun to captivate, delight, and lead.
And so, we dreamed of a library: of the smell of books and the lure of comfortable chairs; of a repository of the most wonderous stories and the greatest ideas of mankind; and of a gathering of the collected knowledge of God’s good Creation that has yet only begun to plumb the depths of its extravagant complexity.
We envisioned our children, and the many children to come, being enamored by tales of adventure that would whet their appetites for the real adventure of reigning and ruling as dearly loved sons and daughters of our Eternal Father King.
We smiled to think of our students being brought up on tales of bravery and valor, of justice and love, and all the other noble things that the truest and best stories are both made up of and point to.
We longed for our children to recognize the great Story behind all good stories: the story of a King who is making all things right again and restoring his original pattern of what’s Beautiful, Good, and True.
I was listening to an interview the other day with Carolyn Weber, whose memoir, Surprised By Oxford, is currently being made into a motion picture. Dr. Weber has been on the faculty of prestigious colleges across the United States and Canada, and she was the first female dean of St. Peter’s College, Oxford. She recently moved to middle Tennessee to begin teaching at New College Franklin, a small college that teaches the seven liberal arts—the trivium and the quadrivium—from a Christian perspective.
Knowing her vast experience but recognizing that many of the students she now teaches would likely have been classically educated, the interviewer asked Dr. Weber if she saw much difference between those young men and women and others from more traditional school backgrounds. Her answer struck me. She said that the classically educated students, for the most part, could “think in the dark” in a way that many of her past students couldn’t.
“They know how to think in the dark. They can think unplugged,” she said. “They don’t need Google and they don’t need gadgets.”
That description struck me, because it’s what we hope for in our students, isn’t it? We want them to be able to engage with what they read, regardless of genre, on its own terms. We want them to be able to open a book without opening their computers. To be able to dive in without needing the “light” of predigested information that will tell them what to think before they’ve even begun.
Will this library create that sort of student by itself? Will a library ensure that we have students who can “think in the dark”? No. But it’s evidence that we believe that sort of student will routinely inhabit these halls.
We want our students, who’ve been trained to read in such a way, to have this place to come and experience the riches you see around you. To be lovers of words who come here to be with—to pursue—ideas made incarnate on these printed pages. May they do so, reminded of that more excellent Word and truer Incarnation who came to be with—to pursue—us.
Heidi Stevens taught art and humanities courses for twenty years and now serves on the Rockbridge Academy Board of Directors. She and her husband, Rick, have two grown daughters, both Rockbridge graduates.
VISION and MISSION
Talk to any business guru, and you will encounter the terms vision, mission, and values. If vision is an institution’s overarching reason for being, mission describes the work they do to achieve this vision. Meanwhile, values (often called core values) are the collective beliefs and behaviors required of those who partake in the mission and subscribe to the vision.
Is all this just pragmatic business banter? No. At its foundation, the vision-mission-values triad reflects the heart of God. If God himself had the vision to create a universe, set about a mission of redemption through His Son, while continually calling his people to live out the values of a kingdom, then we as a Christian school should emulate the pattern, both in form and content.
What is the vision of Rockbridge Academy—the intent behind why we exist—in the first place? What role do we play in this little corner of God’s kingdom? Space does not allow us to print our multi-paragraph vision script (Click here to find Our Vision. It’s worth the longer read!), but if I were to unofficially summarize the Rockbridge vision in a statement, I’d simply say it this way:
Rockbridge Academy exists to be a transformative learning community, graduating young men and women as thinking, compassionate, and intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, Rockbridge Academy’s mission statement brings greater focus to how we go about realizing this vision. If you look on our homepage, you’ll see a condensed version of our overall plan of action, stated more fully here:
To partner with parents in a distinctively classical and unwaveringly Christian education for their children, encouraging the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty in all of life.
Thus, confident in our vision to graduate thinking Christians, and having our mission set before us to do this through classical Christian methodology, we gird our loins in anticipation for the first school year unified on the Evergreen Campus as One Rockbridge. So far so good.
Nevertheless, just like Nehemiah surveying the walls of Jerusalem, tracing his way from tower-gate to tower-gate before proclaiming his intent to reset their foundations, it is worth tracing our way back through Rockbridge history to enumerate the core values that make us who we are. Faithful Jews surveying the wall that defined and laid claim to Jerusalem reflect the importance of rehearsing the distinctives that define our school. As a community then, we lock arms to proclaim to ourselves and to a watching world what it means to be part of Rockbridge Academy.
