Tebbe: Church Celebrates School Choice to Help Parents, Children Thrive

The following is the second in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. Glenn Tebbe is the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

Education of children and youth has been a significant part of the Catholic Church’s ministry in Indiana since before Indiana was even a state or a territory. In 1792 Fr. Benedict Flaget established a school in Vincennes to teach reading, writing, along with basics of the faith to the children in the area. In fact in 1801 the first Indiana territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison, asked that Fr. Rivet establish a school supported by the territorial government; He established Jefferson Academy, which is the predecessor of today’s Vincennes University.

Catholic schools have been serving people from all walks of life and all social economic groups for a long time. And, Catholic, as well as the many other non-public, schools have contributed to the well-being of the people of Indiana and the common good throughout the United States. Catholic schools’ curriculum and teachers have helped countless families and young people become productive and loyal citizens as well as providing the foundation for them academically and spiritually.

A commitment to quality education is one of the hallmarks of the Catholic Church. Moreover, a foundational principle is that parents are the first and most important teachers in a child’s life. While they are the first teachers, they cannot and do not educate and socialize them alone. The community, including faith communities, and the state share this common burden by assisting and collaborating with parents to meet their primary obligations.

Programs and policies such as education choice scholarships, scholarship tax credits and charter schools actualize the collaboration between the parents and the state’s responsibilities. The state must make possible the right of parents to choose appropriate educational opportunities best suited to their children’s needs.

Given the critical role parents and families play in the development of children and in building the common good of society, parents ought to have choices in how and where their children are educated. Legislators and state officials have a moral duty to ensure that all parents, though their own choice, have actual access to quality schools, including public, religious and private that are best suited for their children.

Just as Fr. Flaget did in 1792, the Catholic Church still today takes seriously its responsibility to assist parents in educating and nurturing their children and will continue to do so into the future. We celebrate School Choice Week because the Church has always been there to support the common good, just as it did when it responded to Governor William Henry Harrison in 1801.

The Church of Facebook

I remember my church back in the day always had a moment to "pray for our shut-ins" — folks who couldn’t leave their houses to be there. Well now, via Facebook, those folks can actually go to church on their own. Or, I suppose they could just watch Joel Osteen on TV. But it’s an interesting concept nonetheless. PRNewswire reports:

If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world behind China (1.33 billion) and India (1.17 billion), and followed by the U.S. (307 million). Now, a new church is being planted in the "nation" of Facebook, bringing live worship to its 400 million-plus residents.

On Sunday morning, Northland, A Church Distributed will officially open the doors to its new Facebook app, which will allow worshipers to invite their Facebook friends to go to church with them – without leaving the familiar Facebook environment. Plus, even when live worship isn’t happening, the opportunity for worship is readily available because the previous week’s service will be posted and available for viewing 24 hours a day.

"We encourage people to be the church everywhere, every day, so it just makes sense to put resources out there that will help people to be that church," explains Nathan Clark, Northland’s director of digital innovation.

With a congregation of 12,000 worshipers meeting throughout Metro Orlando and worldwide via interactive webcast, Northland first began taking church out of the building in 2001 via "distributed sites" – live, two-way video connections between locations. Northland now operates four of these sites in Central Florida.

The church started webcasting live services in January 2006 and, 18 months later, launched an interactive webstream of its services that includes immediate access to an online pastor and the ability to chat instantly with other worshipers. Approximately 2,000 people use this venue each weekend.

On July 4, 2009, the church launched an iPhone Web app – offering not just videos of past services, but the ability to join live services as they are happening over 3G and Wi-Fi networks. Additionally, 200 of Northland’s congregants now serve as online missionaries, replying to emails from thousands of seekers around the world.