As most of the country is getting ready to head back to school (whatever that may look like), I have been spending a lot of my prayer time focusing on my classroom, curriculum and the students I will get to shepherd this year. As a Christian, what does it look like to teach students in a secular school environment? How can teachers honor God and best serve their students without crossing religious boundaries at public schools? I have been reflecting a lot on when I first moved to Roswell and an experience that has really shaped me as a teacher and as a member of our church here.
Taylor and I first started looking at churches in Roswell after we married and I moved out here. On Easter Sunday, we visited the church we go to now for the first time. All I can say about a large bible church compared to my Episcopalian upbringing is that it was certainly different. We were greeted with a loud worship band and I was shocked by how casual many people in the congregation were. Not a single Easter bonnet in sight! I immediately whispered to Taylor, “I don’t like it.” After lowering my big city nose a bit and listening to an incredible sermon, we went back the following Sunday. As a teacher moving in the middle of the school year, I had only been working as a substitute on occasion and was still very much praying to find my place in Roswell and searching for purpose.
The Sunday after Easter there was an announcement during the service that they were in need of volunteers for the Fine Arts Camp coming up at the beginning of summer. Afterwards, I walked up to the head pastor’s wife, Mary, who was putting on the camp and introduced myself. This was still very out of my comfort zone at the time, but I felt compelled. I told her that I was an art teacher and was interested in helping. As we shook hands, Mary just said point blank, “I prayed for you.” She told me that she was in desperate need of someone to teach art to the younger kids and had been praying someone would come along. I realized in that moment that this was the purpose and place I had been praying for and Taylor and I had found our church home.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35
As I prepped projects for Fine Arts Camp, one of the first questions I asked Mary was if there was a biblical curriculum or theme for the week. I will never forget what she told me. “No. This week is about showing the children of Roswell Jesus through our love.” I was thrown off by this at first, but then saw how brilliant it was. Our church’s goal has always been to reach 10% of our town’s population. Not every kid has the privilege of growing up in the church and, unfortunately, bad experiences or misinformation can even leave some in fear of the church. I was so intrigued of the mission to just be a fun and safe place for our community with the added allure for many of free child care. After all, the first step of bringing people to the church is getting their feet through the door. People don’t always come to Jesus in a single instance, but opening a safe place builds that foundation.
I often think of the Jars of Clay song that reminds us, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” This might be the best mindset when it comes to teaching in a secular school as well as all of our interactions. My biggest embarrassments are the times when I have acted or spoken in ways that are contradictory to the Christian image. My biggest goal as a woman, mother and teacher is to show those around me my faith through my actions. I don’t need to declare my religious beliefs or teach the bible in school in order to show my students the love of Jesus. Let us all strive to act in ways that when we encounter others they will know we are Christians by our love.
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