If you were to walk through the halls at St. Paul School in Ann Arbor during the 2020–2021 school year, you would have noticed that the school was a bit more full than usual. Preschool cubbies were overflowing with nap blankets, elementary racks were bursting with backpacks and gym shoes, and middle school halls were lined two deep with band instruments. If you peeked in the classroom windows, you would have seen students at every desk, desks spread from wall to wall, and computer screens with classmates joining from home. The classrooms were full. Wonderfully, comfortably full! More than 70 new students enrolled in St. Paul Ann Arbor’s elementary and middle school classes for the 2020–2021 school year, and all but one class had a waiting list all year. This was the biggest increase in enrollment that the school has experienced in more than a decade. We were excited by this growth, and we knew that God was giving our school and church a great opportunity. Classrooms were bustling, tuition was coming in, and people in the community were talking about us. All the numbers were increasing. But perhaps in addition to measuring growth in the number of new students, we should also use another metric. Perhaps we should also be measuring school growth by how our students and families grew in faith, love for God, and love for others.
A few years ago, a mom sat in my office after touring the middle school. She was a single mother of a teenage boy, and she had come to the U.S. to work at the University of Michigan. Bringing up a son by herself in a country far from home was challenging, and she was looking for a solid, safe school environment for him. “Everyone at this school is very kind, and I know my son will learn much,” she said. “I want him to attend St. Paul.” I asked her if I could pray for her before she left. She paused. “Yes. You may pray. But I will just listen. In my country, faith and the Bible are punished. I do not have a place in my heart for them right now. But I want faith for my son. I want him to learn the Bible and believe. Maybe someday I will be able to believe too.” Two years later, at her son’s graduation from eighth grade, she stopped me. “Mrs. Potts,” she said excitedly. “I am reading the Bible and it is changing my life!” She continues to email me from time to time with stories of how God is working in her life and the life of her son. Her faith has been contagious. A family member was secretly baptized in his home recently and looks forward to the day when he can come to the U.S. and worship with her. Her faith, and that of her son and family, is growing because of a seed planted at St. Paul.
Seeds Taking Root
Many of St. Paul’s new students heard the message of God’s love for the first time this past school year. Their faith is taking root. At one point, one of our new dads posted on Facebook. When he and his wife were first exploring St. Paul last August, they had several questions about the religion curriculum. They said that their children had only been to church at Christmas, and they were concerned that they would struggle to understand and keep up with what they were being taught. But several months later, the seeds planted at St. Paul were taking root. In the Facebook post, the father shared that a family friend had passed away, and they were struggling as they grieved the loss. The post said that they were “not especially religious,” but they had decided to send the children to a Christian school this year. They were trying to explain their friend’s death to the children when their son spoke up. “We learned at school that when someone dies, there’s heaven,” he said, “and Jesus is there.”
Will we continue to experience growth in the number of students attending St. Paul School? We hope so, but it is hard to say. Many factors are influencing this increase, and we do not know what the years ahead hold. But God does, and we are eager and excited to follow His plan. Most of the preschool through eighth grade classes are already full for the 2021–2022 school year, and we receive new applications every day. If these trends continue, we will need to consider how to accommodate growth in the years and decades ahead. But more important than the number of students we have is the faith of our students. God has put us in a place to share the message of His forgiveness and love with many, many children and families. He has called St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor to help our students and families grow in faith and love for God and each other. That kind of growth will last for eternity.
Photos courtesy of St. Paul, Ann Arbor