Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Welcome to a school that is transformative

Students and teachers at Smithville Christian High School started the new school year by praising God in our opening chapel, and hearing that how we learn is as important as what we learn.

Being part of a Christian learning community doesn’t just mean that we start the day with devotions, and end the day with a closing prayer, or pray before lunch, said principal Ted Harris. We do all those things, but that isn’t what makes us Christian.

Instead, we are invited, through our learning, to “a better story,” Harris told students, quoting James K. A. Smith from his book, “Desiring the Kingdom.”

“The primary goal of Christian Education is the formation of a peculiar people – a people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their life’s expression of that desire,” Smith wrote.

But how do we guide students to make their lives an expression of the kingdom of God?

Teachers at Smithville Christian spent most of last week learning how to connect our school’s core purpose and values (see below) to that deep hope of God’s kingdom.

Joining teachers from Woodland Christian High School in Breslau (near Kitchener-Waterloo) and Quinte Christian High School in Belleville, Smithville Christian teachers were enrolled in the first lessons of “Teaching for Transformation” – a way of making the requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Education come alive by connecting the requirements to each teacher’s deep hope for their students, and culminating in formative learning experiences: often with real-world impact.

The logo for Teaching for Transformation, which was developed by Christian educators at the Prairie Centre for Christian Education, includes a boat, journeying towards a destination but having a ripple effect on the water around it. Teachers and students at Smithville Christian are in that boat together, Harris said, travelling towards something that is part of that better story of God’s love for creation and God’s plan, in Jesus, to redeem us and make us transformative partners in that kingdom.

It won’t happen in all classes and it won’t happen all at once, but students and parents should expect to see evidence of this transformation – how God is making all things new -- throughout the school year, Harris said.

“I hope the story of your year is a very beautiful one,” Harris told the students. “I hope you make the most of your high school experience, because not only are you hanging out with some cool peers, I think you have the best crew of teachers anywhere.”


First day also featured new MacBooks for the Class of 2026. Almost as fun as Christmas!

Friday, 3 December 2021

God is your rescuer

Spiritual Emphasis Week 2021 focused on the Smithville Christian High School’s spiritual life theme for the year: How Great is Our God.

In the fifth and final chapel of the week, spiritual life director Gord Park recapped the ideas shared so far:

  • The greatness of God is seen in the grandeur and complexity of creation.
  • God loves you with a wild, lavish, and excessive love.
  • God gives you the gifts of community and deep friendship.
  • God is always with you.

Finally, said Mr. Park, God is your rescuer – helping you whether you recognize it at the time or not.

Mr. Park shared a story about a teenage summer job he had once in a remote community in the BC interior. One day, during some time off, he and some friends were hanging out by a river, when Park decided to climb a nearby cliff. He made it to within a few feet of the summit when he ran out of handholds to go up and he couldn’t retrace his route back down.

As he clung to the cliff and wondered what to do, his arms and legs began to shake with fatigue. Below him was a rocky riverbed and certain death. Above him, he spied a root, just out of reach. Just as he was contemplating lunging towards the root, a friend’s face appeared over the edge of the cliff above him. Reaching out a hand, the friend pulled him to safety, and to the realization that the “root” was a loose branch that would have plunged him to the rocks below.

Park shared other anecdotes about times when he was led to step out and be a leader in situations where he least expected it, but looking back, he now sees that God’s hand was at work.

Students may not be willing or able to see it now, but God is working in your life, and wants you to put your trust in him, Park said.

In so many cases, random happenings or chance encounters mean “more than you know in the moment,” while you may also inadvertently reach out to grasp a root or some other thing that doesn’t help, or worse, actually puts you in danger.

“We each have to decide, where am I going to put my trust? In my grades? In my friends? In a girlfriend or boyfriend? In my talents or skills?” Park said. “Can I put my trust in my own strength?”

God wants to show you what he has created you to be. “Look for those moments,” Park said.

Members of student praise team Ablaze led in worship with “This is Amazing Grace,” “Our God,” and “Just Be Held.”

Today’s small group discussion questions were prepared by students in Grade 12.

  1. Do you pour milk in before your cereal, or cereal before milk?
  2. Where have you felt God reaching down towards you?
  3. What do you put your trust in?
  4. What do you want to put your trust in?
  5. What is one step you can make to further your commitment with God?

