This guest post was provided by Kentucky teacher Heather M. Morgan, who is a member of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Frankfort, Kentucky. Many Kentucky teachers have been protesting low wages and inadequate funding. St. Peter’s sits adjacent to the Kentucky state Capitol.
St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Frankfort, KY has always been keenly aware of our location, just down the steps of the state capitol building. We have quietly lifted up legislative sessions, judicial rulings, and executive decisions before the throne of grace with confession, thanksgiving, and intercession for many seasons, congresses and administrations. When Franklin Graham came through Frankfort to call American Christians to greater civic engagement and prayer, we served as a local outpost for his ministry.
This week, we had another chance for outreach: this time, to public school teachers and administrators. The first wave of teacher rallies at the capitol occurred on a normal weekday, as St. Peter’s opened for morning prayer.
Several parishioners who work in state government kept their daily routine of joining brothers and sisters in reading Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer. Teachers began trickling in the back – some to pause for prayer, many to use the restroom before heading to the capitol steps. These demonstrators were discouraged by the perceived devaluing of public education, a state pension bill that they felt slighted them and other public servants, and an impending tax reform bill that proposed cuts to education, among many other things. What they found at St. Peter’s was both a chance to step out of that battle zone to contemplate eternity for a moment, and a place to trudge all their wounds, anger and anxiety to the foot of the Cross.
Charitable Space for Public Discourse
Do photos of demonstrators on the front porch of St. Peter’s, brandishing signs and slogans and wearing red, amount to the church’s total endorsement of the cause, and therefore represent a breach of our call to obey those in authority, and “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s?” Is the church in danger of muddying the political waters? It is this very logic that often gives believers pause and leads to inaction. While at times we are indeed called to silence and stillness, it is also possible to reject the more sinister implications of social media and the theatre of politics by stating, or implying the caveat: “Opinions are my own. Posts and likes do not equal endorsements.” Doing so may be a way to reclaim charitable space for public discourse. By dealing in both logic and love, we again become dexterous, “happy warriors” contending for truth, while being Christ’s hands and feet.
Many of our parishioners are involved in public and private education, with experience and credentials spanning early childhood to postgraduate instruction. Several have specialized in education for special populations, cross-cultural, and at-risk settings. While we all agree on the importance of learning, we represent various perspectives on how best to achieve (and support) a good education. This made our responses to the second wave of teacher protests in Frankfort similarly differentiated.
One of our teachers participated, wearing red with her son, in the rally. Another got the doors open and the coffee flowing. A counselor who serves in local public schools stocked and cleaned restrooms, held babies, and welcomed everyone with an encouraging smile. Still others prayed for us during the day, or were on hand to restore the building in time for Sunday services.
Some of our parishioners worked all day under a cloud of angry chants in the capitol building, following Governor Bevin’s advice to be courteous and tell demonstrators, “We’re glad you’re here.” Others met teachers’ physical and spiritual needs by providing a calm sanctuary and clean toilets. The usual sidewalk sign reading “Open for Prayer” had added in dry erase marker, “and coffee and restrooms” written on it to invite passersby in. We counted 180 people who walked through the door, but many more stopped for shade and rest on the front porch. We entertained guests from counties far and near, and all walks of life. We saw them sense the peace of God’s house when they entered.
“Nothing Changes for Good Without Prayer”
Of those, 15 people stopped to pray. 7 of them walked the Stations of the Cross. Several of them commented that the artwork of the stations and our church in general were very moving and encouraged them. There was also a woman who thanked us for praying, because “nothing changes for good without prayer,” and acknowledged that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” Two visitors were moved to leave a contribution in the offering plate, as a way to pay the kindness forward. For the price of 20 rolls of toilet paper, 5 rolls of paper towels, half a can of coffee grounds, and an hour or prep and cleaning up, we ministered to these people, ushering them into God’s house, where they are fully seen, known, loved, and forgiven.
While we may need to have confrontation and conflict in love, the principle of charity helps us to first address the log in our own eye before removing the speck in our brother’s eye.
