Church and School Partnerships – Guest post by Lynn McAlilly

Over and over as we travel to churches across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences, I hear about churches, large and small, that are reaching out to their communities by forming partnerships with their local schools.  Earlier this fall, I received an email from Dr. Linda Gilbert, Director of Schools in Murfreesboro and a fellow United Methodist, who shared with me the wonderful way in which St. Mark’s UMC is partnering with Reeves-Rogers Elementary School to enable student success.

Rev. Martha Touchton, Minister Of Education at St. Mark’s, shared the following with me about the things they are doing. My hope is that other churches in our conferences reach out in their own neighborhoods in similar ways.

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The cornerstone of our school partnership is the Mentor Program for children, which brings joy and encouragement to all who participate. Mentor coordinator Mary Jane Henry states, “We have been overwhelmed at the response and commitment to this ministry! This year we have thirty-seven mentors, including three from other churches, who give one hour each week to mentoring a child. It really is awesome to see how this mission has been received by our church family and how generously members have supported it with their time, money, encouragement, and prayers.”

Mentors make a difference in the lives of Reeves Rogers children.  According to mentor Ann Scales, mentors may help students with a particular academic skill or simply serve as “a buddy, an encourager, a good listener, and a friend.”  Margie Jennings, another coordinator in this ministry, beams as she says, “All the children want a mentor.  Getting extra help is suddenly a good thing! St. Mark’s is changing the attitudes and perspectives of these students.  We believe in them and they know that!”

“Next to my many years of teaching, mentoring is the most rewarding experience I have ever had!”   Retired teacher Cindy Flippin

Another significant aspect of our partnership is offering support to those employed at the school. This fall, we are launching a new ministry that connects every teacher, administrator and support staff person with an adult Sunday school class for encouragement, prayers, and hands-on help with specials events and projects. We also sponsor a “Back to School” luncheon, provide food for parent/teacher conferences and Professional Learning Community days, give creative holiday gifts, and provide workers for the school’s book fair. We are always seeking new ways to shower each adult worker with the love of Christ!

There are many other practical ways St. Mark’s goes about building this partner relationship:

  • St. Mark’s Wednesday Night Together fall kick-off event. “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” was held at Reeves Rogers in August. More than 200 church members shared fellowship with Reeves Rogers teachers as we toured the school building and learned about our neighborhood school and our shared community.
  • Last Advent, St. Mark’s filled more than 150 gift bags for K-2 children. We plan to increase that number to 250 this year, and our prayer is that in the near future we can provide a gift bag for every child in the school.
  • St. Mark’s provides material assistance to families through collections for food boxes, clothing, and school supplies
  • Teachers and school families are invited to St. Mark’s Backpack Blessings Sunday and Vacation Bible School
  • “Todo Galope,” (Total Gallop) an afterschool homework help site for Hispanic children and their parents, meets at St. Mark’s on Thursdays, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
  • St. Mark’s UMMen have scheduled a work day at Reeves Rogers to help spread mulch

Our biggest plan yet?   On October 30th, St. Mark’s UMC and Reeves Rogers PTO will sponsor a combined Fall Festival at Reeves Rogers.  Since the school’s opening three years ago, it has not been able to afford a Fall Festival on its own. More than 1000 persons are expected! We are excited about the opportunities this event will provide for our communities to grow toward one another.

Bishop McAlilly’s theme for our 2016 Annual Conference in June was “Offering Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”  Reeves Rogers is St. Mark’s neighborhood.  It is a place where we can welcome and love children in Jesus’ name, a place where we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and a place where we can be Christ.  From a Deacon’s perspective, this partnership provides endless opportunities to connect the ministry of the church with the needs of the world. I give thanks for all those who give of their time and resources to deepen and expand this relationship and make these special events happen between school and church, and I pray God’s continued blessing upon St. Mark’s as we seek to be Christ in our neighborhood.

Martha Touchton, St. Mark’s UMC

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St. Mark’s is changing lives, along with so many of our churches across the Nashville area that are participating in Church & School Partnerships.  Not only are these community servants helping children academically, but they are touching hearts, lifting social and emotional needs, and giving hope where there was none previously.

Dr. Gilbert closed her email with these words, “Proud to be a United Methodist.”  I, too, am proud to be a part of a Church with a history of a heart for education.

Thank you St. Mark’s!  And thank you to our many, many other United Methodist churches that are choosing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in local schools…providing miracles for children…putting faith into practice…yielding fruit.

If you would like ideas about ways in which your church can partner with a school, please visit PartnerToday.org.



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