ORRINGTON, Maine — The faculty, staff and students at Calvary Chapel Christian School are feeling a bit like Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead.
Members of the financial board for Calvary Chapel Church that oversees the K-12 school and preschool made the difficult decision Wednesday, July 11, to close its doors this summer, Principal Eric Meyerson said Thursday.
Four days later, an anonymous donor offered the school a $100,000 gift to allow it to continue operating for the 2012-2013 school year.
“The school was dead,” Meyerson said Thursday. “We had our usual Sunday services and that night our pastor called me to say that somebody had been led by the Lord to donate $100,000 to the school. This person wants to remain anonymous. As it says in Matthew 6:3-8, he doesn’t want the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.”
Meyerson and his staff agree that the gift was a miracle and an answer to the prayers of the congregation.
“It had to be an act of God for someone to give this much,” the principal said. “It’s not like, someone said, here’s $20 or even $100. This is God providing a miracle for the school. The school was dead.”
Meyerson said that for him the parallels to the account of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11:1-45 are striking. The brother of Martha and Mary was dead four days as was the school.
Pastor Ken Graves agreed. He said Saturday that in the past the church has been able to make up for the school’s financial shortfalls.
“With our recent church plant in Old Town and the recession, we couldn’t take care of that this year,” he said.
At Sunday services on July 15, Graves said he was holding “a funeral for the school.” During the evening service, a congregant asked, “How short are you for the school?”
“I said, ‘It would take a check for $100,000 for me to believe God even wants us to do that,’” Graves said.
After the service, the anonymous donor came forward to tell the pastor he had the financial means to help the school and felt God wanted him to do so.
Calvary Chapel Christian School opened its doors 10 years ago after the church purchased the former North Orrington School from the town in late 2001. In 2004, the fledgling school’s basketball team won the Class D state championship title in a series of come-from-behind wins.
Although Calvary Chapel school always has been small compared to Bangor Christian Schools, founded by Bangor Baptist Church, it had enough students to support itself until the economic recession hit Maine families hard.
Two years ago, 160 students were enrolled at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, according to Meyerson. When the decision was made to shut down, just 60 students had committed to attending this fall. The school needs tuition from 80 students to break even, he said.
As the students were forced to leave the school, the church’s home school cooperative exploded as parents took their responsibility to teach their children to heart, the principal said.
Nearly half of 112 students who have graduated from the school go on to participate some sort of ministry, the principal said. Two graduates, Emilye Colby, 24, of Dedham and Haily Chase, 25, of Brewer, are teachers at the school.
“I basically came to the Lord through this school and the Lord just revealed his plan to me by coming to this school,” Chase, who graduated from the University of Maine Farmington, said Thursday. “I don’t know if I would have gone to college, I don’t would have become a teacher, if it hadn’t been for the Lord meeting me through this school and through the teachers praying for me.”
Colby was the second student after Graves’s daughter to enroll in the school a decade ago. The teacher entered the fifth grade after a difficult year in public school where she was bullied and struggled with learning disabilities. She thrived in the small-school atmosphere where she felt safe and trusted her teachers and her peers.
When Colby heard the school would close, initially, she was angry. One of her students set her straight, the teacher said Thursday.
“One of our seniors totally convicted me on Facebook,” she said. “This student posted, “God’s ways are higher than our ways. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and not in your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path.’
“That was like, wow, I’m supposed to be teaching these kids and they’ve totally convicted me and reminded me what this is about,” Colby said. “So, I just kept praying that God would do his will, whatever that would be. “When I found out the school was going to stay open, I started crying and admitting, I don’t deserve you lord for my unbelief. God is so much greater than us and our insecurities.”
Parents too were surprised and grateful the anonymous donor came forward.
Terri Butcher, 46 of Bangor teaches Sunday school at the church and in the preschool program at the school. She said that when she told her daughter, who will be a sophomore this fall, the girl burst into tears with joy and relief.
“In teaching the children here, we talk to about all the miracles that happened” in the Bible, she said. “To be able to share with them a real life one happening now, that was not just history, was exciting,” she said Thursday.
The school’s long-term financial picture still is uncertain, the principal said. The staff who was laid off will not be brought back and the pay cuts remain in place.
Meyerson said that outside of the financial committee, he and other school staff members have not done a good job of letting church members and the Christian community in northern Maine know what it takes to keep the school going or how successful its graduates have been.
“We have seen that the Lord will provide,” Meyerson said. “Our mistake was not making our needs known.”
It’s mistake he doesn’t plan on repeating.