'By the Book' religious education program to resume in December

Instructors for the “By the Book” program, shown in one of the program’s mobile classrooms, are (from left) Katie Mower, Mary Clark, Debbie Hersey and Director Teri Shiflett.
Instructors for the “By the Book” program, shown in one of the program’s mobile classrooms, are (from left) Katie Mower, Mary Clark, Debbie Hersey and Director Teri Shiflett. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Moving forward on faith - faith that the necessary volunteers and cash will be forthcoming - the board of the Associated Churches of Huntington County plans to resume its "By the Book" weekday religious education program in December.

The program, which offers weekly Bible-based instruction to third and fourth grade students in the county's public schools, was halted in March as the result of an injunction issued from a lawsuit filed by an unidentified parent objecting to the presence of the mobile classroom on school property.

When the program resumes, Associated Churches board member David Ruble says, the "Bible trailer" will be set up on privately-owned land or municipally-owned property near or adjacent to eight Huntington County Community School Corporation elementary schools.

"We have six ready to go, and we're working on two more," Ruble told a group of about 75 people who came to the First Church of the Nazarene on Thursday, Nov. 19, to hear that announcement.

At seven of the eight schools, he said, students will be able to walk to the trailer. Students at Lincoln, he added, will be driven to Bethel Assembly of God, where the trailer for that school's classes will be parked.

Students must have permission to attend the once-a-week classes. Because a legal settlement prohibits teachers or other school staff members from distributing those permission slips, By the Book Director Teri Shiflett said she and the program instructors had visited each classroom before the start of the school day the week of Nov. 16 to place permission slips on each student's desk.

Shiflett, in her first year as director of the program, introduced the three instructors for the program - Kathie Mower, Mary Clark and Debbie Hersey - who recounted their experiences with the children who have participated in the classes.

"I've seen the differences made in kids' lives," Mower said.

When the classes were halted, Mower said, one of her students sent her a letter saying, "Don't worry. God will do something." A former student, now a high school junior, told her the Bible classes had given her the strength to deal with being "subjected to being taught the theory of evolution without hearing the other side."
Hersey, who joined the staff in January 2008, spoke of the "tremendous responsibility" she felt while leading the classes.

"I am representing God to them," she said.

"This is their church," said Mary Clark, a By the Book instructor for 10 years. "Thank you so much for helping to bring their church back to them."

Shiflett, who served as a children's pastor at Bethel Assembly of God Church before accepting the By the Book position, held herself up as an example of how hearing God's word can change a life.

"I grew up with alcoholic parents in a home where God was not discussed," she said. "We really had no working knowledge of who God was and what he had done for us."

By age 28, she says, she was a single mom with two children and two failed marriages who was no stranger to alcohol, drugs and promiscuity. Then she met Jack, the man who is now her husband, who eventually convinced her to accompany him to church -- a decision that changed her life.

She says Huntington County children deserve that chance, too.

"There are many problems that these third and fourth grade kids are facing," she says.

By the Book depends on donations and is offering supporters the opportunity to sponsor one child at a cost of $52 a year. Other fundraisers are in place to help cover the annual $49,000 cost of the program, which will also need volunteers to walk children from their schools to the mobile classrooms.

All but one of the locations for the mobile classrooms are within easy walking distance of the school it serves, Ruble said.

Finding a site for the trailer at Lincoln, he said, was "a real struggle." In the end, the trailer was located a quarter-mile west of the school entrance at Bethel Assembly of God Church. Lincoln students will be driven to classes there in a 15-passenger van.

At Andrews and Roanoke schools, the Associated Churches received permission from the town councils to place the trailers on municipal property.

At Andrews, the trailer will be parked on Jefferson Street adjacent to the school.

At Roanoke, the trailer will be parked on an alley easement at the front of the school.

The Associated Churches was able to acquire privately-owned property to serve as a site for the trailer near other elementary schools.

At Lancaster, the trailer will be located on the south side of the median on the south side of the school.

Bill Zimmer provided property next to Flint Springs as a trailer site. The site is just off the east parking lot and a walkway has been placed between the parking lot and the trailer location.

At Horace Mann, Ruble said, the organization is "wrapping up" the acquisition of property just across Waterworks Road from the school entrance.

The Northwest trailer site is located off the east parking lot, with a walkway also installed there from the school to the trailer.

At Salamonie, Ruble said, the trailer will be located across CR 900S on the north side of the school. The site is now a corn field, and the organization is waiting until the crops are harvested to prepare the site.
Each of the sites will have electricity installed, he said.