Mission Tension 5: Rich Yet Unhurried


Mission Tension 5:

Rich Yet Unhurried

October 2023  

Dear Trinity Community, 

Last year we started a series of Head Lines messages exploring distinctives of  Trinity’s mission, especially some of the tensions that are built into our identity as a school. My aspirations outran my outputs, and we ran out of school year before we ran out of tensions. So I’m picking this back up for the 2023–2024 school year. The four tensions we addressed last year were non-covenant but Christian; evangelical, orthodox, and ecumenical; relying on the Bible and welcoming all truth as God’s truth; and classical and Charlotte Mason pedagogy. 

We said that our missional tensions are purposeful, like a guitar with several strings holding tension in tune.  Trinity’s tensions go back, most of them, to the founding of the school and the codification of the mission.  Tensions can be stressful, and we may feel the urge to resolve them, to move further to one end or the other to  release the pressure. But to do so would be to untune the harmonious mission of Trinity School. 


Mission Tension 5: Rich Yet Unhurried 

The first thing to be said about the tension rich yet unhurried is that it is often ignored, or perhaps transcended.  How many times have you heard someone (even the Head of School) refer to Trinity’s “rich and unhurried”  education? It’s common to make these two into a hendiadys, in which two words are used to say one thing.  A classical hendiadys (in contrast to a commonplace one like “good and loud” or “nice and warm”) has  elements of surprise and what has been called eccentric coordination. In this way, rich and unhurried is a  more complex—and, well, richer—expression than saying simply “rich” or simply “unhurried.” This way of  mutual definition is not foreign to Trinity’s mission, as our Expanded Mission Statement (EMS) acknowledges:

Sometimes an unhurried education will be a rich one.

And working from the other end, a rich education will  require a certain ordering of student time that is in line with the rhythms of an unhurried life. So you’ll not find  me pedantically correcting people when they say, “rich and unhurried.” 

At the same time, let’s not overlook the important fact that the mission of Trinity School espouses a rich yet unhurried education. Where lies the tension which that important little conjunction marks?

We usually locate the tension between Trinity and something outside our school: between a rich (and unhurried)  education on the one hand, and on the other the sort of education with “burdensome course loads that leave little  time for deep, joyous learning or for personal pursuits beyond the classroom” (Trinity’s EMS). This external tension is not an unimportant tension to manage, and much of our EMS is devoted to staking out Trinity’s  position vis-a-vis these outside pressures. But this is not what the phrase “rich yet unhurried” principally has in  mind, nor is it the kind of tension I am focusing on in this series. I am looking for the internal tensions of our  school, the ones that are built into our DNA, if you will. In other words, I’m deeply interested in the fact that  the “yet” is part of the mission statement, not just a commentary on the mission’s relationship to cultural trends. 

Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.

(Ecclesiastes  4:6)

This has long been our locus classicus of Scriptural authority for our unhurried posture. An unhurried  education flourishes when we seek to do a few things well. And where a rich education is devoted to depth  over breadth, then slowing down to foster reflection, creativity, and high-order thinking will complement rich learning. But the meaning of a rich education cannot be exhausted by the idea of depth over breadth. For  one thing, breadth of educational experience is not unimportant. Thomas Huxley famously said, “Try to learn  something about everything and everything about something.” In a Google world, this learning strategy might  play out a little differently, but I wouldn’t love for Trinity students to be narrow experts and specialists when  they graduate. The ideal of the generalist who knows how to learn anything and who has practiced that on  many things is a good model for us.  

Charlotte Mason said that education is a “science of relations,” meaning that children are endowed with  minds capable of forming relations with knowledge and experience of many sorts, from nature, to science, to  literature, to art and music and much more. One of Mason’s dominant metaphors for teaching and learning was  a feast. “We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what  he can” (A Philosophy of Education, 183). This principle underlies Trinity’s commitment to resource classes  in Middle School, to electives in the Upper School, to clubs, to the arts and engineering beyond the graduation  requirements, to Winterim, to Lower School field trips and unit studies.  

But all this comes with a cost. Anyone who has spread a literal feast for family and friends knows that at least  for the host—who, at Trinity, is the teacher—the preparation, delivery, and cleanup is not often an unhurried  affair. And whether an educational feast is freeing and unhurried for the learner is another question. Many a  student who enrolls at a well-resourced university is giddy with the wide and rich array of learning opportunities  at such a well-endowed institution. But all those options can also become overwhelming. The feast of learning  must be rich, but we cannot sample it all. Mason’s wise words are worth repeating: “Each small guest  assimilates what [s]he can.” Rich yet unhurried.  

We can better hold this tension when we remember that we are going for lifelong learners. We don’t need our  students to sample every dish before they leave this place. We need them to learn how to learn and to grow in  their love of learning. And then they can go on learning for the rest of the days that God gives them.  

Trinity’s students—and we also—have an inspiration in Jesus, who went deep into the Law and the Prophets,  constantly quoting and paraphrasing and channeling the Hebrew Scriptures (much of which he surely knew by  heart), but whose life and learning were narrow by modern standards (except for an infant sojourn in Egypt, he  never left Palestine). He was an astute student of human nature, as evidenced by the many significant encounters  the Gospel writers chronicle; but his time on earth was short, and when his hour came, he went deep with a few  disciples (John 14–17) before he surrendered all his human life and learning to his Father, trusting that God’s  good purposes had been accomplished in his life. I like to think that a rich yet unhurried education is a taste of  the kind of experience that believers have when, in Christ, our hearts rejoice and no one can take our joy from  us (John 16:22). And it may indeed be that the Kingdom of God will be a rich yet unhurried place to praise him  forever and ever. 

Non Nobis, 

Chip Denton 
Head of School