The Noble Task of Building a Cathedral

Jacob GoodwilerAbout Us, Distinctives


I have always loved cathedrals as marvels of human perseverance and faith, but they have grown on me even more since founding this school and contemplating them in relationship to classical education and our labors here at Cambridge.

Even when the school was nothing but a dream, I had visions of the educational cathedral I hoped to see built. The hope WAS and IS to build an educational “cathedral” made of living stones–generations of wise and virtuous students turned adults and leaders whose souls have been nourished on truth, goodness, and beauty, whose minds have feasted on the best ideas and thoughts of all time and have been honed to think biblically, rigorously and well, and whose hearts have been romanced to glorify God and serve neighbor in ALL that they do. And by God’s grace, we ARE building a cathedral here at Cambridge—one living stone, one student, one grade, one year at a time.

140108-CathedralTower1) How are cathedrals and this school similar in purpose? Simply put, Cathedrals were built for the glory of God and the good of neighbor. We too seek to build this school for the glory of God and good of neighbor.

2) Also, like anything great, cathedrals began with a God-sized vision, a clear architectural end, and good blueprints. We, too, have sought to begin with a God-sized end in mind. Our Portrait of a Graduate, our Mission, Vision and Values, our expected schoolwide learning results (ESLRs) are the goal toward which we are building.

Given our current educational and cultural context, the vision and the blueprint—knowing what our destination is and how to get there—are two major advantages we have. But more than mere advantages, these two things are absolutely critical when you’re building an educational cathedral from the ground up.

3) Running completely counter to our society’s quest for instant gratification, cathedrals were built slowly and they were built to last, unlike most things in our age of disposable goods and modular buildings.

Likewise, Cambridge has been built slowly, on purpose, one grade at a time so that we can build strength upon strength with the certainty that our students are well prepared for the next challenge ahead in the liberal arts.

This is not a cram, pass, forget model of education. This is not disposable education. This is an education that seeks to form the very architecture of our students’ minds and souls in such a way as to become an ENDURING part of who they are.

4) Building something as enormous as a cathedral required the involvement of the entire community. It took the vision of the clergy, the financial support of the noblemen and the labor and love of all the townspeople. In the same way, our “cathedral” here at Cambridge can only be built by an entire community spanning generations—a community with a clear, enduring vision constantly set before them, a community that finds the necessary financial support to make the work possible, and a community where everyone contributes their love, labor, prayers, time, talent, and treasure to help build something much bigger than their own children or themselves, something that blesses their children, yes, but so many others both now and well into the future.

[frame src=”” width=”227″ height=”300″ lightbox=”on” title=”The Cambridge School – First Year (2006)” align=”right” padding=”3px” ] 5) And while entire communities were involved in building them, it’s hard to believe in our day and age where everyone is looking for his or her 15 minutes of fame no matter how unworthy of attention, cathedrals were built anonymously.

History has no record of the names of the many thousands of people who were involved in building each of these magnificent structures, people who labored day in and day out for decades and centuries on end, who gave precious artwork and tapestries to adorn the walls.

In the same way, we hope that someday, when history and time have rendered all of our names anonymous in the building of this school, what will remain will be a beautiful testament of a community that built something magnificent in education for the glory of God.

6) And even though they labored anonymously, which in our day and age might lead to shoddy, sloppy work because no one was watching, the craftsman and artisans who worked on cathedrals clearly put forth their best efforts even if no one else would ever see or appreciate their work.

There is a famous story of a stone carver who was carving a beautiful bird to be tucked away in one of the high spires of a cathedral. When someone asked mockingly why he put so much care and such excellent craftsmanship into a stone bird that no one would ever see, he replied: “Because GOD sees.” He was motivated by faith to do excellent work regardless of who would see “BECAUSE God sees.”

Likewise, Cambridge has been built on faculty and staff members, parents, donors and students who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to do something excellently even if no one else noticed, even if it was done invisibly. Why? “Because GOD sees.”

THAT attitude is exactly what has created such incredible strength and beauty in this school these first 8 years and I hope it is such a frame of heart and mind that builds this school for a long time to come.

7) Another thing about cathedrals is that, while they are extraordinarily beautiful places, they were not always comfortable—definitely not in the process and not even in the completion. There was no a/c, no heat, no indoor plumbing, no cushioned pews or stadium seating.
In many ways this is true of Cambridge. While what we are building is good, true, beautiful, and enduring, it’s not always comfortable. As an institution, we are swimming upstream within our cultural and educational context, which is challenging and often not comfortable.

