“One of the more repeated challenges facing Christian education, particularly at the primary and secondary level, is the refrain “we simply can’t afford it,” says Chris Schoon, Pastor at First Hamilton Christian Reformed Church (CRC). That’s why deacons working within his congregation want to help out where they can.
Together, they’re taking steps to make tuition assistance available for parents in their church who feel called to send their children to Christian school, but who are also burdened by the financial strain that comes with that commitment.
First Hamilton’s Tuition Assistance Program partners with three OACS area schools (Providence Christian School, Calvin Christian School and Hamilton District Christian High School). The application process starts with parents asking their school of choice for help—and then contacting First Hamilton CRC once they are given the green light to move forward. Only their deacon, stewardship deacons or the treasure will discuss applicants by name. After deacons decide on funding based on cash reserves and number of requests, tuition assistance is paid directly to the school, by the church.
True, no program can make tuition “easy” to afford, but First Hamilton’s Tuition Assistance program is a good example of what writer and philosopher Jamie Smith described as “kingdom economics” —where a Christian community promises to “support the formation and education of its children, by sharing the burden of Christian schooling”.
While Schoon believes that a variety of responses are needed to make Christian day school affordable, he’s thankful for the way that First CRC deacons are “taking the initiative to address this issue on a personal level”.
“Though Christian schooling is not the only way that parents can faithfully raise up their children, this fund is a practical way that our community can embody our commitment to disciple our children together,” he says. “By creating a tuition assistance fund, the deacons have found a tangible way to walk alongside families who otherwise would have difficulty in providing a Christian education for their children.”
As a denomination, the Christian Reformed Church of North America’s (CRCNA) official position on Christian education is holistic in its emphasis on community: According to the CRCNA website, “the CRC as a covenantal community is committed to Christian schools as the social agent that can make Christian education effective in the totality of life”. Although the CRC does not operate or own Christian day schools, “it affirms that Christian school education is a communal as well as a parental responsibility”.
In his 2011 article, “The Case for Christian Education,” Smith is frank about the hardship that may surround that responsibility. “Let’s be honest,” he writes, “Christian schooling is a high-investment, labor-intensive venture. It requires sacrifices and hard choices. And it’s increasingly countercultural to pursue such a vision.”
He suggests, however, that the vision, when carried out in the “best spirit of the Reformed tradition” is worth it—noting that “when Christian education is an intentional, intensive, formative curriculum bent on shaping young people as agents and ambassadors of God’s coming kingdom—the investment proves to be wise stewardship.”
At the end of the day, that “wise stewardship” is as much about communal generosity as it is about communal blessing. “Older generations support younger generations through giving to the Christian education fund, grateful for the generations before them that did the same,” reflects Smith. “Only such a gift-giving economy can make it possible for Christian education to be a blessing for all in the community.”
At a local level, Melissa Vander Wier believes that an investment in Christian education will have lasting and positive ripple effects for members of First Hamilton CRC. The Calvin Christian School Finance Manager describes the Tuition Assistance Program as “a great way to support families in their daily Christian lives” and as “a wonderful blessing that will have years of impact.”
Click here to learn more about First Hamilton CRC’s Tuition Assistance Program.