The following is a brief excerpt from a profound presentation given by Anglican Rev Philip North:
“Why [is the church] struggling so much?
“I want to suggest that the answer is quite a straightforward one. It’s because we have forgotten the poor.
Every effective renewal movement in the whole history of the Church has begun not with the richest and most influential, but with the poor and the marginalised. ‘I have come to proclaim good news to the poor’ Jesus said in the synagogue at Nazareth. How often have you seen those last three words ‘to the poor’ omitted or re-interpreted or spiritualised? But when Jesus said ‘poor’ he meant ‘poor, and he demonstrated that in the way he lived the rest of his life.
In order to found a movement to transform the world, he called not the wealthy, the articulate or the powerful but a ragtag, chaotic bunch of third rate fishermen, busted tax collectors and clapped out rebels. He chose the poor and the weak and the powerless, he chose those who knew their utter dependency on God because they quite literally had nothing else to depend on, and with these keystone cop disciples he blew apart the whole meaning of what it is to be human.”
[Recently, in a poor area of England] it was over two years before the Bishop could appoint [a new priest]. Clergy didn’t want to live in that kind of area, they didn’t want their children educated alongside the poor…”
I love my Lutheran Church and would call no other church my home. But time and time again, I feel that we haven’t taken our call to the live of radical socially just service demonstrated by Christ seriously.
It has been written of our spiritual father, Martin Luther:
“[He argued that] God’s justice is a life-giving justice for all persons regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, social or economic status – a justice that should underpin human relationships and the education of future leaders in society. Indeed, he was among the first of his generation to protest business, banking, and religious practices that favoured the wealthy few and impoverished the many. And yet…Lutheran history is marked by the refusal to heed the ancient call to act with justice, exchanging that more difficult task for charitable endeavours or stoic silence in the face of oppression.”
The schools of the Lutheran Church in Australia originally served marginalised German migrant communities. What made the schools ‘Lutheran’ were the Lutheran students, parents and staff. What made the schools ‘Lutheran’ was the strong desire to preserve German language and culture as well as to educate children in a manner that would uphold and continue Confessional Lutheranism.
When our Lutheran schools began to be blessed with government funding in the last quarter or so of the last century, our system grew and took in increasingly large numbers of non-Lutheran families. This too was a blessing and a ministry opportunity.
I can’t help but suspect that as we needed to start attracting families and increasing enrolments we allowed ourselves to focus too much on those things that attract some non-Christian families. I suspect our marketing was more often ‘Come to our school, we’ll set you up for success using our world class facilities’ than ‘Come to our school, we’ll introduce to Christ our saviour who will call you to reject the trappings of our consumerist world and align yourself with the poor.’
The shortage of Lutheran pastors in our church is mirrored in a shortage of Lutheran leaders in our schools. Perhaps in a situation akin to what Rev North writes of above, many of our suburban Lutheran schools serving more affluent families find it easier to find staff than our schools serving more marginalised communities or schools in regional and remote areas.
I recently heard of a primary teaching position being advertised at the same time in our system at two distinctly different schools: School A is in an affluent suburb serving a majority of affluent families while School B is in an area with a high level of socio-economic disadvantage. School A received in excess of 100 applications while School B received 4. There are complex factors at play here but I feel there is a message sitting with these figures.
Rev North put it so well: “If you feel called to [ministry] we need you in those areas where the trendy coffee shops and artisanal bakers are hard to find…[go] there if you really want to make a difference in Jesus’ name.”
I encourage us as schools of the Lutheran Church to consider the following:
- How well are we following Christ’s example of care for the poor?
- How representative of Australian society are our schools? Do our fee structures prevent those families most needing a transformative education from receiving it?
- What role does a loss of focus on the person and work of Christ have in our increasing difficulty to staff our schools?
- Are students in Lutheran schools being acculturated into having a Christian responsibility of lifelong service to others?