Peggy Schauer: A Crossings Case Study

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Article by Bruce Modahl

Peggy Schauer says her seminary education began at the kitchen table with her father as her teacher. He was a student at an Episcopal seminary before circumstances took him a different direction. Her theological education continued under the tutelage of J.S. Bach whom she calls “my favorite theologian.” A bassoonist, she earned a degree in music education from Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, which has the oldest collegiate Bach festival in the country.

Her first job after graduation was at Holy Family Catholic School in a Cleveland suburb. In addition to classroom duties, she played the organ for weekly mass and directed the marching band for a neighboring Catholic high school. There she met her husband, contracted from the Cleveland Clinic as an athletic trainer for the high school.

Applying for a job at a public magnet school, the Cleveland School of the Arts, Peggy worked with the students for an hour in band rehearsal. She said, “At the end of the hour I would have worked there for free. Even though it was a magnet school I had students that could not read and struggled in math. I started tutoring my students. There were many difficult things going on in their homes and neighborhoods. I found myself asking my kids in this public school, ‘Do you go to church? Have you read the bible?’

“A district school superintendent who regularly came to visit my classroom kept telling me, ‘You should be a principal.’ With that encouragement and wanting to make a greater impact, I enrolled at Cleveland State and received a master’s degree in educational leadership. With my teaching experience I can be an elementary or high school principal.

“I left the classroom to be an assistant principal and then principal in Cleveland schools. It was those experiences that led me to want to lead a Lutheran school so I could really get at mind, body, spirit education for my students and families.

“My daughter was attending Messiah Lutheran School near where we live. I visited the principal and said, ‘I want to start a Lutheran school in the inner city. Do you have any advice?’ The principal said ‘There already is one and the principal there is retiring.’ Turned out the school, Luther Memorial, also had an arts focus. The school had 56 students and was housed in a church which had a membership of 12.

“After the first year at Luther Memorial, we enrolled both of our daughters at LMS because I didn’t want to lead a school I wouldn’t send my own kids to. They were in 1st and 4th grade their first year at LMS. We all agree it was a wonderful experience and helped shape the young adults they are today. Morgan is in college to become an elementary school teacher in urban schools with a focus on refugee students. Ellie aspires to be a nurse. Their work side by side with me at LMS had much to do with these paths and I’m so thankful.

“After two years we outgrew the building. Across town, a Lutheran church had just closed its school so we moved into their facilities and continued to grow. We were recognized as one of the best urban schools in the nation. Now the school has 250 students on two campuses.”

This did not happen without controversy and heartbreak. The pastor retired from the church whose facilities the school rented. A new pastor arrived with different expectations. At a spring concert a non-Lutheran clergywoman, looking for a working microphone, stepped into the pulpit to lead a prayer. Not long after that, the pastor of the school’s host church arrived with an envelope containing an eviction notice for the school. The pastor blamed Peggy for breaking the rules by having a female pastor not of their denomination in the pulpit. Peggy appealed the decision saying, “If I go, can the school stay?” The answer was yes.

Above you can watch a video of Peggy narrating these events from a presentation during last year’s conference. During his conference presentation, Jerry Burce walked conference attendees through Mark’s Gospel. He invited Peggy to speak in order to give currency to Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on the temple, “The time is coming when not one stone will be left on top of another.” Jerry pointed out that Jesus spoke these words after witnessing the widow putting her two mites, all she had to live on, into the temple treasury. The religious institution was charged with protecting and providing for the widows and orphans. The institution was dysfunctional and stood under God’s judgment. So also the church in our day displays its dysfunction.

Peggy added the following update. “The pastor that was willing to evict the school baptized a large group of LMS kids around May (after my talk at Crossings) of this year. Again, God doesn’t give up on any of us. Hearts and minds can change. Thanks be to God!”

Peggy went back to public education after this. She was invited to open Eagle Academy, a high school at the John F. Kennedy School, located in one of Cleveland’s roughest neighborhoods. She said, “In two years we lost nine students to violence. I began asking students the same questions of faith and Scripture and church that I asked the students at the first public school in which I taught. I invited local pastors to walk the halls with me.”

In the beginning, Peggy was able to choose the faculty members of the school. She was not authorized to continue that practice. At the end of her second year, she resigned because she did not have confidence in the faculty. She began wondering how she could get back to faith-based ministry. After sharing this quest with her pastor, Jerry Burce, he invited her to attend the Crossings Conference.

While principal of Lutheran Memorial, she enrolled in the PhD program in Urban Studies at Cleveland State. She finished her degree while she was principal of Eagle Academy. Her research focused on teacher identity. As she continues her research she is looking at faith formation as a component of that identity. She says, “My big question is ‘Who is a great teacher for low-income and minority students?’ I believe teacher identity is inseparable from who I am as a person–my experiences, my connections with others and my faith.”

Beginning in the fall term of 2018, Peggy assumed an assistant professorship in secondary education at John Carroll University. She wanted a faith-based school; John Carroll is a Jesuit university. Located minutes away from where her nine students lost their lives, she will be teaching those preparing to be middle and high school teachers in a university operating under the Jesuit motto of “People with Others” and a stated focus on social justice and service to those living on the margins of our society.

John Carroll partners with a nearby Roman Catholic seminary where she can take classes. She said, “If I take Greek or Old Testament or New Testament and later decide God is calling me to ordained ministry, certainly I could transfer those courses to a Lutheran Seminary; couldn’t I?”