Thursday, 2 December 2021

God is always with you

At this time of year, many of us are thinking about presents, said spiritual life director Gord Park at the fourth chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week. But even more important than any gift we might receive – from God or anyone else – is the presence of God in our lives.

In Psalm 139: 2-12, the psalmist writes about God’s intimate knowledge of us, and in Isaiah 41:13, God promises to be with us and help us:

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you.”

God’s presence helps us go against the flow of the harmful voices that might encourage things like gossiping, cheating, lying, mistrusting others, being untrustworthy, or being lazy in our spiritual walk, Park said. But nevertheless, “we are going to get stuck” in difficult situations “more than once.” Then we can count on the fact that Jesus, who has overcome the world, has made us overcomers too.

It’s good for use to practice the presence of God in our lives, Park said, through worship, through studying the word of God, through recognizing God at work, and by thanking God. When we intentionally spend time in God’s presence, we are more able to live our day-to-day lives being aware of God’s presence, and seeing people with the eyes of Christ’s love for them.

Members of student praise team Breakthrough led in worship with “Who You Say I Am,” “Only King Forever,” and “Glorious Day.”

Today’s small group discussion questions were prepared by students in Grade 11.

  1. What is your favourite Christmas movie?
  2. If you had to pick one thing to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  3. Do you find yourself most often trying to receive God’s presents or his presence?
  4. What’s your immediate reaction to a troubling or difficult situation?
  5. How does it feel to know that we have a God who assures us that we have nothing to fear?
(Keep scrolling for more praise team photos.)

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

God loves good friends

God is a relational God, and his love for you changes the way you love your friends, said spiritual life director Gord Park. In the third chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week at Smithville Christian High School, Park said our relationship with God improves the quality of our friendships.

“How great is our God? He is so great he hard-wired us for great friendships,” Park said.

Jesus called us his friends, and God created us to love friendship, Park said. “We have been given the incredible gift to love and be loved.”

If you focus on having a good relationship with God, it can’t help but spill over into your relationships with others, he said, because you will be able to see people and love people the way God sees them and loves them. Smithville Christian High School intentionally creates opportunities for community to grow and flourish because of the relationships that teachers and staff have with God, Park said.

“Each of your teachers has a trust relationship with God,” and wants every student to be known, loved, and valued, and to share that with others. “It’s amazing how many people graduate from this school and stay friends, Park said. “Something good is happening here.”

Park ended his talk by leading students in a guided prayer, in which they thanked God for being made in God’s image, and prayed for God to be present in their friendships.

Student Praise Team Ablaze led in worship with

  • Great Things
  • Cornerstone
  • Reckless Love

Spiritual Emphasis Week took over the afternoon’s activities too, with groups of students, rotating by grade through a games room, an outdoor bonfire, an obstacle course, and a snack room with busking and karaoke.

“You can experience God’s greatness and love in your friendships,” Park encouraged the students. “Make yourself open to that.”


Tuesday, 30 November 2021

How great is the love of God

God’s love for you is excessive, wild, and lavish, students at Smithville Christian High School were told today.

In the second chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week, spiritual life director Gord Park read a Bible story from Luke 11, commonly known as The Prodigal Son.

“Prodigal means wild, excessive, lavish,” Park told students, and the son in the story is seen that way because he squanders his entire share of the family inheritance in wild living.

But the story is really about a prodigal father, Park said, because the father’s love for his wayward child is even more wild, lavish, and excessive than the son’s wasteful spending.

In the story Jesus tells, the father provides a robe, a ring, and sandals for his returning child, which the Jewish audience would have understood hearkened to a prophecy from the book of Ezekiel. The son had broken every rule of family loyalty and community standards, yet the father signals that his love, his blessing, and his generosity are not affected. “This is a sign that he is still family, a signal that he is to be honoured,” Park said.

The same is true for you, Park told students.

“No matter what you may have squandered, no matter what you may have done, God loves you.” God allows us free will, but pours love, grace, and mercy into our lives, even when we fail. Park said he prays that students profoundly experience God’s love for them.

Student praise team Breakthrough led in worship with

  • What a Beautiful Name - Hillsong
  • Faithful God - I AM THEY
  • How Great is Our God – Chris Tomlin
  • The River - Jordan Feliz

After lunch, small groups met for discussion. Today’s discussion questions were created by students in Grade 12.

