Saturday, January 24, 2015

Musings on One "Priority School" Leader in Christina

(Written as a letter of support for Stubbs Academy Principal Jeffers Brown)

In June of 2012, while sitting in our annual meeting, the seed was planted to form a collaboration with a school in our city. After reflection, I asked a teacher with whom I was acquainted to help us find a school that would welcome Grace Church as a community partner. Around the same time, in one of my weekly messages, I shared a vision for using our talents and abilities to nurture and support the educational growth of the children in our community.

After a close look at the schools in our area, Stubbs Academy seemed the right choice. After trying to contact the former administration, and receiving no response, the suggestion was made by one of our staffers, who had worked briefly in education, that we might begin to forge a relationship by sending goodies once a week for teachers and staff in their break room. Believing that building relationships is a good thing, that’s what we did. Weekly, home baked cookies and cakes were sent over to Stubbs with a note that said we were thinking of them and the important work they do. For some time, that was the extent of our relationship.

Under the creative leadership of Jeffers Brown, we were invited to become a community partner in helping the faculty and administration of Stubbs become more effective in transforming the lives of their students.

I like to say that Mr. Brown, and company, have invited us to do the things that traditionally parent organizations do: providing school supplies and backpacks; staffing the annual back-to-school block party; dipping ice cream at a math night for children and families; providing water ice on a hot Field Day; purchasing a salt water aquarium; funding a spaghetti dinner for an evening event for children and families; mentoring weekly; lending a listening ear; attending Priority School meetings and board meetings to support Stubbs; providing holiday gifts for teachers and staff as a way of saying “thank you;” working with other community partners to provide holiday gifts for children in the school; judging a bakeoff with baked goodies by the fathers of students; attending holiday programs, a civics bee, and graduation; purchasing uniforms for students.

The above list is given as a way of saying that Mr. Brown, and the faculty and staff he has assembled, understand the needs of the students and the families of Stubbs and make every effort to meet them so that the students, and those supporting them, can concentrate on the most important thing: their education.

There is a wonderful line in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking written by  Malcolm Gladwell:

            “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.
             We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
As Principal of an elementary school that has all sorts of sociological conundrums, one of which is the extremely high poverty rate of the students’ families and all the catch-22s that accompany this, Jeffers Brown recognizes that in order to make good decisions for those whose education is under his care, he first has to understand their basic needs, their circumstances, the struggles facing their families, the reasons why they are underachieving in spite of their obvious aptitude.

Anyone who has spent time at Stubbs knows that that an environment has been created, under the leadership of Mr. Brown, in which teachers and staff seek to understand the students and parents with the longer term goal of instilling in them the joy of learning and the desire to excel in that learning, aka in Delaware as raising their test scores.

My heart has broken over the past few months as I watched the decision of September 4th threaten to close Stubbs. Yes, if one looks only at test scores, it appears that the administration and faculty need a real shake-up. However, if one spends time at Stubbs, seeking understanding of what has been happening there over the last year and a half of Mr. Brown’s tenure as Principal, one could come to the conclusion that it does not!!

Jeffers Brown, along with his administration, has built a faculty that now works well together, that loves the students and continually seeks the best education possible for each. Much of the credit for the creation of this healthy environment has to do with this man who is professional, loving, caring, involved, smart, funny, and dedicated; this man who is passionate about his vocation with the children of our city; this man who has sought to understand his students and their families and who has the ability to guide his school into making good decisions for and with them!


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Why Fit In When You Were Born to Stand Out?

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” ~ Dr. Seuss

In 1865, 12 men gathered together, one a pastor, and gave birth to a vision for Grace Methodist Church! Grace branched off amicably from St. Paul's Methodist Church, which was then in the city, and began as a mission outpost in Wilmington for Sunday Schools.
Educating women and children, helping them to learn to read, is at the heart of our DNA. The leaders of this start-up saw it as a calling and, along with those who caught the vision, pursued it with relentless passion.

At its inception, this church's reason for being stood out in this city. It was a timely mission and was instrumental in sharing a gospel of love and compassion that helped the people of Wilmington succeed in their daily endeavors. Lives were touched and improved, transformed, one might even say, as the founders of Grace Church made a conscious and godly decision to stand out in this city as a major player.

Over the generations, the church stopped its outpost Sunday Schools and the center of much of its educational ministry shifted to the church building at 9th and West Streets. As it did, slowly but surely, it lost its educational mission to the city, the reason upon which it was founded, and began to educate primarily those who walked through its doors. This proved to be a great success for many, many years and was used as a tool to invite new people to Grace Church. And the church continued to stand out in the city -- as a place to discuss the social issues of the day in an environment that was conducive to learning!

