Sunday, August 11, 2019

What is the point. . .

The Roman Catholic Church was once identified not only by its church buildings but also its schools.  Gone are the days when nearly every parish was expected to have a parochial school and Rome is closing down schools as quickly as it is closing churches.  The second largest private school system in America is operated by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  From its inception in 1847, the Synod understood its mission to include the religious education of its students within schools operated by its congregations, teaching the faith along side reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Those days are also long gone.  Schools are closing quickly in the LCMS and it is now the rare exception for a parish to operate a parochial school.

There are a variety of reasons for this.  Rome depended upon the steady supply of cheap labor in the form of nuns and monks to staff their schools and now they must compete with the deeper pockets of public education and pass those costs onto the families enrolling those children.  The LCMS once could depend upon the commitment of their teachers to make up for the small salaries but now finds both the supply of religiously trained teachers dwindling and the financial resources to pay them strained.  In short, the cost of operating these schools has tested the limits of parishes and families to afford them.

There is something else.  Families are no longer convinced that a religious education is worth the sacrifice and the drain on the family budget.  Perhaps even more to the point, families are not sure their children should have to give up some of the benefits of public education (think sports programs here) in order to obtain the benefits of religious education (strengthening the faith).  It is not a universal truth because there are many families who are more intent upon raising their children in the faith than offering them every opportunity to become star players in their chosen sport but this is a real issue.

Ii would suggest there is one more thing.  Many of our schools have become, well, less Lutheran in order to attract students from non-Lutheran homes.  The content of the religious part of the education and the piety lived out in the worship life of chapel time have been purposely made more generic and less specifically Lutheran for a broader appeal in the desperate hope of keeping the church school going.  I fear that this has had the opposite effect.  It makes the case for sacrifice and paying the high tuition less compelling when the school is a public school with a religious twist rather than a school of the heart as well as the head in which deepening the faith of the child is as integral to the mission of the school as widening their knowledge.

When we water down our Lutheran identity in our schools as we have in the way we worship, we give our people the wrong impression.  It is as if we are either ashamed or embarrassed by that Lutheran confession and identity or we do not think it is all that important.  If either is the case, it hardly gives the Lutheran family a solid reason to pony up the cost of tuition for their children in order to foster in them a strong faith as well as a solid education.  Our schools may indeed fail but it would be better if they failed while attempting to be solidly Lutheran rather than failing because they were more generically Christian.  The compelling case for the Lutheran School is not that they are as good as public schools in academics or even better but that the faith is integrated into the curriculum and the daily life of the students and manifested in Lutheran worship as the center of the life together of student and teacher.

I never went to a Lutheran elementary or high school.  I did not have the opportunity since there were none locally.  I am no expert in this area.  I write not as a scholar but as a parent, grandparent, and pastor.  Schools are expensive and parochial education is more complicated now than it ever was before.  But the only way it is worth it is if Lutheran confession and identity permeates the whole endeavor from classroom to chapel.  At least that is how I see it. . .

3 comments:

William Weedon said...

https://school.stpaulhamel.org/

Anonymous said...

I did attend a LCMS elementary school and it is 100% worth it. The LCMS should sink all of its spare money into excellent Christian education and building schools. It's a large reason we grew so fast in the past.

John J. Flanagan said...

Your article summarized most of the salient causes of the depreciation of parochial school education in this country. Although I have worshipped as a Lutheran LCMS for many years, as a child I spent 9 years attending Catholic schools. Every reason for the decline in the local parochial schools everywhere, and the lack of resources, teachers, and parental interest in supporting these institutions was clearly laid out in your summary. I would add that the problem for the Catholic schools may be related somewhat to a general disgust by Catholic families with the significant problem of pedophile priests and the scandals which has rocked the RCC over the past 30 years. The problem with declining Lutheran schools, in my view, is a result of the cultural shift of American society during a post-Christian era in our history, as many Christians have become less religious, more worldly, spiritually lethargic, and in the case of Lutherans, have not held on to their distinctives and identity as they ought. It is sad indeed, but as the Old Testament shows us, all it takes is a generation or two which falls away, and no longer cares about the things of God, and thus a cycle of unbelief results. We may still see the trappings of religion, but the heart has been cut out. We see this cycle in Israel's OT history, and God often disciplined them for either following the false gods and idols of neighboring nations, or simply following shallow religious and legalistic practices....yet having no real fervor or spirit, or gratitude to God. It is hard to believe that we Christians are following Israel's example, but it is the truth. We must continue to talk about this wider problem, as declining schools is just one symptom of our current spiritual malaise. Pastors should begin to preach about this more often, lest the spiritual sores continue to fester, lest the LCMS also find itself without more schools and more closed churches.