As virtual participation in this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, we’ve talked about transformative scale and opportunities for partnership and social impact in social ministry. Today I saw a creative example of churches supporting the public sphere through a creative and entrepreneurial extension of education ministry.
Check out this article on the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR). MTR has much in common with Teach for America, and even more so with the ministries of the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education and Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers.
The main difference worth highlighting is that the MTR uniquely partners those explicitly motivated by a call to distinct Christian witness with public education–this is an excellent example of the different structures of education we in Catholic ministry/parishes ought to be considering during our own annual, Catholic Schools Weeks (that in my opinion, fail to live up to their full potential).
Here’s an example of how something like MTR could help a local parish move to a larger scale or greater degree of social impact:
“MTR only goes into neighborhoods where there are already community development programs with which we can partner, because education is only one piece of the puzzle,” Jemison said. “If a neighborhood has a great school but poor housing, no health care, no healthy food, no jobs, no transportation, that great school isn’t going to make that much of a difference,” he said. “That is why it has to happen in the larger community-development context.”
While a parish might not have an especially large number of young adults (I’m guessing the primary source of MTR teachers), a parish might have existing modes of delivering food assistance, health care advocacy, etc. A parish might have an old convent that could be used to house teacher-residents. A parish might have members with fund development experience who could use their expertise and gifts to generate the scholarships for teachers. A parish might have the extra land to start a community garden. The possibilities are endless. The key take-away is that impact matters. Yes, there’s authentic faithfulness and Gospel witness in starting small (say, an annual August “backpack drive” of school supplies for a local public school). But, we must also be attentive to times when the Holy Spirit is leading us to take bolder, more audacious steps as we live out our mission of reaching all nations with the Gospel, starting in the overlooked places right in our own cities or regions.