Being A Good Neighbour Through School Involvement

The local school – In a place we think the Church is being pushed out, the Church is actually being welcomed in. God is writing a story that is beyond our full understanding, and we are invited to actively participate as He grants the Church favour within Hamilton’s school system.

Through hearing from 4 different Churches, we are able to receive wisdom and hear tangible ways that local schools are being engaged. The Churches have seen that the Gospel can be demonstrated through lending a helping hand, working alongside, and working with.

Bethany Gospel Chapel—Graeme Kirk
Bethany Gospel Chapel is in their 5th year of serving at King George School and their 1st year at Memorial School and Delta Secondary School.

The Church did not always feel a need to do this, but is now seeing it as Christ’s calling to love our neighbourhoods. They began to dream about the possibilities as they saw Dave and Alison Witt’s involvement with the Bennetto Neighbourhood and Hughson Street Baptist’s involvement with their local school. To see examples, of Christian’s being a resource to local schools in non-threatening ways was inspiring. Bethany also has strength with a congregation of retired teachers and current teachers. There have been hurdles- the teachers and principals felt held back with restrictions around faith. Now there have been more relationships of trust built. They are realizing that there are needs, so they are open to Bethany’s involvement. Bethany even won an award for profiling excellence in school involvement from the school board.

Bethany is going beyond entering into the local school and starting a Christian club. There has been creativity and a willingness to serve where needed. Some opportunities to be involved at King George School have included helping with literacy tutoring, library help, the breakfast program, a cooking club and chaperoning dances. The interaction with staff, faculty, and volunteers has deepened over time. Bethany provides a Teacher’s Appreciation on Valentine’s Day, and the school has even used Bethany as a venue for their graduation ceremonies. In the place of a traditional kids club, Bethany decided to begin a Community Choir for kids in the neighbourhood. King George School is very supportive of the Community Choir because it has helped fill the gap where there isn’t an arts program. With engaging Memorial School and Delta Secondary School, it has been a joint effort between Bethany, New Hope Church, and a Church plant of Freeway. The Churches believe that they will be better together as they reach out in unity to their local schools.

Graeme Kirk says that the kids and youth programs at Bethany have been higher with school involvement. Trust with parents has increased as they see things happening where there is not as clear of an agenda. It’s a different atmosphere.

Hughson Street Baptist Church—Mike Kleinhuis
For years, Hughson Street Baptist has had a strong focus on youth with a commitment to school involvement. The Church is very supportive of school involvement, and sees it as part of loving and caring for the community. At Bennetto School they have helped start a breakfast club along with tutoring at St. Lawrence and Bennetto. Hughson was even asked to oversee the Grade 6 Intramural Teams. Since Hughson is located in close proximity to the schools, parents feel comfortable with their kids going to the afterschool programs. At Sir John A. MacDonald High School, Youth Pastor Mike Klienhuis is invited to coach volleyball and be seen as a part of the staff. These relationships of trust have taken time to build, but the previous Youth Pastor Wes Hill paved the way.

Through being present, trust has been built and Hughson is now considered one of the schools partners and is represented on the Parent Council Board. Mike is free to walk through the schools. Hughson is seen as a good influence for the kids and because of that volunteers are welcome. There have been opportunities to interact with teachers and influence decisions that are made. Living in the neighbourhood has also strengthened relationships.

With school involvement, there has been an increase in youth coming to after school programs. There are 30 boys and girls coming out to basketball. Mike makes every effort to go to sports games and events at the schools.

Lightway Church—Mark Vincent
Prior to beginning the Church, Lightway used Kidsfest Backpacks to meet the principal at Lake Avenue School. This was the local school located in the neighbourhood where they would be soon planting a Church. They were able to ask the Principal where help can be given. A beauty of Churches being in relationship with one another is that Doug Booth a member of Bethany Gospel Chapel was a previous Principal of Lake Avenue School and was able to endorse Lightway’s involvement to the school.