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a noticable decline in the willingness of people within the church to participate in this sort of education venture. Attendance in these began to dwindle. By the beginning of the 21st century, this style of education was almost non-existent with only a small group or two in place.  For a church like Grace, which has education at the heart of our DNA, this felt devastating. No longer did it feel as if the church was on the cutting edge, as if it was born to stand out! It seemed as if it simply fit in with all the other churches in the city, one of many.

As the numbers in our Sunday morning attendance have continued to decline, it is easy to lament the changes that have taken place since Grace's spectacular beginnings. Yet if we return to our roots, to the heart of our DNA, if we remember that this church was born not to fit in but to stand out, I believe that we can recapture the God-given vision of those who started Grace, invest ourselves in it, and sing songs of celebration and joy instead of songs of lament.

Just as Grace began outpost Sunday Schools in order to help women and children learn to read, doesn't it follow that we need to be out there in the city, working with those who are in the business of educating the children of our city? Isn't that what our relationship with Stubbs Academy (Elementary) is all about? Aren't we trying to be agents of change through educating children as we  partner with Stubbs? Mr. Brown and the staff/teachers of Stubbs have welcomed us into the school with open arms - as the Church!! They know who we are and are happy we are in the adventure with them! Isn't it a good thing to give of ourselves to the children of this city, to build relationships with them, to participate in their education, so that they can become what they dream of becoming? So that they can know they are God's beloved children? This church was born to stand out in educating the children of this city! What is your role in this? What is God calling you to do?

Beyond our relationship with Stubbs, people like Paul Miller are working with other areas of education. Talk with him about the Delaware Design-Lab High School opening a few blocks away from Grace Church in 2015. Youth of our city will have the chance to attend this innovative school! It's another way in which we can be involved in educating the youth of our city!

With the closing of our preschool after 50 years, there is talk of starting a new learning center in Grace Church for preschoolers that would utilize storytelling, other arts, and technology. There has been conversation with Stubbs that it might be a starting place to help prepare those children who would feed into the school as well as for children in the church family and of those working downtown.

God did not call Grace Church to fit in the city; God called Grace Church to stand out in it! Standing out out takes prayer and purpose and passion and participation! This church was started with these! And from its beginnings, it stood out!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Know That My Tomorrow Will Be Promising!

This morning I wandered over to Stubbs Academy around 9 am for the 5th grade graduation. Two of the youth I have been mentoring this year were graduating.  My expectations for the event were fairly low but I wanted to support both the youth and the wonderful staff at Stubbs, so I went!

As the parents and grandparents began filling the auditorium, and the conversation level began increasing, it had the feel of community gathering.  Across the aisle from me were a group of first graders who, I discovered later, were there to perform. Amazingly, they were waiting quietly and patiently, a tribute to their teacher! Anticipation was in the air as the fifth graders entered to Pomp and Circumstance.

The ceremony was very well done and received by all. A highlight of the ceremony were the speeches of the young salutatorian and valedictorian. Both were well spoken. One of the sound bites in the valedictorian's speech that stuck with me was this: "I know that my tomorrow will be promising thanks to my teachers!" Her words were an incredible tribute to the teachers she has had at Stubbs! The fifth grade team clearly is invested in the education of their students and is concerned about the worth of each. They have made a great impact on these youth who come from varied backgrounds.

As our church has partnered with Stubbs this year, in order to help the youth attending there have promising futures, I have had the joy of getting to know this group of educators who works overtime to help the youth and their parents be successful! The tone is set by Mr. Brown, the Principal, who supports the teachers and staff in doing what needs to be done in order to provide an education that will prepare and support. I feel so privileged that he and others on staff have allowed our church family to join them in this venture.  We want every youth at Stubbs to be able to say: "I know my tomorrow's will be promising" thanks to something or someone at the school.

In a city labelled the most violent of its size in the nation, what if everyone recognized the value of what a good education will do for the youth who live here? If we do, maybe more youth will come to the end of a school year and say: "I know that my tomorrow will be promising, thanks to - someone from Stubbs!"

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Got the Apartment!

In my "Hangouts" app today I saw this message that warmed my heart:  "We got the apartment!" It means that, come July 1st, our daughter will have a place to live! The decision to move from her current apartment was put into motion when her Con Ed bills this past winter were over $600 monthly in a 400 and something square ft. apartment! As she started looking for an apartment, I told her I would pray that she would find the "right" one in a timely fashion.  Today that prayer was answered! An apartment in a co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, twice the square footage of her current apartment, will be her new home hopefully for a long time to come!

"We got the apartment!" is a testimony to the faithfulness of God and friends who joined us in praying for Jessica's housing needs. I am grateful for the circle of friends, family, and colleagues who are always willing to put their prayers with mine. What a blessing!

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, with thanksgiving." Philippians 4:6

About what are you anxious? Instead of spending your days worrying, consider praying and inviting others to pray with you! I can testify to the power of people praying together! It's amazing amd life-changing!

