by Leslie Bolser
It may seem a bit early to think about Christmas, or even Thanksgiving. Over the last few weeks, my daughters and I have spent an unhealthy amount of screen time on Pinterest, seeking Halloween costume ideas, then last-minute trips to the craft and hobby store to stock up on glue sticks, fabric, and sequins. But while there, I’ve been reminded by the rows of wreaths and pre-lit evergreen trees that Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner.
In the church world, that means a lot of things. For some, it can bring excitement, as new outreach events, Christmas Eve programs, and live nativities are planned. For others, the busyness and stress of the next couple of months can unfortunately bring dread.
In the school world, that same mix of emotions exists. Looking forward to days off, time with family, shopping and gift giving—and getting—fill many students’ imaginations. For others, those same days mean a struggle to find food while schools are closed, a lack of parental supervision, and no gifts to speak of. This range of emotions—and realities—amongst students can be very difficult on kids, as well as the caring teachers and administrators in school with them every day.
This month, before the busy schedules set in, I would encourage you to reach into both worlds. I am sure that your community has ways to support folks during the holidays, with food drives, gift drives, and the like. I know your church cares about these issues and is likely already involved in an effort to help. If not, find an organization that is working in those areas already and offer assistance if it is needed.
This season, however, I encourage you to consider giving one local school the gift of relationship.
There are so many ways you could go about this (depending on your geographic location, the unique identity of the school, the demographics of the students and teachers there, any previous relationship your church has had with the school, etc.), but here are a few generalized steps to get you started.
- Invite the principal to coffee. In all likelihood, this isn’t an offer they get often. In fact, they may not be able to physically leave the building to meet you in some cases. If that’s your situation, schedule an appointment and ask what type of coffee they would like you to bring (and then grab a box of donuts or bagels for the office staff on your way. Trust me, they will love it).
- Bring no agenda. While you meet with the principal, have no agenda or plan in mind. Seek to get to know him or her, and more about the school. Ask things like:
- What are the most rewarding things about working in this particular school?
- What is the most difficult?
- How do the upcoming holidays affect the students in the school?
- What needs are seen as a result?
- How is staff morale?
- What do teachers find difficult about the holidays?
- Look for ways to help. As the principal shares about the school, listen for natural connections with what your church has.
- Are they planning a winter choir concert? Offer your space.
- Are they having a “Secret Santa” sale at school? See if some stay-at-home parents or retired church members would volunteer to help.
- Do they collect backpacks and food to send home with students in need? Offer to fill a certain number of packs.
- Do they have a family night coming up? Offer to provide snacks.
- Follow up. Once you have met, send a note to the principal thanking them.
- Follow through. If you offered assistance, make sure you follow through to the best of your ability. Leave an impression with your effort and care for the kids and staff in the school.
Our church recently got a new pastor. A couple of weeks ago, he shared with me a story about his previous church’s relationship with a public school. The school was a “failing school,” meaning the state gave them a performance rating of “F” one school year. Pastor Tom knew that the teachers and students in that particular building were working to overcome unbelievable obstacles inside and outside of the school. In an act of caring, Tom and his congregation sent letters to each teacher in the school. In the letters, they wrote words of encouragement, kindness, and understanding. Years later, Pastor Tom’s wife met a teacher from that building at a meeting. The teacher recalled to Melissa how deeply touched the staff was by the notes, and how she still had hers, and would on occasion pull the letter from her desk and read it, on days when she was overwhelmed by the need and pressure around her.
This month, I’ve been thinking about how to make a passable Mary Poppins costume without sewing a stitch. I’m going to challenge myself, though, to think ahead about the church I care about and the school I care about. During months when we talk to kids about words like service and compassion, how can we live that out in the way our churches and schools interact?
Core Essentials Values provides strategy and resources for schools, families, and communities to treat others right, make smart decisions, and maximize their potential. Learn more about bringing Core Essentials Values to your community: www.CoreEssentials.org.