Church-School Partnerships: Loving Mercy, Kindness, Advocacy

We had such a fantastic time at our Spring Forum in Buffalo, NY! For all those that attended thank you for your presence, your questions, your dedication, and you commitment to education equity! We were honored to welcome The Rev. Barbara Girton-Mitchell, the Director of the US Department of Education’s Office for Faith-Based and Community Partnerships as well as the President of the House of Deputies, Rev. Gay Jennings as our keynote speakers. You can see some video clips of Rev. Girton-Mitchell’s speech on our Facebook page and below are a few excerpts from Rev. Jennings address.  We especially love the discussion questions she asked the group and would encourage you to take these back to your congregation to discuss how you can do charity AND justice through partnership.

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The Rev. Gay Jennings. Cathedral of St. Paul, Public School #6 – Buffalo, NY – Spring 2016

Adapted from The Rev. Gay Jennings Keynote Address
AOC Spring Forum – Buffalo, NY – May 2016

Earlier this year, the Atlantic reported that analysis of federal data reveals that “in virtually every major U.S. metropolitan area students of color are much more likely than whites to attend public schools shaped by high concentrations of poverty.”

As community members, we know that the toxic mix of segregation and poverty found in far too many of our public schools is terrible social policy and that it costs taxpayers billions of dollars that flow through the school­ to-prison pipeline. As Christians, we know that we are not respecting the dignity of every human being when children attend deteriorating public schools that cannot possibly help them reach their potential. And as Episcopalians, we know what we need to do.

Last summer, at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, we passed Resolution B005 endorsing church-school partnerships.

Part of the explanation text reads

The Episcopal Church’s commitment to quality public education has been articulated by General Convention at least five times since 1988, but in the past twenty-five years, public education has deteriorated further-our inequalities are even more savage. In 2015, almost 38 million school-age children live in poverty and look to their local public schools for the meals, fitness, arts, literacy, math, and science they need to grow into their full potential. Most of their schools do not have the resources they need to meet the daunting task of giving these children a chance. Yet in 23 states per pupil state and local funding is lower in poor districts than in rich ones.

The church speaks a word of truth into this bleakness – holding a mirror to this scandal with unvarnished clarity. The church also brings a message of hope …

We can bring a message of hope, and we can hold up a mirror. At our very best, we Episcopalians are good at doing both of these things. We can show up to tutor children and read to children, and we can speak at school board meetings where funds for reading teachers are on the table. We can collect school supplies and backpacks for children who need them, and we can travel to your state capital to meet with state legislators and insist that the state budget fund education in more equitable ways. We can make sure kids get lunch during the summer when they might go hungry, and we can vote for candidates who support child nutrition programs. We can welcome immigrant and refugee families to our local schools and we can refuse to countenance bigoted, hate-filled speech about immigrants with either our silence or our votes.

We can do charity, and we can do justice. We Episcopalians understand that acts of mercy and loving kindness matter most when they go hand in hand with advocacy that seeks to eliminate the root causes of poverty, inequality, injustice, and violence. And church-school partnerships give us the chance to do both.

DISCUSSION

When you think about your existing partnerships, what are you doing that you would describe as charity, and what are you doing that is social justice work?

What about those of you who are getting started? What kind of charity needs to be done in your community? What kind of justice?

So, yes to charity and yes to justice. But let me warn you: when you embark on this work-when you bind up your hearts and your lives and your voices and your votes with children who learn to struggle with poverty and racism before they learn to read-you are also saying yes to change. Change in your life, change in your congregations, change in the church.

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