In response to God's affirmative response to our daughter's need for a new apartment, I say "Thank you, God! Thank you!"

Friday, May 4, 2012


There is a conversation in a favorite writing from my childhood between two characters, Cheshire Cat and Alice, that seems appropriate on this final day of General Conference.  It goes like this:

Cheshire Cat:  Oh, by the way, if you'd really like to know, he went that way.
Alice: Who did?
Cheshire Cat: The White Rabbit.
Alice:  He did?
Cheshire Cat:  He did what?
Alice:  Went that way.
Cheshire Cat:  Who did?
Alice:  The White Rabbit.
Cheshire Cat:  What rabbit?
Alice:  But didn't you just say - I mean - Oh, dear.
Cheshire Cat:  Can you stand on your head?
Alice: Oh!

As I write this, I continue to listen to General Conference via live streaming and I wonder when it was that we lost our focus as Christ's Church known as United Methodists.  When did we begin having conversations that talk "around" each other instead of "to" one another?  When did we begin skillfully switching the subject so we did not have to deal with the real subject at hand?  Like the Cheshire Cat, we have become adept at this.  As the Cheshire Cats of General Conference ask "Can you stand on your head?", the Alices, confused by the change in the direction of the conversation, simply say:  "Oh!"

This is an acceptable way for the legislative body of our church to act on our behalf?  Really? 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Child

My uncle Woody died yesterday. I received the news in a text from my mother, his sister. Interesting way to receive the news about the death of a family member - even one I have had no contact with for many years. Funny how that happens! For years, I saw my Uncle annually when we made the trip to the Bluefield area where my grandparents and my mother's siblings lived. After my grandfather died and Granny moved to Delaware to live with our family, I saw him infrequently, only when a significant celebration was held for my grandmother. I guess notification by text seemed fair enough.

On this day after, here are my initial memories, all fond: Uncle Woody was always an earthy kind of guy, a coal miner, who smoked cigars. He was the first adult in my life to tease me. He loved teasing all his nieces and nephews. Some of us gave him the response he wanted, while others ignored him; but all of us knew that he loved us! As ancient as these memories are, they are still clear, even today.

By text I have learned that Uncle Woody's funeral will be held on Tuesday, most likely. With no clear idea of when the service will be, I cannot even consider attending; so between now and then, I plan on doing what I would do if I were officiating at such a service. I will reflect upon my memories of my Uncle's life, consider what scripture I would use, and write something in memory of him. Even though I am 57, it will be written through the eyes of a child, a child who loved her Uncle Woody.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Do We Expect to Hear from God?

In every daughter's life, there has to be at least one life-altering lesson she learns from her mother. I have given a great deal of thought to this lately as, in my late '50s, I have felt compelled to take a deep look at my life-long relationship with my parents and their lasting influence on me.

For some daughters, the most significant lessons they learn from their mothers have to do with gender specific roles. I did not learn how to manicure my nails from my mother, even though her nails always seem perfectly manicured to me. I did not learn how to care for my hair from my mother. I did not learn how to be a "girly-girl" from my mother, even though I suspect she is just that! Most of what I learned about clothes and makeup and hair and other such things came from my oldest sister, who had a great distain for the way I presented myself as we were growing up and always let me know; close friends in early adulthood and now who encouraged me; a daughter whose fashion sense is delightful; and a husband who has complimented me from the first day of our marriage each time I came home with a new outfit.

The major life-lesson my mother taught me goes much deeper than mere appearance and has served as a foundational value for me. My mother taught me the importance of praying, of having an intentional daily relationship with God in which there is the expectation that in the act of making myself present to the Holy, God, in return, will speak to me, will guide me, will make God's desires known to me.

My mother taught me this lesson so well that when God spoke audibly to me, calling me into ministry, in February of 1981, I recognized God's voice and answered "yes." It was not a stretch for me to believe that it was the voice of the Divine. It had been modeled for me in my parents' home as I was growing up. Little did I know that it was one of those transformative teachings.

Often I hear people debate whether God speaks in the 21st century. Because of the life-lesson taught to me by my mother, I personally have no doubts and, until I remember that everyone did not grow up with my mother, I am amazed that anyone would have such low expectations of God.

I have learned that if I am to hear from God, I have to prepare a place in me to receive what is being spoken to me. I do this through silently reflecting on the sacred stories of the Bible, by disciplined prayer, by inviting others to pray for me, through communal worship, and by growing more space in each day to listen for the voice of God. Some days I am better at this than others. Engrained deeply within my heart and soul and mind is this life-altering lesson taught to me by my mother. I cannot get away from it. It lives within me, this expectation that God will speak to me, to others, and to the world! Thank you, Mom, for teaching this lesson!