Lawrence, MA -- Led by a group of United Methodist churches and agencies in New England, religious and community leaders joined forces with the U.S. Department of Education in what is considered an unprecedented national coalition on public school education.
Education Secretary Richard Riley met with more than a dozen clergy and religious leaders representing Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, in a ceremonial signing last month of a partnership in support of family involvement in learning. The goal of the agreement is "to reinforce the central role of the family, to help families find the information they need and the time they need to get involved in their children's education."
The meeting underscored the fact that religious institutions are well positioned to play a vital role in the education of the nation's children, but until recently have not been tapped to help rescue the nation's public schools or shape education policy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Church of God in Christ in the New England area, are among the 34 religious communities that have endorsed the partnership.
In his address to more than 200 church, community and education leaders, Riley noted the unique role of the nation's religious communities in providing a sense of direction and purpose "at a time when so many young people are at risk of losing their way."
While United Methodist Urban Services is taking the lead in mobilizing the ecumenical coalition, the partnership formed here is in response to an initiative launched a year ago when Riley appealed to families to become more involved in their children's schools.
Involvement in the partnership is just what the Assemblies of God needed, said the Rev. Herman L. Greene, president of the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, Inc. in Cambridge, MA. As the 77-year-old organization undergoes an organizational overhaul, Greene said religious and public education will become a focal point of the church's emphasis.
"We're trying to form a strong educational department that will strengthen every area of life," adds Greene. "We've been around for 75 years, but education has been an area that's been neglected in our denomination. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that education plays a major role."
The Rev. Wesley Williams, executive director of the Boston-based United Methodist Urban Ministries, said he expects to tap education leaders at some of the state's premiere institutions including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as draw business leaders who are active members in their congregations. Individual congregations and religious agencies participating in the partnership are responsible for creating and funding their own programs. No federal funds have been allocated for the partnership, Williams said.
Beyond Politics, Religion
Education secretary Riley, an active United Methodist from South Carolina, dismissed concerns that the partnership represented a potential church-state conflict.
"I'm very careful to say that there is no connection whatsoever with church-state issues. In this country it's important not to shed your own religious beliefs because you are in the private sector or in government," Riley said. "We need all of you here today, people who are willing to look beyond political lines and religious lines and state lines in a common effort to lift the lives of America's children."
Nonetheless, some say myths and muddied lines separating church and state, continue to hamper needed solutions to the problems plaguing America's public schools. …