FPDS as a Ministry

Posted on November 07, 2018

The following talk was given by Second Grade Teacher Mary Elizabeth Randolph at First Presbyterian Church’s annual joint Sunday School on Stewardship Sunday.

For those of you who don’t know me my name is Mary Elizabeth Randolph. I began teaching at the Day School in the fall of 2008 in the third grade. Which means that, though I haven’t aged a bit, the first class of students I ever had are now walking around Ole Miss and State and various other places as freshmen in college. But this also means that in my 10 and a half years at FPDS, I have had the honor and privilege of seeing what a life-giving ministry of the church the school is. There is no way I can share with you the impact of over 50 years of Christian education the Day School has had on our neighborhood, community, and the world, but I hope to leave you with even a small picture into the ministry that happens day in and day out in this building.

I first wanted to share with you a story about one of the maybe lesser-known areas of FPDS. There are few students more celebrated and loved in our school than the Special Friends—the small classroom of children with Down Syndrome. Every year to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, the Special Friends’ teachers send around a book to read to our class celebrating these sweet children. Last year in my class this was extra special as the sister of one of the special friends was in our third-grade class. As we were discussing this one of the boys in my class realized for the first time that “Susie”—who was just like him—had a little sister with Downs. With one of those “light bulb moments” that teachers live for, he looked up at me and exclaimed, “So you mean that a special friend can have a mom and dad who doesn’t have Down Syndrome?” What seems so obvious to us was revolutionary to this child. We were able to talk about how every child is, as our declaration says, “created in the image of God and loved beyond our imagination” As I shared this story with one of the special friend’s teachers later that day, she said something that provided me with my own light-bulb moment. She said, “What so many people don’t realize is that our Downs program doesn’t exist just to minister to special needs children. The next generation of parents are the students walking through these halls—some of whom will get the news that they are going to be the parents of a special needs child. And we want and need the framework they put that information in to be the one we helped them build here are school while they were young:  that these children are a blessing and are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I also want to share with you a little picture into ways the school is integrated into the mission of the church—particularly to “glorify God by making disciples in the North State Street corridor.” This year our chapel theme at school is “Rooted”—which might sound familiar as it’s also the church’s theme as well. Led by our Bible teachers and our new Day School Chaplain, Gary Sinclair, the children have been walking through what it means to be Rooted in Christ— and what impact that should have on our neighborhood. Each month our chapel offering is going to a different group or organization who are serving our Belhaven neighborhood—the Fire Station on the corner of State Street and Riverside, the Precinct Four Police Station, Blair Batson children’s hospital, and the Neighborhood Christian Center tutoring program just to name a few. This month being the hands and feet of Jesus to the police offers meant using our chapel offering to purchase the two things they asked for – a coffee pot and a vacuum cleaner for the station. It also meant creating art work with Scripture verses that they wanted to hang on the hallways at the precinct. These gifts were given to them this past Friday here at school when they were attending a breakfast given to thank them for all they do to serve as they seek the welfare of the city.

A co-worker once told me that what struck her most when she first came to The Day School to teach was the way the school taught the students to think, not just to answer questions on a test. She said realizing that teaching young minds to engage to their fullest potential not just in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in Gospel-saturated theology creates astonishing Gospel opportunities for these children as they grow up and go out into the world. The three-fold mission of the school is to “plant seeds of Christlikeness in the hearts of children,” “pursue excellence in academics,” and to “prepare students for future service in God’s kingdom in their homes, churches, and professions.” What’s so important to remember is the first two—planting seeds of Christlikeness and pursuing excellence in academics—work together to make the last possible—preparing students for future service in God’s kingdom. Our goal here at the Day School isn’t to make Jesus a right answer on a Bible test, but instead to make Him beautiful to these children. And then we pray for “His beauty to rest upon them as they seek the lost to win, and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.”

One of my favorite books of all time is The Jesus Bible Storybook. As it’s telling the story of Jesus calling the 12 disciples it says this, “Who would make good helpers, do you think? Clever ones? Rich ones? Strong, important ones? Some people might think so, but I’m sure by now you don’t need me to tell you they’d be wrong. Because the people God uses don’t have to know a lot of things, or have a lot of things—they just need to need HIM a lot.” This is what is happening day in and day out at the Day School through the ministry of the church—children are hearing and learning and seeing and being taught that they don’t have to know a lot of things and they don’t have to have a lot of things—but they are learning that they just need to need Him a lot. Or as Kathryn Day so beautifully teaches in Bible:  Jesus plus nothing equals everything. So on behalf of the teachers, faculty, and staff of the Day School, thank you. Thank for the opportunity you provide for us to do gospel work day in and day out as we seek to do all we can to reach the hearts of students and prepare them for future service in God’s kingdom in their neighborhoods, cities, and around the world.