West Charlotte mission partners with local schools

June 4, 2018 | ,

West Charlotte mission partners with local schools

The 2018 NC Synod Assembly with the theme, “We are church for the sake of the world,” featured three keynote conversations which provided illuminating glimpses into the ways God is working through the NC Synod, ELCA, to demonstrate, “We are church together. And together, we are church for the sake of the world.”

The second keynote conversation focused on the new Emmaus mission community in West Charlotte that is successfully partnering with local schools. It is led by Dr. Shanitria Cuthbertson, mission developer. The ministry, which recently began offering Sunday worship services at Thomasboro Academy, also seeks to address the unique needs and experiences of African-American students ages 8-18 and their wider community through such programs as mentoring, the arts, family service projects, and community Bible studies. (Learn more details in the NC Synod May insert of Living Lutheran.) Interviewing Shanitria is the Rev. Sara Ilderton, assistant to the bishop.

Sara: Share with us a little bit about yourself and where you’re from.
Shanitria: I’m a Charlotte native, a graduate of W. Charlotte High School. I spent time away from home … 11 years of higher education (earning multiple degrees). And during that time I became in touch with God and became active in public schools … all has worked to shape who I am.

Sara: Why partner with the public schools?
Shanitria: I’ve been a teacher and education has always been a part of my journey. And to me public schools are a complete intersection of life, a legally-mandated community: under age 16 you have to go! And you also have teachers, cafeteria workers, office workers … so there’s a natural diversity in this space, and it’s where we tout a lot about the American dream. Personally I’ve been on a wave of educational opportunity, but I know that’s not true for everyone.

Sara: What are the current challenges in your ministry?
Shanitria: Your local school is a pressure cooker for every social ill. If a community is struggling with employment or health care or single mothers needing time for work or time for family … all those things find themselves in a school system. All the social issues in our nation come alive in our schools. (The special school-related challenges for ministry?) Two-fold: both challenges and opportunities. Emmaus works hard to offer things that supplement what schools don’t offer and give support that might not be found. One example: bringing young men into an exhibit about police brutality and teaching them about peaceful protests.

Sara: Share one story of hope from your ministry. 
Shanitria: We give students opportunity outside the schools. One example: The students put together care packages (in red bags) for a men’s shelter, so they were doing something for someone else. So hope is not always ‘what I’m getting,’ but ‘what I’m able to give.’ For me personally that was a very hopeful moment. Then about a month ago I was in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and saw a man who had one of the red Emmaus bags and found out he had been at the shelter. So I was able to tell him about our ministry: who we are and what we’re about. And at that moment I realized that Emmaus is about the ‘goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’ And that it’s a model for young people about giving and receiving within the community.

Sara: What do you hope we hear and learn from your community?
Shanitria: One thing I’ve always believed is to not box Jesus in. Look for Him in different ways. I’m an example of a ‘broken box’ … I left an under-performing high school and now have a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. (applause) And when I’m in Wal-Mart with a hoodie on, I feel that Ph.D. is surely breaking the box. (laughter) What I hope we learn is how to look differently and inwardly at one another and re-learn how we see each other.

Sara: What’s one step you wish we’d all take as we engage our public school partners?
Shanitria: Schools are probably one of the easier partners to engage because they need so much help. It doesn’t have to be financial, it can be in time or supplies. Suggestions for churches:
—Pray for your schools, teachers, students, principals, etc. (Prayers don’t cost us anything but can move mountains.)
—Learn about a school … reach out and be present … engage that school. Go there and ask what they need. (Don’t just bring what you think they need.)
—Give money. Schools need funds or you can provide something like a teachers’ appreciation lunch. They’ll feel appreciated and that appreciation shines back to your church. Then that appreciation shines back to Jesus, so there’s the connection back to the Gospel.

Sara: I must ask this since I’m the candidacy person: How might we raise up multicultural leaders as the landscape in our church and country changes?
Shanitria: The first thing has to do with ‘sight’: It’s not just a matter of whether Jesus is raising up new leaders for the kingdom, but where are they and how can we intersect them? (I intersected Christ Lutheran Church, but Jesus was working on me well before I came to know Christ, Charlotte.) I believe it’s a matter of recognition and making opportunities for intersection. Next, we have to be able to accept leaders for who they are and allow them to show us the community of the Gospel as they are. I am a young girl from West Charlotte who grew up on hip-hop in the ’90s … and that’s a part of who I am … But then Jesus comes in and proves that I can relate to this community, to these people … So we need to allow individuals to authentically express the Gospel as who God means us to be. (The audience stood up with applause.)

Emmaus is one of  four NC Synod African-Descent congregations. The others are: Prince of Peace, Greensboro; Church of the Abiding Savior, Durham; and Joy of Discovery, Raleigh.

Story & Photo: Cindi L. Clemmer of Clemmer Communications is also the wife of the Rev. Palmer D. Clemmer, Hickory.

Watch this full interview on our YouTube channel.


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