Connections help us serve

By Michael Kreutzer
Posted Mar 8, 2012

The Rev. Mike Kreutzer works with children at Kemp Elementary School in Dayton as part of a school-church partnership.

[Diocese of Southern Ohio] It is a few minutes after 9 a.m. on a Thursday. The children at Kemp Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, have just finished their breakfast and are on the way to their classrooms.  School staff members are in the hallways making sure that those who get sidetracked, either talking with friends or just playing around, remember where they are supposed to be. Latecomers are lining up in the office, signing in and getting passes from the secretary.

I am signing in at the office as well. This is my 10th year of tutoring children as part of the Kemp School Community Partnership, which brings together members of five neighborhood churches, along with several additional volunteers, to serve the needs of our children. It is our year-after-year service together that has made our partnership an important part of the school’s program. At the same time, it has enabled us to build relationships among our churches, connections that make us more effective in serving those around us in the name of Christ.

Over the years, I have worked with students of all ages, up through the eighth grade. This year, I am assisting an intervention specialist in helping our youngest group: those in kindergarten through second grade who need special assistance. Halfway through the school year, some can now read basic “sight words,” while others still have trouble distinguishing between different letters of the alphabet. Each one, it seems, faces different challenges to his or her learning.

As I make my way down the hallway, I meet teachers, staff members and students whom I have come to know.

Over the course of the morning, I will see Janet, from my church, St. Mark’s; Hank and Irene, members of Corinth Presbyterian Church; Maryellen, from St. Helen’s Catholic Church; Deb, from Community United Methodist Church; and Steve, pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. They are just some of the team of volunteers who come to Kemp each week to work directly with the students. Over the years, we have formed connections with each other, connections that bind us together in service to the children of our community, connections that open doors for other forms of cooperative ministry as well.

The tutors form the core of our ministry at Kemp, but many more people are connected to our work as well.  Members of all our partner churches come together each August, for example, to host a free cookout at the school on the Friday before classes begin. It brings together faculty, staff, students and teachers and forms the basis for better communications among all of them during the year. Most of our cookout volunteers have been with us for several years and greet each other as old friends. Connections.

Other members of our churches who do not work in the school itself are connected to our ministry as well.  Many provide school supplies for students who cannot afford to buy them. Some have purchased hats, gloves and coats for children who do not have them. Many have helped as well with contributions to Episcopal Community Services Foundation, which has provided us with a series of grants, enabling the school to buy and give appropriate books to students, some of whom have never had a book of their own. They, too, are connected to our ministry.

Over the course of any year, special needs arise, and our connections with one another help us to address them.  Recently, for example, the school’s principal, Renaldo O’Neal, stopped me in the hallway to ask if we could help with a special request. The school keeps a washer and dryer in the elementary area, both to launder school uniforms donated for students in need and to take care of accidents that our younger children have from time to time. The dryer had broken and could not be repaired, and there was no money in the school’s or district’s budget to replace it. I told him that I would see what I could do.

When I returned to my office, I sent an e-mail to our main contact at each of our member churches, describing the need and asking who could help. Neither the Lutherans nor the Methodists had a dryer available. The Presbyterians did, but it used natural gas, and the school has only an electrical hookup. The pastoral associate at the Catholic church replied that they had an electric dryer to donate but had no way to get it there. I called a parishioner who has a truck, and we picked it up at an old convent and delivered it to the school. Problem solved. Need addressed. Children served.

Our connections in ministry are not limited to just one school and to our shared ministry there. While ours is the only cooperative School-Church Partnership (SCP) of its kind in our area, there are nearly 100 other local churches that are involved, in one way or another, with many other local schools. We are all connected with one another by a regional SCP Board, based at Dayton’s Westminster Presbyterian Church. I and the other six members of the board meet quarterly to find ways of encouraging the formation of other partnerships and of supporting those involved in this ministry.

Our connections with others continue to grow. We have managed to get the good news of our ministries out to many others via our church websites and by personal connections with others far from the Greater Dayton area.  Currently, schools and churches in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Minnesota are connected with our local School-Church Partnership community.  We also have been contacted by others in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee and Texas, and in the Canadian province of Alberta, asking about our local work and hoping to use our experiences to form or enhance programs of their own.

All too often, when we develop ministries to address the needs of God’s people, we tend to isolate ourselves, at least psychologically, from other churches, Episcopal as well as those of other traditions.  And we limit our scope to include only those whom our parish decides to serve. That seems like a curious approach to take in a church tradition that celebrates our place within a worldwide communion of churches, united with one another in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

For many years, those dedicated to the environmental movement have encouraged people to “Think globally and act locally.” That is not a bad model for us to use in other forms of service as well: working in our local communities but forming connections with others who are engaged in, or want to become engaged in, similar ministries. Together, we can make important contributions, not only in our own neighborhoods but also in places far beyond the reach of our individual churches.

If we are willing to reach out to others in creative partnerships, to make connections with others who are committed to serving the same needs, we might just find that our work together is much more effective than the work we could have done as one parish alone. Our network of connections might just continue to grow, enabling fellow believers, both within our local communities and far away, to form connections of their own.  All those various collaborative approaches to ministry can enable the wider church to be more faithful in serving God’s people in the name of the one who came to serve us all.

— The Rev. Mike Kreutzer is rector of St. Mark’s, Dayton, and dean of the Dayton Deanery in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.