By: Joel Bratt, Director of High School Education
For those of you who don’t know me, a word of introduction. My name is Joel Bratt, and I am the Director of High School Education. I have been teaching English at SCS since the year 2000. Before that I taught for three years at my alma mater, Grand Rapids Christian High, and the four years prior to that at J.Sterling Morton High High School in Cicero, Illinois. I have an MA in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois and a BA in English and Secondary Education from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
My wife, Dr. Cheryl (Alberda) Bratt, is an alumna of this school, class of ‘86. Her three siblings and their spouses are also alumni. Bern and Verna Alberda, her parents, have been longtime supporters of the school. My mother-in-law, Verna, started teaching at Watson Groen Christian School (now Shoreline Christian School) in 1964 as a 1st/2nd grade combined classroom teacher, started the preschool program in 1973, served as the first director of the preschool program, worked as the elementary reading specialist until her retirement, and continues to this day to work as a volunteer reading specialist in the elementary school. Bern has served on countless school boards and as the unofficial-on-call-during-games physician to most sports teams and sporting events. In addition, our oldest son Nicholas graduated from SCS in 2015 and is now a senior at Whitworth University, and our youngest son Aaron is now a senior at SCS.
Some have accused me of marrying into a dynasty; I say the heart wants what the heart wants.
Take 10 Steps Back
I think I have a unique vantage point from which to observe the changing times. I have been steeped in the culture that built this school from the ground up, and I have taught and lived and parented with this community for nearly 20 years. I have heard stories about how the school started in the basement of a house; how the class of ‘66 or ‘67 (depending on who you ask) started the “build the gym” project with a penny drive for a building that didn’t see its completion until 1974; how Denny Roosendaal and John Verwolf (math teacher and school principal respectively) nearly shot and/or clubbed the other (respectively) in the dark of night (neither knowing the other was there) as they were both guarding and protecting the then burgled and vandalized high school building; how the community responded in 1988 to the death of Greg Van Mersbergen (‘85), in 1991 to the deaths of Jim Cunningham (‘89) and Brad Francisco (‘89), and to the news that Paul Manor (‘05) had died of heart complications on the senior class trip. I remember reading the email with the news of the passing of Nancy Kamerman Colon, the result of a car crash - she was our 2nd grade teacher, and she was beloved. I know about the lean years of the school when the faculty actually gave back some of their pay to keep the school open. I know of the quiet, unassuming, humble immigrants and descendents of immigrants who scrimped and saved to pay for Christian education and of the churches who took offerings and collections to ensure that all families could join in. And I have been here for the celebration of the school's 50th anniversary as well as its 65th. I know of the heartache and of the joy, celebrating with those who celebrate, mourning with those who mourn.
But I also see the road ahead; good things are afoot. I am energized by the work that is being done here; I love to think about what this place is and what this place will be. The work of this school, together, is good work with kingdom value. And what is happening today would resonate with those who have gone before.
The more things change...
This year many things are new, many things have changed. In the words ahead I would like to list some of the changes that have happened just this year and then set them against the backdrop of our school’s historic mission, vision, and heritage -- where today’s play becomes tomorrow’s yesterday.
The new: a new Head of School, new directors for newly formed schools, new teaching positions. new staff in the main office, new staff and restructuring of the finance department, new director of admissions, and a new fundraising structure. New paint, new flooring, new lighting, new furniture, new ceilings, new music room. A new school board.
These are some of the new things that have happened. And, in a sense, I guess you could say that we are making them happen; but in another sense, they have happened to us -- two ends of the same bridge. These were the needed results of the change that came. But these “instances of new” only fall under a much larger canopy of “making all things new.”
...the more they stay the same
As you might know, our theme verse for the year is from Revelation 5: “And He who is seated on the throne said, I am making all things new.”
The people of faith who started this school in 1952 were for the most part Dutch Calvinists who would have agreed with our school’s mission statement: we celebrate that everything belongs to God; we respond to God’s good gifts by developing our own talents, gifts, and abilities; so that we may use them to transform our culture, to heal what is broken, and to be agents of Shalom.
Today our school of 200+ is comprised of families representing at least 70 different churches from the Seattle area (many of whom are neither Dutch nor Calvinist). But, as a school, a faculty, a staff, and a community, we rest in the knowledge that we are created in the image of The Creator, and as followers of Jesus we commit to continuing to do his work of piecing and peacing together a broken world, of joining in the work of “making all things new.”
Two quotations that make this clear for me come from Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and Nicholas Wolterstorff. The first is Plantinga’s description of our work, the second is Wolterstorff’s definition of Shalom.
Supposing that hospitality means to make room for others and then to help them flourish in the room you have made, I think we could say that hospitality thrives within the triune life of God and then spreads wonderfully to the creatures of God…According to God’s intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself…The idea is that if -- in a band of disciples, in a family, in a college [at SCS] -- people encourage each other with blessings customized to fit the other person’s need, what transpires is a lovely burst of Shalom.*
Cornelius Plantinga Jr., from: Engaging God’s World
The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfilment, and delight...far more than a mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight -- a state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
Nicholas Wolterstorff (qtd. in Plantinga), from: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: a Breviary of Sin
Joining in the work of “making things new” is in the DNA of our school. Many things this year are new, and we continue to partner with God and with each other in a Rescue Mission lead by a God who Remembers us.
How good it is to work with you. How good it is when we encourage each other with blessings customized to fit the other person’s need.
I look forward to a great year and many more to come.