Praying for safe schools

The start of the school year comes with typical feelings of excitement and anticipation, but concerns about school safety are ever-present.

As schools welcome back students from summer break, the atmosphere of apprehension has inspired a group of local churches to harness prayer in hopes of keeping people safe.

The Center Grove-area congregations, led by Mount Pleasant Christian Church, have distributed window clings to their members to place on the inside of their windshields. Each cling encourages people to “Pray Always for Staff and Students,” and the hope is that it will remind people to say a small prayer as they pass local schools.

Obviously, the solution to the ongoing problem of school violence is complex and will require concrete actions by the community, said Chris Philbeck, pastor of Mount Pleasant Christian Church. Still, an opportunity to pray for the safety of everyone in local schools could make a big impact.

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“There are other steps that need to be taken. I don’t want anyone to think I’m minimizing any other efforts. We certainly need to come up with plans of safety and security for our schools. But this is something who anyone who is a believer can be involved in, and it’s really simple,” Philbeck said.

The idea to distribute the window clings stemmed from a back-to-school tradition at Mount Pleasant. Each year, the church devotes a weekend in late July exclusively to praying for students, teachers, administrators and support staff within the schools.

Special hymns and sermons focused specifically on all aspects of the school year. Students and everyone else involved with schools — from cafeteria assistants to bus drivers to school board members — were invited to come to the front of the church during the service to receive prayers from the congregation.

“We try not to leave anyone out,” Philbeck said. “It’s always cool to see how many people in our church serve in one of those capacities.”

The same kind of worship service was planned for this year as well. But in the spring, Philbeck had an idea to supplement it. In the midst of a spate of school shootings, he felt compelled to reach the larger community with prayer for school safety.

“I’m just like everybody else: I’m always heartbroken whenever I read or hear about another school shooting. It’s just so senseless and so tragic,” he said. “Each one opens up the public debate about the kind of steps that can be taken to keep that from happening. We always think, in light of those things, how can we get involved?”

Philbeck had a habit of saying a short prayer for his granddaughter, Grace, whenever he passed her elementary school. He’d also say a silent blessing to protect other students and teachers driving by other schools.

Maybe he could challenge other people to do something similar whenever they passed a school, he thought.

Calling it the P.A.S.S. Challenge, Philbeck and other church leaders asked the congregation to pray and support those involved with the schools. In hopes of making it a community-wide effort, they reached out to other White River Township churches to see if they wanted to pass out the window clings as well.

Four other churches signed on: Southland Community Church, SS. Francis and Clare Catholic Church, Risen Lord Lutheran Church and Bluff Creek Christian Church.

In the final week of July, Mount Pleasant received thousands of window clings. The 1-inch-by-1-inch square decal is emblazoned with the acronym “P.A.S.S.” They attached each one on a sheet of paper to be inserted into the weekly bulletins, along with a pair of Bible verses focused on continual prayer.

Church leaders also distributed more than 1,000 of the clings to the other churches involved.

The clings are also available to people who don’t go to the participating churches. Anyone who would like one only needs to contact Mount Pleasant to receive one, Philbeck said.

“The hope is that we could get thousands of people on the southside of Indianapolis to pray for the safety of students and staff of our schools; that would be a good thing,” he said.

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P.A.S.S. Window Clings

What: A group of Center Grove-area churches, led by Mount Pleasant Christian Church, distributed window clings that attach to the inside of people’s windshields. The decals ask people to “Pray Always for Staff and Students”

Why: The distribution is an effort to get people to pray for children and staff members to be safe as schools return from summer break.

Who: Participating churches include Mount Pleasant Christian Church, Southland Community Church, SS. Francis and Clare Catholic Church, Risen Lord Lutheran Church and Bluff Creek Christian Church.

How to get one: Contact Johnette Cruz at [email protected] to get a cling.