By CARL E. FEATHER
JEFFERSON - When Greg Dreger, teaching principal of Bethel Christian School in Jefferson, talks about the Council for Dynamic Rural Ministry (CDRM), he describes this group of 12 rural United Methodist churches as "the hand of God."
Back in December 2004, acting upon a suggestion from the Rev. Julie Hanneman, pastor of Cherry Valley and Williamsfield United Methodist churches, the CDRM approached the school with an offer of help: They would raise $12,500 and challenge other churches to do the same.
Although the challenge was not taken up, the members of the CDRM churches did respond and exceeded the initial goal by $600. Thusday evening, Dreger and the board of the school will recognize the churches as partners in the school's ministry to families of students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"The timing of their initial contact and what they have done for us has been a real morale booster," Dreger says.
The school's enrollment plummeted from a high of 70 in 2001 to just 37 in 2004. That led to one of the school's four teachers being furloughed and other belt-tightening measures that had to be implemented to keep the doors open. The cuts caught the attention of Hanneman, whose niece and nephew are students there. As she delved into the school and the work it does, Hanneman realized it was something the entire Christian community, not just the parents of students who learn there, should be supporting.
"I was real impressed with the excellence of education and the fact it is Christian oriented," Hanneman says.
Dreger says he and the other two teachers constantly try to show students life applications for the biblical principles they are taught at home and in the church.
"From our perspective, we are an extension of the local church and Christian home," says Dreger. "We take to deeper levels the principles the church teaches."
Hanneman feels that's an effort the entire Christian community should rally behind and support financially. The school does not receive any money from the state and must rely upon fund-raisers and private-pay tuition to keep the doors open. The cost to send a grades 1-8 student to the school is more than $3,000 annually.
"Our parents make major sacrifices to their budgets to make sure their kids get a Christian education," says Dreger.
To help the school financially, CDRM leaders created the "Dollars for Scholars" challenge. Member churches were issued the challenge to raise $1,000 each in a year. How they did it was up to each pastor. Some pastors, like Hanneman, presented the challenge for 10 families to each give $100 each. "When you break it down, it's not a lot of money," she says.
Special collections were taken at some churches and a few of them held fund-raisers. At Plymouth UMC, youngsters took pledges for a walking/running event.
The money was presented to the school as it was raised. The last installment was recently presented, thus closing the churches' financial commitment.
The support has gone beyond monetary donations, however. For example, the churches supplied speakers to the school's chapel time on Wednesdays, and several of those people have indicated a willingness to continue that relationship. For the school's annual fund-raising dinner, CDRM church members baked 40 pies. And all of the churches opened their pulpits to school representatives, who gave short presentations about the school during the worship hour.
Dreger says one of the things they stress in these presentations is that although the school was founded by Bethel Bible Church in 1980 and continues to use that church's facility, it is open to any Christian student. He wants the area Christian community to take ownership of the school as a shared resource.
As a result of getting that message out to the CDRM community, the school saw an increase in enrollment, from 37 to 47, in 2005. Dreger says 38 students are re-enrolling for the 2006-2007 school year; they need to enroll at least 12 more to meet their budget.
Part of the money donated by the CDRM will go toward establishing a Dollars for Scholars scholarship. The board is also looking into replacing desks and chairs in one of the classrooms.
Dreger hopes other churches will take up the example set by the CDRM and adopt the school as a local mission project. One church, Eagleville Bible, has committed to a $1,000 annual gift to the school.
"I feel like the Christian community should support each other," says Hanneman.
Parents and church leaders interested in learning more about the school can attend its annual Display Day and Recognition Night ceremony Thursday.
During the recognition ceremony, each student's unique qualities and area of blessing/growth will be acknowledged.
For more information, call the school at 576-5949. The school is located at 571 Goodale Road, south of Jefferson.