Monday, November 30 , 2015, 6:14 pm | Fair 56º

Eric Metaxas Brings Message of Faith, Personal Courage to Providence Hall

Third annual Engaging Ideas of Consequence forum puts school's values, character and enthusiasm on display

From left, Providence Hall Head of School David O’Neil and wife Dayna, guest speaker Eric Metaxas and Patty and Bob Bryant.
From left, Providence Hall Head of School David O’Neil and wife Dayna, guest speaker Eric Metaxas and Patty and Bob Bryant.  (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety |

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Since 2007, Providence Hall has provided Christian college preparatory education for grades seven to 12 in Santa Barbara with a humanities-based curriculum that focuses on academics with faculty of substance and character, ownership of faith and living authentic lives. These values combine for a unique display of Lion pride — the school’s mascot — and create an intertwining thread through the goals of the school and an empowering message shared during an impactful evening at the recent third annual Fall Forum, Engaging Ideas of Consequence.

The event was held in the Grand Ballroom at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort with all proceeds benefiting Providence Hall. More than 500 guests settled into theater-style rows of chairs for the festivities.

An opening number of “Amazing Grace” began the evening with Providence Hall chamber singers Garrett Gish, Katie and Nathaniel Hodson, Madeleine Meyer and Ashley O’Brien, with musical accompaniment by John Enrico Douglas and directed by Rebecca Letwich Hodson.

The event, subtitled Just Jazz and Just Desserts, included introductions from Dayna O’Neil, who began with a welcome prayer before thanking committee chairs, staff, sponsors and Kathy Ackley, Fess Parker’s catering director. O’Neil, along with her husband and Head of School, David, have worked side-by-side with a dedication to the students.

“David desires that each student he comes into contact with becomes a person of virtue so that they will change people around them and through the lives that they lead,” she said. “It is this passion and commitment to the students that drives him each day at Providence Hall.”

Following his wife, David O’Neil, strode to the stage, embracing his wife and further adding to the thread of the school and the evening’s message.

“At Providence Hall, we strongly believe that young people are capable of quite a lot,” he said. “And that what they do with their lives can, in fact, and will change, our world. And with this in mind, we take our jobs and role as educators very seriously.”

The attributes of a school where you are free to live out your story to fully become who God desires you to be indirectly drew to the narrative of main speaker, Eric Metaxas, author of the bestselling biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Metaxas spoke of the key moment in the summer of 1988 when Ed Tuttle, a friend and colleague from Yale University, led him to his faith by sharing a book, Cost of Discipleship, and the story of Bonhoeffer.

“Have you heard of Bonhoeffer?” Metaxas recalled his friend asking him. “I said no, and he told me Bonhoeffer’s a German pastor who because of his faith in Jesus Christ spoke up for the Jews in the Third Reich and stood up against Hitler because of his Christian faith. He got involved in a plot to kill Hitler and was sent to a concentration camp and was killed.”

Metaxas went on to express his interest in the story, both for his own developing faith and for what eventually led to his next project.

“I could not believe that story,” he said. “I was sort of stunned to hear this. I thought that’s a positive story of faith. I haven’t heard too many of those. You don’t get too many of those in popular culture.”

In addition to being an author, Metaxas is a cultural commentator on CNN, Fox News and NPR, delivering messages about the need for personal courage and standing up for what is right and good, leading to real change in the world and living lives of authenticity.

Metaxas, who was the keynote speaker at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, also wrote Amazing Grace, about William Wilberforce, the man who brought an end to the British slave trade.

The Providence Hall forum was an open vessel for Metaxas’ message of right and good and real change, as emphasized by faculty and administrator Leftwich Hodson, who shared the unique qualities of the student environment at Providence Hall.

“Our mission of empowering students is to think through not only their academic subjects but also their faith and the ability to integrate the faith and learning,” Hodson said. “And knowing that our students are doing more than just learning facts, that they’re learning to think critically, learning to look at things from different perspectives, and not just a politically correct point of view, but integrating their faith as they understand their academic work.”

Furthering the thread was the excitement with which Providence Hall junior Nathaniel Hodson, 16, spoke of the daily academics and the coincidence of reading Bonhoeffer during the time of the Fall Forum.

“We’re reading through Bonhoeffer’s book, Costly Grace, and also reading through the entire Bible over the course of two years and studying a Psalm a day,” he said. “And it’s really, really great. We’re really diving into scripture and it’s incredible. We’re also very rigorous with mathematics and science, and we have a humanities course that combines history with English so we study the literature of the time while we study that time period.”

An opportunity to nurture and create new friendships alike was provided during a dessert reception that concluded the event. The delicious creations of executive chef Kirk DeLong were spread across long tables, including a delightful mixture of favorites such as “Hadley O’Neil’s Favorite Gingerbread Whoopie Pies” (Hadley, age 2, is Providence Hall’s first daughter); “Jamie West’s Fall Fruit Cobbler with Crystallized Ginger Whipped Cream” (a celebrated chef and a Providence Hall parent); “David and Dayna O’Neil’s Celebrate Friday Night Kettle Corn”; “Eric Metaxas’ Mom’s Best Baked Baklava”; and “Amy and Randy Clark’s Good Night Scharffen Berger Hot Chocolate” (school parents and board president).

Providence Hall sophomore Madeleine Meyer, 15, spoke with Noozhawk about the friendships that’s she’s acquired while at the school.

“Not only is the education so wonderful but it ties in Christian faith, which makes the whole experience so different from any other school,” she said. “So I’m really glad that I chose Providence Hall.”

Outreach is a key component to the mission of Providence Hall and the school provides Open House opportunities for the community to meet faculty, administrators, alumni and current parents with personalized tours of the campus. The next open houses are scheduled for Dec. 2 and Jan. 13. Call 805.962.4400 to register.

Providence Hall also will be continuing its annual tradition of ushering in the Advent season with a Service of Lessons and Carols, in which the school’s chorus and instrumentalists gather with the Laudate Youth Chorus and El Montecito School Chorus at First United Methodist Church at 305 E. Anapamu St. Seating is general admission for performances at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 and a matinee at 2 p.m. Dec. 1. Click here for more information.

And in this season of giving there are other ways to donate to Providence Hall, including an innovative scholarship program called Tuition Angels that connects deserving students with benefactors who assist many deserving students in the school’s mission of an “independent school for all neighborhoods.”

Providence Hall graciously thanks the major sponsors of this years third annual Fall Forum:

Axia, Laura and Mark Bacon, Amy and Randy Clark, Davies Inc., Gerd and Pete Jordano, Kathy Ireland and Greg Olsen M.D., and Missi and Kelly Vandever.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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