“There is not one square inch in the whole domain
of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all,
does not cry, Mine!”
CHRIST AS CORE
First and foremost, we acknowledge that our identity as a school flows from one person, Jesus Christ. We joyfully submit ourselves to his Lordship. We proclaim along with early 20th century Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
If this truth does not permeate all of what we do as a school so that our students grow up in the humidity of God’s sovereignty, all is for naught. When we gathered through the summer as staff and board to assemble the core values of Rockbridge Academy, the centrality of Christ was the refrain, because He is the source from which the following five values flow:
We joyfully mine the content and pedagogy of a tradition that edifies our humanity in its celebration of truth, goodness, and beauty, while equipping us to see the integration of all things under the lordship of Christ.
You see, the best way we’ve found to raise up thinking disciples of Jesus is to leverage classical education because it not only frees our children to think through the tools of learning (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric), it also captivates their hearts with truth, goodness, and beauty, and uniquely proclaims the unity of all subjects. All of this allows us to point students to the fact that all of life coheres under the Lordship of Christ.
We believe education is a command of God to parents, who actively partner with teachers to pursue Christian discipleship of their children’s heart, mind, soul, and strength.
We need look no further than Deuteronomy 6 in the Old Testament and Ephesians 6 in the New Testament to be reminded that it is the parent’s grand and humbling privilege to daily educate their child in the whole of life [paideia, Gr]. From academics to etiquette, tying shoes to reading to respecting mom, parents are entrusted with an 18-year (and further) discipleship program to grow up their children. Meanwhile, the school comes alongside to provide and reinforce what is needed through these years. Daily, parent and teacher shoulder together in this effort. Partnership is paramount.
MY LIFE FOR YOURS
We seek in every situation to empty ourselves with love for others, encouraging adults to mentor students and older students to mentor younger, with everyone learning to serve from union with Christ.
Contrary to our children’s universal aversion to emptying the dishwasher at home, we find that students love to serve. Young men and women long to be reminded of the masculine and feminine reality of the adults they are becoming. Boys love to demonstrate their muscles at work. Young ladies love to show their resilience and diligence. Entrusting both with sacrificial work in community answers that age old question they long for adults in their lives to answer for them.
Do I have what it takes? Absolutely, you have what it takes!
Do you see me? Yes, beautifully done!
WORK FROM A PLACE OF REST
We find our value and identity in Christ, measuring success by faithfulness, thereby encouraging habits of rest for mind, body, and spirit that fit us for our best work.
School, like any other aspect of life, can be a place where we as individuals—staff, student, or parent—pursue our idols. Idols around success create unrest in our hearts and lead anywhere from anxiety to avoidance to burnout. Rest acknowledges our human limitations, glories in God’s sovereignty, and helps us recall the limitless blessings of Christ. We want to be a school that reinforces habits of rest so that we are continuously restored to pursue our best work.
We prioritize love for one another by pursuing peace at the source of conflict, remembering that biblical peacemaking starts with self-examination, and that relationships are redeemable through the gospel of Christ.
Since its inception, Rockbridge Academy has put a high premium on the strong fellowship required in the learning environment, whether inside or outside of the classroom. The relationships between staff, students, and parents have opportunity to reflect the fellowship of the Trinity either beautifully or poorly. Sin is the reality that infects us all, yet the gospel is the greater reality that redeems even the most desperate breaches in relationships. Peacemaking can be hard work, but biblical peacemaking is essential to reflecting Christ as a community.
It is important to remember that core values are both instructive and aspirational. Core values unify us toward shared understanding and action, yet we acknowledge that even our best efforts to embody such ideals will fall short. Remember, though, that the author of vision, mission, and values is God himself. His sovereign intentions never lack for His abundant supply; therefore, we pray:
Dear Father, as we fully submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, equip Rockbridge Academy to flourish as an enthusiastically classical community of learners dedicated to parental partnership, faithfully pursuing a relationally redemptive culture in which we work from a place of rest and serve under Christ’s banner of “my life for yours.”
What do you have planned for 2321? Before you answer, make sure your mind hasn’t auto-corrected that number. The question is not, “What have you planned for the year 2021?”, but in fact, “What have you planned for the year 2321?” The question casts a vision beyond paying off the mortgage, finally taking that trip you’ve been saving for—across the country or around the world, beyond cleaning out the attic (oh, yeah, you did that during COVID), or reading “War and Peace.”
