St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Lutheran school thrives in E. St. Louis” (posted by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice story today (by reporter Elisa Crouch) about Unity Lutheran School in East St. Louis. This is a school supported by many of the congregations of the Southern Illinois District. I’ll post some excerpts from the story below, but go to the site to read the whole article, “Lutheran school thrives in E. St. Louis.” And check out the comments and the ten photos there, as well.

The LCMS school system has been one of the great strengths of our synod over its history. It’s how I came into the Missouri Synod, attending LCMS schools from kindergarten through seminary graduate school. When our schools are faithful to Lutheranism, strong on academics, and supportive of families, they are one of our greatest assets. CH

– – – – –

Odds said Unity Lutheran Christian School wouldn’t make it.

It opened in 2003 as other urban faith-based schools were closing. And it took hold in East St. Louis, a place where the two Lutheran churches were barely scraping by, and most parents could not afford private-school tuition.

Nevertheless, a Lutheran mission board wanted to open a school in this struggling city, where the public school system had failed for years. And ever since, Unity Lutheran Christian School has defied the odds. . . .

Unity is supported by 96 Lutheran churches throughout Southern Illinois, most of them smaller, rural churches with aging members. The support is expanding. . . .

[Principal Paul] Miller, dressed this day in a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, begins the morning ritual of chapel. He leads the recitation of the week’s Bible verse. He plays guitar as the students sing. The children put coins in the offering plate.

Teaching the children about Jesus is as important as helping them catch up academically, Miller says. About 80 percent of the students come from families who do not regularly attend church. Nevertheless, parents say they want their children to get the Christian education Unity gives them. . . .

The school’s academics are improving. Most students started the school year at least one grade level behind. Last year, just 40 percent or so tested at grade level or better on the Stanford Achievement test, Miller said. This year, the number is about 50 percent. . . .

The Rev. Aaron Dickerson, assistant principal and seventh-grade teacher, said that inside the school, students “don’t need to worry about the stuff that goes on out in the community.” But the problems of East St. Louis, he added, “tug at them, That’s why we have to be a strong force.” . . .

In the last decade, the recession and other factors have resulted in about 10 percent of Lutheran schools’ closing nationwide. This year, King of Glory and Hope Lutheran elementary schools in St. Louis will close. Unity is the only Lutheran school to open in the St. Louis area in the last decade. There are two Lutheran churches in East St. Louis, and they’re barely making it, Schmidt said [Terry Schmidt, assistant director of schools for the LCMS]. The fact that the right combination of factors came together to help Unity succeed in spite of circumstances is no coincidence, he added.

“There is a huge need in East St. Louis, and people know that,” Schmidt said. “We believe God put everything together in that mix. It was not by accident.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Lutheran school thrives in E. St. Louis” (posted by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 7 Comments

  1. Great story! I was at the dinner mentioned in the article, and we have been supporting this school for a few years. Paul Miller is an amazing and gifted man. He LOVES the children he is serving. You can hear it in his voice when he talks about them. The Gospel is at the heart of everything that goes on. They have chapel every day. The kids are learning the Catechism. Memorizing the books of the Bible. I could go on and on.
    My husband grew up in E. St Louis, so he has a special interest in the city. Here is the quote from the article that sums up his feelings “Some people say, ‘Your school can change East St. Louis,'” Miller said. “That’s not why we’re here. We’re here to change a child.”

    Check out their web site

  2. What a tremendous blessing this school is! Further, thanks be to God for the support of churches in the Southern Illinois District. I am ecstatic to see children of ethnic backgrounds in the pictures. Dr. Martin Luther once said, “For the sake of the Church, we must have and maintain Christian Schools.” I would argue our schools need to be entrenched in the Lutheran faith, but have to be run far different in the area of finances, marketing and development. I want to alert readers to another urban school that started two years ago, JOY Academy, in St. Paul, MN. It is not supported by 97 churches or so, like Unity, but nonetheless is a classical school with integrated, innovative technology in the inner city of St. Paul. God is blessing it more than can be imagined. I know all of this, because I am blessed to serve as the pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, which started the school. It was started to reach out to the huge amount of ethnic groups around us, but also to train up children in the church. May God bless Lutheran Schools!

    Pastor Nathan Raddatz

  3. East St. Louis has been called the “arm pit” of the St. Louis metro
    area. Yet the Lord has chosen to bless the efforts of Unity
    Lutheran School. To reach the hearts of young children with
    the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is mission work at its best.
    I commend the Southern Illinois District for its whole-hearted
    support of Christ’s mandate to “Feed MY Lambs.”

  4. I too, was raised in the LCMS and have attended Lutheran grade school K-8. I am a lifelong Lutheran because of it. Unity is a shining example of witnessing to minorities. Ingrain the children with core Christian values within the safe haven of the grade school/church. Now THIS is how you do urban outreach! Thanks be to God.

  5. This school and its staff are regularly featured on the KFUO ( ) morning show.
    It’s very heartening.
    Is the future of the Lutheran church tied to convincing some percentage of a bunch of anonymous (to me) delegates, or is it better tied to courageous and faithful efforts like this school? Both, I guess.

  6. This is great!!!! I am so proud of those who pushed forward on this when the odds were against them! This school shows true compassion and love of our neighbor. It is the difference between talking and doing. I think I’m sending them a check!

  7. Thrivent Members:

    You may direct your “Choice Dollars” to Unity if you desire.

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