Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies: nothing you desire can compare with her.
- Proverbs 3:13-15
“Education in a Christian atmosphere.” That is the motto and mission of our Redeemer Preschool. It guides not only what we do but how we do it. It sums up how we see “the preschool” as an integral part of our ministry here at Redeemer - we could no more divorce ourselves from the preschool than we could from preaching or the Sacrament. It is part of who we are as Christ’s body in this time and place. While providing an education in a Christian atmosphere is not the only ministry of Redeemer, it is our chief ministry. We impact more lives through the preschool than we do in any other ministry, including Sunday morning worship.
Last week we looked at education in general and the challenges facing teaching our young in a Covid-19 era. Now let’s turn our attention to the efforts of our preschool ministry and how they are carrying out the command to “help your neighbor in his every need;” for there is certainly a need for early childhood education. Let’s use the preschool’s motto / mission statement as our guide.
The first part is providing an education. What is to be taught is determined by the State. There are academic standards which say that by the end of the first preschool year a child should be able to recognize shapes, sort by size differences, have developed fine and gross motor skills, etc. . By the end of the second year, in preparation for kindergarten, a child should be able to count to 10, know shapes and colors, be able to recite the alphabet and know the sounds for each letter, know the days of the week and months of the year, and things like that. This is true for public, private, and parochial schools - but that’s where the similarities end.
The state may say what is to be taught, but they give great license on how it is taught. At Redeemer Preschool, these “facts and figures” are taught in a number of ways. We learn about shapes by not only looking at pictures of squares and circles, but by holding a parachute as we try to get the ball through the hole in the middle (what shape is the parachute, what colors do you see, etc.). As children learn tumbling they find that their bodies can become triangles or two of them may form a square, or they may have 4,6,8, or 10 come together and make a rectangle. In stories and songs they learn about the letter “B” and all the “buh” sounds of words with b’s in them (the the butterfly on the bubble). They learn to count while assembling crafts or doing drawings that will soon hang on refrigerator doors. There are so many ways of passing on this information and our teachers and aides are some of the best at using multiple ways for the children to learn and retain this information.
It is not surprising then that the kindergarten teachers of Newton, Sparta, Andover (both township and borough) and other school districts know when they have a child who came through Redeemer preschool. When our students leave here, they are among the best prepared for the next step of their academic endeavors. Over the last 40+ years, Redeemer has built a reputation for excellence and not a few of our students are 2nd or third generation Redeemer preschoolers. This is a testament to our teaching staff and also proof positive that we are fulfilling our Christian duty to help our neighbor in this way.
But learning ABC’s and 123’s is a very small part of providing an education and not what makes Redeemer Preschool unique among the number of early childhood education options in our community. The second part of the mission statement is also critically important - “in a Christian atmosphere.” What does this mean? Well let’s break it down a bit.
When you hear the word “atmosphere” what comes to mind? As a nerd, my mind goes to the mixture of gases (67% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 3 % carbon dioxide, and other trace gases and water vapor) that are gravitationally bound to the planet and exert a pressure of 14.1 pounds per square inch on everything at sea level. The more basic answer is “air”. The atmosphere is the air we breathe. It surrounds us and makes life possible.
A Christian atmosphere would then be Christ surrounding us, giving us life, and being in every breath we take. Christ is in everything we do as a preschool. He is in the numbers (count the loaves and the fishes). He is in the seasons and the days (Sunday is the Lord’s Day because He rose from the dead on a Sunday). He is in the songs we sing, the words we speak and read, the games we play, the food we share. He “is our all in all" as one of our songs so simply puts it. You don’t have to go very far to find Jesus at our preschool - He is everywhere and in everything.
This is far different from Kinder Care or other preschools. This makes Redeemer unique among early childhood education opportunities in our area. This is also what makes the preschool part and parcel of the Church and her ministry. Just because you don’t have a child or grandchild in our preschool this year does not mean that you have nothing to do with the preschool. This is our congregation’s primary way of carrying out Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations”. This is not just the preschool staff’s ministry, this is your ministry. This is the way that we meet and serve our neighbor and share the Good news of salvation through Christ alone with them.
So how will you support this wonderful opportunity we have to serve our neighbors with their need to “raise up a child in the way he should go, so when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov.22:6)? Will you help our staff provide this vital ministry to the children of our community with your time, talents, and treasures?
Will you pray for our preschool families and those who are weighing the risks of sending their children to school as Covid-19 is still making headlines? Will you pray for and support our teachers and aides as they perform this ministry on the congregation’s behalf?
As we prepare for the beginning of another school year, please stay tuned for updates as to how you can help Redeemer Preschool serve the needs of our neighbors. As we go through this pandemic school year, I’m sure the plans we have in mid-August will be modified by mid-September and change yet again by the end of October. It’s going to be a wild (but worthy) ride, so please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage until the ride comes to a complete stop.
- Pastor Brian
Pastor Brian Handrich graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1997. He first served a dual parish in northeast Nebraska before coming to Flemington, New Jersey in 2002.