Since moving into the neighbourhood they are now involved in a nutrition program on Monday and Friday, they also help kids with work in an art and music class. They are working on an opportunity for men to come into the school for a lunch hour program, to help serve as role models for the boys. Lightway also shows appreciation to staff and teachers twice a year with coffee and muffins. Doors have opened to be involved in a Health Action Team, to help get kids the food that they need. They are also are a part of a community group that includes social workers, principals, vice principals, health nurses and rec centre workers.

After spending 2 years involved in the school they can walk around the neighbourhood now and know kids and families. In the beginning after asking the school to volunteer there was reluctance at being seen as a Church instead of individuals volunteering. But the school is more welcoming now. They are there to get to know kids, and share that they are pastors if they are asked. Mark Vincent believes that if the principal and vice principal are embracing of you a lot is possible. We are called to love.

Lake Avenue School is where Lightway Church’s weekly services take place. They have been able to get to know janitors and store equipment in the gym. Lightway Church offers the tables and sound equipment for the school to use anytime.

Lake Avenue School is from Kindergarten to Grade 8. The school has very diverse people groups- immigrants & refugees (East Indian, Bosnian and Serbian). In the neighbourhood there is more of a temporary poverty that is not as generational as downtown Hamilton. Now that they are involved in the school, they are looking at ways to get to know whole families.

Wentworth Baptist Church—Tracy Fraser and Danielle Wiebe
Over the past 4 years, Wentworth has been involved in their local schools. They were involved in Sanford School for 4 years, and are now involved with Cathy Weaver School. The Church wanted to focus on reaching out to children and families, so they saw the local school as a key place to be engaged in order for this to happen. Especially since there are 5 schools within a 10 minute walking distance of the Church.

The relationships were first begun by Robin Ellis as he got connected with a school program called Running and Reading. Robin was also involved in the Weaver Community Hub, which helps provides resources to the neighbourhood. These relationships were continued when Tracy Fraser stepped into the role of Children and Family Minister. With members of the congregation having done teaching placements at Gibson School and Sanford School and volunteering at Cathy Weaver partnership has begun to build. The Principal of Cathy Weaver has been very responsive to Wentworth’s involvement in the school. A beautiful example of the strength of this partnership was seen when a junior high girl was being baptised at Wentworth. One of her teachers wanted to attend the baptism, so he approached the school principal to ask for permission. The principal was very positive that he could attend the baptism and said that ‘Anything that they do at Wentworth is good.” KidsFest Backpack program has also been a good way to connect with schools heading into the school year.

They find that it is good to see kids in schools and then Church and vice versa. To see kids over the years, the people at the Church are able to be people who know that they are good kids. Being in the school gives another opportunity to check in with how they are doing, as you enter their territory.

Tracy says that 90% of Wentworth’s kids and youth programs are neighbourhood based. There are few Churched kids. Being in the school has helped Wentworth to understand the neighbourhood from a different space. It helps them learn how those who are marginalized see the neighbourhood.

Being in the school has been a good way to gain credibility with kids and parents that they already knew. Kids respect and look up to any adult in the school. It also helps relationships by living in the same neighbourhood. Now there are some kids who come into the Church, and it makes a huge difference for them to recognize a person.

Some words of wisdom from the Churches are to find out what the local school needs and fill the gap. Find out who is involved and what’s working. Wanting to help the school first causes there to be less hostility. Find out who people know and have built relationship with. As you are seen as a part of the community, your input matters. There is influence. As we live out our lives, being a Christian comes out through relationship.

Do not give up on Churches working together- TrueCity is becoming a resource, as Churches learn from each other. Bethany was able to learn from Hughson Street Baptist how to begin the relationship with their local school and how to do it well. It is encouraging to see other Churches taking the lead and making a difference. There is impact in working together. If it is just one nice Church, than it is the exception to the rule. But if it is more than just one Church having a good relationship with local schools, it could change policy.

At the TrueCity Conference February 20-21, 2009 a breakout session will focus on “Being a Good Neighbour through School Involvement” This will be an opportunity to hear stories from others and share stories of your own about school involvement.

If you know of other such initiatives with local schools that we should be aware of, or if you and your Church would like to learn more about what is going on, please contact Esther at esther@truecity.ca