Well, if you don’t have a 300-year plan, the ACCS does. And you are already part of it. The ACCS is the Association of Classical Christian Schools. If your child attends Rockbridge Academy, or any other member school, then your family is part of a generational plan to change and redeem our culture, to restore Christian norms and standards that were once the hallmark of a flourishing society.
I got “on the plan” roughly 20 years ago when my husband and I first discovered classical Christian Education (CCE). When we joined the Rockbridge community in 2002, we heard often of this kind of very long-term thinking. At one school dinner, the story was told by way of illustration, of a group of oak trees planted at Oxford University for the specific purpose of providing new roofing beams in the dining hall centuries hence, when the trees maturity and the roof’s wear would dovetail in this ideal replacement plan. The story is considered myth by some, but even so, the illustration is no less impactful, especially for a community of believers whose God thinks and speaks in just such long terms. God promised to deliver his people out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery, and He sent his son, the savior of the world, into first-century Palestine after a 400 years of silent anticipation. For a God outside of time, centuries and generations take on a different meaning.
Former Rockbridge parent and board chair, Stu Caton, cast a similar vision of time before a group gathered at the Evergreen campus in October 2019 to celebrate the start of Rockbridge Academy’s 25th year. He told the group not to think of this 25th year, but of the 50th year and beyond; not of bringing their children to school, but of driving down Evergreen road to bring, or pickup, or see a history parade with, their grandchildren. Classical and Christian education is always about looking ahead, casting forward, looking to the horizon, expectantly “Look[ing] further up. . . further in” (C.S. Lewis) for the realization of God’s plan.
Which brings us back to the ACCS and your part of the plan. Consider your child[ren] generation one, if you will. Then look ahead two, or three generations. If you are convinced that your children are being uniquely educated to appreciate truth, goodness, and beauty; to think and speak clearly from a biblical worldview, all the while affirming the integration of all creation by God’s making, then you must thrill at the idea of being part of that legacy and seeing the legacy deepen and widen. And that’s why the ACCS exists—to see the growth of CCE and the kind of impact that will ultimately change our world.
If you haven’t visited the ACCS website recently, do it. Maybe you can already easily explain CCE. You did your research and ended up at Rockbridge following thoughtful and thorough decision-making. Even so, a visit to this website will give you renewed encouragement and stimulus about why you are here.
In practical terms, the ACCS is, “The primary public advocate for classical Christian education.” The organization offers, “a wide array of services that help build distinctive schools, [and]. . . provide accountability through accreditation.” In short, “The ACCS seeks to set an educational standard for a unified and directed approach to classical and Christian learning.”
But what makes classical Christian learning such a worthy pursuit? Read on to find out that progressives in the early 20th century set out to deliberately undermine our educational system and its classical Christian heritage. And the plan worked! Fast forward a hundred years and, “The ideas behind classical Christian schools are foreign to modern educators.” That’s because, “progressives worked to remove Christian ideas and purposes from the classroom.” But the ACCS affirms, and by extension, so do you, that CCE’s, “transformative power lies in one truth: Christ is Lord of all.”
So, “What does that mean for how we live? How we think about things? What we value and what we love? In short, education is primarily about what we are trained to love, not just what we are taught to know. Put another way, education is about soul formation, not information. And this formation builds a culture.
To further promote culture-building among ACCS member schools, the ACCS sponsors several contests and awards, including the Blakely Prize in Fine Art and the Chrysostom Oratory Competition. Rockbridge Academy boasts five Blakely and seven Chrysostom winners among its alumni, going back to the inception of these competitions in 2015. These students reflect not only the excellence of our teachers in instructing and cultivating an expression of truth, goodness, and beauty, but the students’ excellent ability to embrace and express these same virtues. The speeches and artwork are themselves are like redemptive cultural artifacts.
The ACCS does a host of other things, from training and certifying teachers, to cultivating relationships with like-minded businesses and higher educational institutions. They also host an annual conference called Repairing the Ruins, which our school participates in. The organization tracks and promotes the success of students in member schools, and has developed The ACCS Initiative, an effort designed and being implemented to expand CCE nationally over the next decade. When you do visit the ACCS website, I encourage you to read through the tabs under “About ACCS” and “What We Do.” Your own vision will be refreshed, and you will be encouraged about the real potential for change that you are making possible, through your own child, and generations beyond.