The Director of our Midwest Regional Conference, Travis Bodden, helped host multiple conferences across Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. I was able to attend the conference in Illinois and was moved by the by the way churches are finding ways to partner with local schools. In light of that, we've asked Travis to briefly share what it takes to reach out to your local school and begin building partnerships that last.
This spring the Midwest Regional Conference (MRC) embarked on a journey to offer One-Day conferences spread out across the region in lieu of our next larger gathering, which will occur June 20-22, 2024.
We titled our conference Engage 2023 with the goal of helping our congregations engage with their communities across the street and partners around the globe. A new endeavor this year was to bring in a keynote speaker to each conference that represented a local school district. We have found many of our congregations trying to develop partnerships with their local school districts, but often struggling to find meaningful connection. Historically we’ve been involved in providing backpacks and school supplies, but our presence in the schools has been limited beyond that.
We decided to take a risk and ask the schools themselves. “How could we be a good partner?” A common theme that stood out was the need for our presence, (not presents) in bodily form. Without diminishing the need for supplies, we learned that there was a much greater need for us to be actively engaged in the lives of students at the school. Whether it be tutoring, mentoring, lunch monitor, or helping a teacher out in the classroom. There seemed to be an openness, or maybe even a longing, to have us engage at a deeper level. I don’t think we can just show up with our carload of backpacks and say, “See you next Fall!”. The need within the schools is too vast, and the influential capital that comes from ongoing relationships is just too great to miss. Although we are not showing up to extend our preaching audience, we can come offering hope & goodness in meaningful ways that helps propel all involved towards the abundant life Christ came to bring.
I’ve heard it said frequently that “they kicked God out of our schools”, but over these past few weeks, I heard a different story. Walking away from these conferences, I believe we need to rethink which image of God we are bringing. Are we bringing an image God who shows up and throws gifts at you and then retreats for the year? Are we bringing an image of God who posts judgments against young people on social media? Or are we bringing and image of God who really cares about our community’s wellbeing, particularly the flourishing of these young people?
My hope is that each of our congregations will begin to explore what a deeper involvement in their local school district might look like. You can start with a humble beginning by calling the office, admitting that you’d like to be a better partner/support to the school, its teachers, and it's students, then ask them what areas they would like you to be involved in. After that, just let them talk. Don’t come with an agenda. Don’t tell them about their problems. Listen and then offer something that sounds like good news to them.
May we continually learn from one another.
Director of the Midwest Regional Conference
CGGC eNews—Vol. 27, No. 21
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