Perhaps this has never been more crucial than in our current political environment, which seems to tear apart our society, and erodes our sense of belonging as citizens. It is not always obvious how the church should respond to the tribal nature of American politics, either: each of the major parties have conscripted Christian ideals into their service. So how should we respond, especially when we find ourselves at odds with a prevailing government, movement, coworkers and neighbors, or with other Christians? Far from providing a sure script, the principle of charity can flexibly adapt our responses to each new situation.
Occupational Hazards of Teachers
I am a public school teacher, and an occupational hazard I face is wearing blame from others, and from myself, for every failure in my classroom. Every instructional moment, every learner disposition, every struggle that seems fruitless, every frustration in the eyes of a student, parent, fellow teacher or administrator is something I can find myself culpable for. There is a kind of inner Pharoah (or Pharisee, if you like), who condemns me to work ever harder, breaking Sabbath, and tempts me to see my service as a burden, rather than experiencing it as fellowship with Christ: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
And yet, I love my job. I honor the sacred trust placed in teachers to unlock opportunity, to advocate for the marginalized, to call forth the best in every student, and to share and reward a contagious love of learning. The insecurity of the future, fear of test scores, and periods of rapid change in education all threaten that joy, but cannot ultimately destroy it. Anyone who was born to teach knows this. We may undergo many metaphormoses to stay in the profession. Sometimes we become aware that like the single grain of wheat in the Kingdom parable, our cherished methods and ideas must fall and die to produce new fruit. But we persist in our vocation not because we are perfect practitioners, but because we have been called to it.
Forgiveness and Rest
The voice that calls us speaks forgiveness over our shortcomings, and invites us to His rest, to His Cross. As fellow teachers contemplated the Stations of the Cross, the quiet beauty of our sanctuary, and the welcoming hospitality of our facilities, I was reminded of the lyric from “Lift High the Cross”:
Each newborn soldier of the Crucified
Bears on the brow the seal of Him who died.
And, I heard echoes of Paul to the Corinthians, again, who points out that we carry around in our bodies Christ’s death and resurrection:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-18)
Do we lose hope when funding, priorities, and initiatives seem to undermine the way we serve? Do we sour when our assumptions are challenged, our entitlements eroded? Do we dare to turn the other cheek, to speak truth to power, to show solidarity, to continue to serve? None of these opportunities to bear Christ can be explicitly prescribed as a “one size fits all,” and as we each show a different facet of the imago dei, we may have differing responses.
Civil Discourse Vs. Consumer Identities
You may have seen the caveat on social media accounts, “Posts do not equal endorsements; opinions are my own.” This is language born of necessity in an era when we are often tempted to confuse our consumer identities – including our consumption of political and social ideas – with our very personhood. It allows us to remain part of an organization while becoming differentiated as individuals, without rewarding disloyalty or creating total cacophony. People are aware of the risks they take to share their point of view, yet this language also holds space for the constructive criticism, creativity, and candor which are necessary to corporate, long-term thriving. Most importantly, it creates an open door for Christ-followers to employ the principle of charity in civil discourse with other believers, and ultimately with the world.
In logic, the principle of charity is defined as avoiding the “straw man,” that is, the weakest version of an opponent’s argument. Charity also leads us to assume that, although we may disagree, each of us bears a good and holy longing, and that each of us is doing our best to understand the situation.
Sometimes individual Christians may need to differentiate from one another to provide the world with an appropriate array of responses, as St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians:
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
I am reminded of a quotation by E. Stanley Jones that I saw as an Asbury student on the way in to chapel three times each week: “Here we enter a fellowship; sometimes we will agree to differ; always we will resolve to love and unite to serve.”
Whichever side of the political divide we may be on, I was thankful to be part of St. Peter’s this week. “For such a time as this,” we are an outpost for the Kingdom of Heaven, whose great Teacher is our Lord, and whose care and love of young people is more perfect than any earthly government’s.
Heather McColl Morgan is a Washington state native who grew up moving with her Navy family. She is a graduate of Asbury University and University of Southern California, an active duty Army veteran, and public school teacher. Having experienced church families of various denominations, Heather is experiencing the risks and rewards of finally putting down roots, drawing courage from her brothers and sisters at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Frankfort, fellow Stephen Ministers, and the spiritual formation communities of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Women at the Cross. She and her husband Zach parent three daughters.