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]What we’re asking of our students, our faculty, our staff, our parents is not always comfortable and easy. This is NOT a school for the faint of heart. But as we stretch together, it is with a belief that what we are building is worth it, even if it’s not comfortable or easy.[/quote]

8) And BECAUSE it’s not comfortable or easy, when the walls and roof became too heavy as the cathedral builders sought to soar higher and higher, external supports were needed in the form of flying buttresses to keep the cathedral from collapsing.

In the same way, our cathedral here at Cambridge will need our own form of “flying buttresses” and external support in order to bear the weight of an undertaking of this scale. We are so very grateful for those foundations, donors and community ambassadors, external to our parent community, who have believed in what we’re doing and supported us in significant ways. They are an essential part of building this educational cathedral and they, like flying buttresses, lend a beauty all their own.

9) With all those flying buttresses, spires and towers, it’s no wonder that cathedrals served as the architectural and visual center of their medieval towns. But they also served as the center of their towns spiritually, intellectually and socially. Out of cathedrals grew cathedral schools that taught the liberal arts in the form of the trivium and quadrivium (sound familiar?) to those who would become leaders of the next generation. And many these schools evolved into medieval universities that have remained until today.

In the same way that cathedrals served as architectural, spiritual and intellectual centers of their day, we hope that Cambridge will become a prominent part of the educational, intellectual, spiritual and social landscape right here in San Diego. We dream that it may one day serve as a flagship classical Christian school on the west coast, known for integrating faith and learning robustly and continuing this GREAT tradition of education in its fullest sense.

[frame src=”” width=”1000″ height=”400″ lightbox=”on” title=”The Cambridge School – Eighth Year (2013-2014)” align=”center” padding=”3px” ] 10) Even the very architecture and artistry of many cathedrals reveal both a Christian AND a classical influence. The statues, carvings, and stained glass windows reveal wonderful examples of Athens meeting Jerusalem, and faith meeting learning in both the saints and philosophers depicted there.

Like the cathedrals we, too, seek to be a school where both Athens and Jerusalem indeed meet– where kids can learn what they believe and why they believe it, and why it matters.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]As you’ve heard me say many times before, we’re a “both/and” kind of school, not an either/or kind of school—meaning that we care about both head and heart, intelligence and character, both wisdom and virtue, both faith and learning, both excellence and humility, both Athens and Jerusalem, both love of God and love of neighbor.[/quote]

But we are a “both/and” school in ONE more way as it relates to Cathedrals: BOTH a blessing for those who are building it AND a blessing for those who would enjoy the fruits of their labor in the future. I hope that you agree that, while our cathedral isn’t completed yet, it is most certainly a blessing BOTH to your children NOW AND worthy of your efforts to complete, adorn and refine for generations of students in the future.

11) And in order to do this, to be a both/and blessing, both for our students NOW AND long into the future, cathedrals must be built by people who are laboring with the big picture in mind. Legend has it that the famous architect, Christopher Wren, who built St. Paul’s cathedral in London, came across a bricklayer and asked what he was doing. “I’m laying bricks, can’t you see?” He walked a little further and asked a second bricklayer, “What are you doing?” to which the brick layer replied, “I’m building a wall.” Moving on to the next bricklayer, he once again asked, “What are YOU doing?” to which the third bricklayer replied, “I’m building a cathedral for the glory of God!”

What a difference perspective makes!

No matter what role you play in the building of The Cambridge School, you have a choice.

Either you can see your contribution here as mere “bricklaying”—

I’m “JUST a teacher planning lessons” or
“I’m JUST a dad going to work every day to pay the tuition bills” or
“I’m JUST an staff person solving problems, putting out fires, answering phone calls, moving chairs and tables or
“I’m JUST a mom or grandmother packing lunches, helping with homework, driving on field trips, volunteering in the classroom

OR you can see that very same task as being part of the bigger picture — not merely as bricklaying but as Cathedral Building!

Trust me, I know it’s easy to lose perspective in the midst of busy days of work, volunteering, caring for children or grandchildren, and helping with homework. It’s easy to lose heart and feel like you’re just trudging through your days as a mere bricklayer, but you have a choice:

Bricklayer or Cathedral Builder. Which will you be?

[frame src=”” width=”1000″ height=”300″ lightbox=”off” title=”Bircks” align=”center” padding=”3px” ]