Celebrating Lutheran Education
National “Lutheran Schools Week” can be a lot of fun. Faculty and students have various different dress up days, VIP days, theme days, etc. Above all, we celebrate the rich Lutheran heritage of parochial education, an education centered in the Gospel that leads children toward and through a life centered in the means by which Christ continues to provide forgiveness and new life. Further, because confessional Lutherans affirm the sanctity of life and understand all lawful vocations to be holy, Lutheran schools are uniquely situated to affirm each child’s redemption in the image of God and, thus, the God-given partnership that Lutheran schools have with parents in the identification and cultivation of each child’s God-given gifts. Though there are many fine public schools, their secular charters preclude them from truly developing “the whole child.” Though there are many fine non-Lutheran parochial schools, Lutheran schools are unique. Lutheran schools are a gift of God that celebrate the various gifts of God.
Lutheran schools exist to prepare children for mature Christian citizenship; that is, for service in the church and the community.
This may seem minor, but I believe that one of the ways in which we prepare children for mature citizenship in the church is to teach them to practice the Church’s season of Lent. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, the imposition of ashes on the forehead with the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” and immediately followed by the absolution of Christ. This is an ancient penitential practice that powerfully preaches and teaches the central Biblical teaching of Law and Gospel; that is, as Paul writes in Romans: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24, ESV)
Curiously, with all its fun and frivolity (Mind you, fun and frivolity have their place.), Lutheran Schools Week presently occurs during the first full week of March, which means that it always falls during Lent. Practically, this means that we have a week of frivolity amidst a season of restraint. This year (2011) Ash Wednesday falls smack-dab in the middle of Lutheran Schools Week and Ash Wednesday then comes across as this “Oops, we have to observe a ‘downer day’ in the midst of our hoopla.” Ash Wednesday, the day that begins our season of preparation for the high feast of the Christian Church Year, becomes an oddity rather than a commencement.
Is it Biblically permissible to have Lutheran Schools Week during Lent? Yes. In light of the Lutheran school’s purpose, is it wise? I think not.
I am now in the second year of shepherding a church with a parochial school, and this Lutheran Schools Week celebration being imposed on top of Ash Wednesday and Lent is impeding my ability, at least in some minor way, to lead my parish and school in penitent preparation for remembrance of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. For me, that is reason enough to move the dates of Lutheran Schools Week; however, I am a churchman and do not want to appear holier-than-thou or a contrarian. I invite others to join me in petitioning whoever makes the decisions about the dates of Lutheran Schools Week to change the date.
I offer the following proposals…
Modest Proposals for a Change in Date of Lutheran Schools Week
1. The Octave Concluding with Reformation Sunday.
This proposal would have us celebrate Lutheran Schools Week beginning the Sunday prior to the moveable celebration of Reformation Sunday, which is celebrated on on before October 31st. This proposal has a number of advantages, most of them associated with the proximity to the uniquely Lutheran celebration of The Reformation. The end of October is a great time to celebrate who we are as Lutherans and how that impacts Lutheran parochial education. It will not interfere with either of the church’s two penitential seasons (Advent and Lent). It may, however, put pastors in the position of feeling like they have to include some theatrics on Reformation Sunday that may detract from the great and eternal truths that are highlighted on that day. This is, perhaps, the most significant reason that I lean toward another option. This proposal also has the practical disadvantage of being distant from the ramp-up to enrollment for the next school year, which leads me to my preferred option.
2. Before Lent
Where I serve on the north side of Chicago parochial schools are publishing their information for the forthcoming school year by mid-winter. Since most of our urban Lutheran schools (and many of our suburban and rural Lutheran schools) now have significant percentages of non-Lutheran students, this is an issue that we must consider. The Roman Catholic Schools have their “Catholic Schools Week” in late January/early February. This avoids the Lenten problem that I describe above and also provides a kickoff to the recruiting season. Savvy move. I think it would be wise to move the celebration of Lutheran Schools Week to either the first full week of February or a moveable week before Ash Wednesday.
a. First Full Week of February
If we do not want to overlap with Catholic Schools Week, have a fixed week, and take advantage of a celebration at the beginning of the mid-winter recruiting season, then the first full week of February makes sense. However, this solution will occasionally conflict with Lent. If you find an Ash Wednesday/Easter calculator you will find that in the next forty years a Lutheran Schools Week during the first week of February would overlap Lent in 2016, 2027, 2035, and 2046. Given the aforementioned primary purpose, I believe a moveable celebration of Lutheran Schools Week is preferable.
b. Pre-Lenten Moveable Celebration
My preferred solution, one that avoids overlap with Lent and yet takes advantage of providing a kick-off to the mid-winter recruiting season, involves moving the celebration of Lutheran Schools Week to the octave concluding with Transfiguration Sunday in the three-year lectionary. This has the disadvantage of occurring in the midst of the pre-Lenten season for those who observe the one-year lectionary (I am sympathetic to this, having used for historic series previously.) and potentially adding some worship planning challenges to Transfiguration for three-year practitioners, but to avoid the pre-Lenten season and still do a mid-year celebration would mean that we would have to move Lutheran Schools Week to early January and I do not think that provides enough time for administrators to take post-Christmas vacations, put together the tentative budgets and tuition and fee information for the forthcoming year, and do so at the beginning of the recruiting and registration season. A pre-Lenten moveable celebration of Lutheran Schools Week would mean the occasional overlap with the Roman schools, but I would rather have that than the overlap with Lent.
I believe that theological and practical reasons favor moving Lutheran Schools Week from its current period and I welcome thoughts on my proposals and any who would be willing to sign on, as churchman, to a formal request for change.
Next year, at the request of President Dan Gilbert, the congregations of the Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will be moving their Lutheran Schools Week celebrations so that the District can have an ultra-low-cost District Convention (3/8-9/2012) at Concordia University—Chicago while CUC is out of session. Ash Wednesday 2012 is on February 22nd. Since we are being asked to move the celebration anyway, I will be asking our principal to help me also avoid the Lenten conflict by having the 2012 National Lutheran Schools Week celebration from February 12-19. Perhaps, this can be the beginning of a theologically-driven change rather than a uniquely utilitarian one.
Again, your thoughtful responses are welcome.