I just read the most delightful story featuring a United Methodist Church’s back-to-school ministry in Pace, Fla., that reaches out to children who would not normally go to school their first day with a new pair of shoes, a fresh haircut or styling, or new school supplies.
The church opens its fellowship hall and transforms the space into a back-to-school paradise for the children in their community to put their best foot forward on the first day of a new school year. Tutors are available to provide pointers regarding good study habits. Every child gets to pick his or her new backpack with fresh school supplies. Barbers and hairstylists prepare the children to look their very best. And most important of all, the children are prayed with and reminded of the important link between education and the church.
That historical link is apparent in the first university founded under the shadow of the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early Middle Ages. The Christian Emperor Charlemagne was responsible for preserving classical culture and high learning during the waning of the Dark Ages and thousands of hand-illuminated books containing the early classics and biblical literature were copied and preserved by monks.
Along the coast of Ireland, Christians who fled from Hun invasions on the European continent preserved manuscripts and the earliest books including The Book of Kells, considered a masterpiece.The love of learning that was nurtured in the monasteries and cathedrals and public schools trace their origin to these places called scholae ( thus our word, “scholar”). The ties between the church and education are essential to the church’s posterity and its future and Christian education has never been needed more than now. Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high and much of what is crucial to our creeds and theology has been repackaged by the media and popular entertainment and bears little resemblance to the historical church.
I remember as a child processing with all the students and teachers from the campus of Swainsboro Primary School to the lawn of First United Methodist for a noon Good Friday service. The clergy from the community spoke to us prior to the service of the history of Lent and the meaning of Holy Week. Each of us was presented a cross made from olive wood that hangs in my study until this day.
“Prayer in the schools” means little without education in the church and by the church. Our own ignorance and laziness of intellect have brought about the new Dark Ages we find ourselves in. We must find creative ways to reconnect with the schools and universities in our towns and cities. The most teachable moment is now.
Christians and persons of faith should be lifetime learners. The best translation for the word disciple, after all, is “learner.” Everyday we should model before our children and youth what it means to be a “learner.” Perhaps “back to school” is for all of us.
The Rev. Bernard Mason is pastor of Mann-Mize Memorial United Methodist Church and chaplain for Heartland Hospice.