The City School and Philadelphia

jarmoluk / Pixabay
jarmoluk / Pixabay

The city is not as it seems. I moved to Philadelphia as a boy in the late 1980s. My father had been pastoring in rural Ohio, but he grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and my grandfather grew up in South Philly, so I think my family thought this move was going to be some sort of a homecoming. The city of the 1980s and 90s turned out to be quite different from what the suburbs of the 1950s had been. I quickly became a “third culture” pastor’s kid similar to the experience of many missionary kids in international settings. The city became not as it had seemed, instead more broken, nuanced and beautiful, all together in almost every way.

I have never moved out of Philadelphia and found The City School, then Spruce Hill Christian School/City Center Academy, as an excellent school for my son. The City School had the added bonus of following Jesus and living his love out in real life. My prayer as I felt the Lord’s call to raise my own family in what had become my hometown was that he provide a home and a school for us. I knew I couldn’t take those things for granted, but I knew the Lord could provide. He provided indeed.

My city life was founded in 1989. The City School’s first campus was founded eleven years earlier in 1978 out of a heart of racial reconciliation and Christ-honoring education. Since then three schools (Spruce Hill Christian School, City Center Academy and Philadelphia Mennonite High School) have merged over time to form The City School – a school committed to honoring Jesus in the city through excellent and accessible education.

After nine years of teaching and health care administration, this is now my fifth year as head of school and we’ve done a lot to strengthen and grow our school. I am hopeful that at this point, we will be in a position to do much more. Regardless of the scope and scale of these changes, it will always be through our commitments that we accomplish our mission. At The City School our mission is to train students’ minds, disciple their hearts and bring light to the city–one child at a time. Our mission is beautiful and compelling to me because it is so bold, clear and universally true. The means of any school must be to train minds and disciple hearts. The end of any school must be to bring light in context (the city, in our case), one child at a time. One child at a time is the essence of God’s transformational work.

So, with our mission, vision and commitments clear, we still can’t do anything if our business model isn’t aligned to see these things through. It is through the innate tension between excellence and access that we accomplish and align our mission. We serve children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and neighborhoods. We have four campuses to reach communities where they are. We speak about the primacy of Jesus and live that out in love to connect across denominations and traditions. We raise money to provide necessary need-based financial aid to over half of our students. We work hard to be excellent enough for those who otherwise have high quality options, yet accessible across faith, finance and ability for those who have no good place to go.  Our business model must be excellent and accessible and more than it seems.

The city will always be more than it seems. It is not for the faint of heart–not safe, but good. To serve the poor we serve the not so poor. To grow deeper into each neighborhood, we are working to grow wider into more neighborhoods. To confront racial injustice we are engaging in hard internal conversations among our staff first. To be accessible, we must be excellent. To honor Jesus, we must be willing to give up the mission to save it and see it grow. This is more than it seems–more beautiful, broken, nuance and alive. To be committed to the city at The City School in Jesus’ name is more than I can ask for or even imagine.

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