New Pencils

by the Rev. Katherine Bush


I was a student for twenty-one years. And I was a teacher for fifteen years. August brings its own particular and peculiar blend of delight, hope, anxiety, and curiosity. I love clean calendar pages, the smell of new books, nametags (which I actually think we should wear in perpetuity), and fresh starts. I am grateful for learning from one of my former colleagues to celebrate a multitude of “new yearses;” through the multiplicity of her identity, she celebrated the first day of school, Rosh Hashanah, the change of calendar years, and Chinese New Year. As a Christian, I can sub-in the first Sunday of Advent, Ash Wednesday, and Easter, all of which offer their own promises of change and new life.


The start of a school year, though, has a strong hold on me. With another friend, I am prone to do some back-to-school shopping, not just for my children’s backpacks and new sneakers, but for my own collection of post-it notes, pens, a calendar, and sundry office supplies. I’ll be doing that soon, even though I’m not headed to teachers’ in-service this year. 


And to help further with my August feelings, there is a new season unfurling at Calvary. On August 14, we’ll host a Ministry Fair to help new and long-time members reconnect with vital ministries, and soon you’ll be hearing about new classes and small groups. The new program year’s opportunities bring new ways of thinking and renewed ties to each other. Joining a small group, coming for dinner and a class, or signing up to support a ministry are all ways that we can deepen our relationships with God and with our fellow travelers. I have heard so many people say recently how hungry they are to talk about things that really matter and how much they crave deeper connections – if that describes you, consider being a part of a class or small group. 


(Particularly, Calvary will have two small groups following the Episcopal Church’s Sacred Ground curriculum – one on Sunday afternoons and another on Wednesday evenings. We believe in the transformative power of this work. And there are Education for Ministry groups, a revived Wednesday morning study group, Wednesday night classes, and I could go on, and on, and on … Stay tuned for a fall guide to all the offerings!)


But I digress, though all those opportunities bring me back to what is particularly delightful and peculiarly hopeful about the start of a new year: it’s the chance to grow, to learn, and to be stretched. Just like when I walked into my third-grade classroom as a new student in a new school, I didn’t know how my life would change. That teacher and those fellow classmates and the books we read and even long division changed my heart and my mind in ways that made me a new person. The truth is that’s happened to me every time I’ve walked into a classroom – whether it was in high school or seminary or church, as a teacher or as a student, sometimes even as a parent taking my kids to their classrooms, every time I’ve been changed. 


I suppose that’s why it’s also a time of some anxiety; that’s why it can be hard to open the door to a new room of people talking about something I’m curious about. Because it will change me. Over the years, some classes have been really hard, some were graded on a curve, and nowadays (thank you, baby Jesus) there’s no grading at all for me. But I’ve still learned and grown in all these conversations and small groups. 


So, it’s August and it is a new year, and I’m getting ready to get a blank notebook and sharpen some pencils and be changed. I know I’ll learn something new about myself and about the world around me and about God. Hope to see you in class.

8 thoughts on “New Pencils”

  1. Great essay, Katherine. The aroma of an old-fashioned, hand-cranked pencil sharpener has always been a lovely perfume to me!

    1. I feel the same way, Linda. We have an electric sharpener at home, and it’s efficient in its own ways – but not the same as hand-cranked!

  2. This really speaks to us as we prepare for a fresh start in a new school this year and all the ways this new year will change us. Thanks for this today.

  3. Katherine, Linda and Laura, I have a side bar to your comments on the hand cranked pencil sharpener.
    Cashs Dad was custodian of the Elementary and High School buildings back in Helena, Oklahoma, Cashs hometown. He gave us a hand cranked sharpener when the boys started school many years ago and to this day that sharpener has a special spot on the garage wall and is still in use. However, Cash used it to sharpen her eyebrow pencils; I discovered this much to my horror when I attempted to sharpen a pencil only to pull it out, covered in a brown, somewhat greasy residue. Remove the sharpener, never, the memories are priceless and though it is many years old it still works well sans the eyebrow pencil residue!! Rick

  4. Seventy-three years later, I still remember the fevered excitement of going into the East High School bookstore, a siren’s song of stacks and stacks of lined-paper first-grade tablets, colored construction papers, reams of typing paper, and the flat rectangular black boxes of brilliantly colored Prang crayons, a coveted beckoning beyond Crayola. It was a new and magic world. And Ticonderoga #2s still rule.

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