Sonia Carrington said one thing she learned in her 12 years as an elementary school principal is this — how important it is for everyone on staff to be encouraged.
So that’s what she and her care team at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills work to do each year at nearby Green Valley Elementary School in Hoover.
“We want to encourage them and to let our light shine before others, as Matthew 5:16 says,” Carrington said.
Tommy DeRamus, Shades’ community engagement minister, said that describes the purpose behind the church’s multifaceted school ministry well.
“We have a mission statement at our church that says, ‘We’re leveraging who we are and what we’ve been given for the sake of the gospel wherever we are and wherever God takes us,’” he said.
A big part of that is the school care team ministry that includes Carrington’s team and teams at three other Hoover schools, four Vestavia schools and the Post Place campus of Unless U, which serves students with special needs.
“What we try to do is find creative ways that we can let teachers and staff members know that they’re appreciated, valued and respected,” DeRamus said. “We try to find ways to encourage them in their work, to try to be a blessing to them and just be a friend to them and provide a listening ear when they need or want to talk.”
This ranges from planting flowers to providing grab-and-go breakfasts for faculty and staff on teacher workdays to monitoring a dedicated email address where they can send prayer requests or needs at any time, DeRamus said.
“We do a variety of different things, and each school is different,” he said. “We listen to what the principals say they need, and we’re very respectful of what we can and can’t do at the school.”
Showing the love of Christ
Becky Seay, who leads Shades’ care team at Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia Hills, said they’ve been well received by the school’s faculty and staff as they’ve tried to encourage them in their work at the school.
“The faculty there is amazing. It’s just the sweetest group of people, and we so look forward to going there,” Seay said, noting that they’ve received handwritten thank you notes for their ministry at Pizitz. “We want to do anything we can to show the love of Christ there.”
Shades also has a care team that serves the staff at the church’s early learning center, “which is a ministry of our church but has a tremendous reach outside of our church,” DeRamus said.
Shades members are also partnering with several schools outside their immediate area — A.H. Parker High School in downtown Birmingham and three elementary schools in that area.
The church also runs an afterschool program called After the Bell that is intended to provide quality, affordable care for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Buses pick up from three Vestavia Hills elementary schools and Pizitz Middle School and bring enrolled students back to the church for playtime, snacks, Bible time and homework.
Across the board, DeRamus said these ministries have provided an opportunity for the church to show love to its community and for faculty, staff and families to connect that love to the love of Christ.
Because of the relationships built, some people they’ve met in the community have accepted invitations to come to church events and services, he said, noting that they pray for moments like that to happen.
“The days of you opening the doors of the church and people automatically coming in — those days are over,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to take the ministry of our church out into the community and into the schools, the places where people are.”
DeRamus encouraged any church who’s interested in serving its community to consider finding ways to help a local school.
Consider the opportunity
“Every church is different and has different focus areas for how they minister in their communities, but I would dare say in every community, the local schools would gladly open their doors to anybody who wants to come in and be a blessing to their teachers,” he said.