A cash-strapped elementary school in Lakeland, FL, has turned to the local church to help out. Steve Comparato, the principal of Combee Elementary School, worried at how he was going to provide essential supplies for his students when his budget was cut by a third this year, was delighted when the First Baptist Church at the Mall “adopted” his school.
The result? The church filled the school’s resource room with $5000 worth of supplies; it also catered spaghetti dinners at evening school events, bought sneakers for needy kids, and provided math and English tutors.
And in exchange? “We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before,” says Pastor Dave McClamma. “By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ.”
McClamma added, “At Christmas, the school connected the church with parents who said they wouldn’t mind being visited at home by First Baptist. The church brought gifts, food, and the gospel. Of about 30 families visited over two weekends in December, thirteen ‘came to the Lord.’”
Also according to McClamma, adopting Combee goes far beyond providing resources like school supplies. “The purpose is to show them the church cares, and that there is hope, and hope is found in Jesus Christ.”
“If they want to come in and help, who am I to say no?” asks Steve Comparato, the principal.
As I wrote here last week, there is a budget crisis in education going on right now. Public schools around the nation are desperate to come up with innovative ways to make money: the San Diego Unified School District is considering plastering its middle- and high-school gyms with corporate advertising, and thus bring in $30,000 to $50,000 a year per school; Manatee County, FL, just received a $20,000 check from a local cucumber grower with the idea of sponsoring and naming an elementary school engineering program; bake sales just don’t cut it anymore.
These may be pacts with the devil, but what about a pact with Jesus? There are plenty of people of faith who help those in need because they care about them deeply. There is no problem with churches, or any other faith-based groups, offering to help by donating funds or supplies, as long as that is all they are doing.
But I believe that if religious groups only give that help with the intention of having unimpeded access to the kids and their families, then the school would be better off without them. Conditional charity is not altruism; it’s more like exchange of goods for allegiance.
Many people of faith feel the same way. “I have great concerns about churches who see public schools as, well, what shall I say, church membership,” said Harry Parrott, a retired Baptist minister who runs a local chapter of American United for Separation of Church and State.
It’s not in the interests of either side to allow religious groups open access to public school children. And by the way, whatever happened to separation of church and state?
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