  1. What are you most hoping for for Christmas?
  2. Do you identify in any way with the prodigal son?
  3. What have you seen of the reckless love of God in the world?
  4. What have you seen of the reckless love of God in your life?
  5. And are you hungry for that type of love?


Monday, 29 November 2021

How great is our God!

Spiritual Emphasis Week 2021 kicked off with Spiritual Life Director Gord Park inviting students to give each other – and themselves – permission to let God work in their lives this week. It might seem uncomfortable, or downright frightening – like Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus – but being part of a Christian learning community means we have an opportunity to grab hold of the things that God has prepared for us, Park said.

“Something is going on this week and it’s for you,” Park told the students, inviting them to say out loud to each other: “Whatever God wants to do with you today is okay with me.”

The theme for this week, and for the entire school year, is How Great is Our God, Park said. Reflecting on the greatness and grandeur of God is an opportunity to make God bigger in our lives and to minimize the things that undermine us or undermine our relationships with God or each other.

The magnificence and beauty of the universe – whether we look out into the galaxies or inward to the complexity of life – reveal the magnificence and presence of God, Park said. Knowing and worshipping God is not merely about getting into heaven, but being able to enjoy heaven on earth by allowing God to shape the way we live.

Maximizing God, and minimizing things that undermine our relationship with God also means that we listen to the messages of God’s love for us, and ignore negative thoughts that can intrude. “Maximize the potential God sees in you, don’t minimize who you are in God,” Park said.

Praise Team Ablaze led in worship with “Just Be Held,” “Another in the Fire,” and “One Way.”

There are prayer stations set up in the atrium and daily, student-led discussion groups.

Spiritual Emphasis Week continues with chapel every morning this week and a whole-school community-building event on Wednesday afternoon.


Monday, 13 September 2021

Moving forward, making space for grief

Students in the Smithville Christian High School Class of 2025 need to talk to each other and talk to God, they were told.

On Friday of their first week of high school – a week in which one of their classmates tragically died – the students gathered for their Grade 9 Blast. They started the morning with a chapel, to which their parents were also invited. Spiritual life director Gord Park told the students that he had prepared a talk about the power of friendship to transform our experiences, but the death of Morgan changed everything.

Morgan Caissie

“We are all shocked,” Park said. “We are numb, confused, maybe angry.”

Some students knew Morgan as a classmate. Some worked with him at a summer camp. Others were just getting to know him, Park said. “We don’t know what we are supposed to do, what we are supposed to say, or even what we are supposed to feel.”

Grade 9 students and their parents at the opening chapel
of the 2021 Grade 9 Blast.

The feelings – and the uncertainty – are all normal, Park said, and we may experience them shifting. “We may be crying one moment, and a few minutes later, you may find yourself laughing.” And then you might feel guilty about that. But students don’t need to feel guilt, “because you are going through grief.”

Spiritual Life Director, Gord Park

Park told the students that God’s heart for them is to get through the grief, “because I want to tell you a great truth about Morgan: Morgan and Jesus were friends. Morgan and Jesus *are* friends. Park said Morgan’s theme verse was Isaiah 12:2.

Surely God is my salvation;
               I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
               he has become my salvation.

In the gospel of John, Jesus promises his followers that he is their friend.  That confidence in the love and friendship of God can carry us forward, Park said. God is always with us, even when we are hurting. We are not going through this alone. God is an amazing friend, who desires to be our comfort and strength. Take time to connect with God – to read the Bible, to pray, to listen to worship music, to listen for the voice of God.

Park told students that in addition to talking to God, they need to reach out to friends – the ones you already have and the ones you are going to make. Being a new student at Smithville Christian means you can reach out to people who don’t know you. “Be friendly. Be a friend," Park said. "That’s what building good community is all about – being friendly, being a good friend, and putting Jesus in the middle of your friendship.”

We may be missing Morgan and want to honour his memory, but we can do that by reaching out to help each other and allowing God to help us, Park said.

He then invited students who knew Morgan from elementary school and summer camp to pay tribute to their friend, and one by one they came forward to talk about Morgan’s kindness, his jokes, his love for animals, and his ability to make others laugh.

Park said the best way to honour Morgan’s memory is to continue sharing stories and to do what Morgan did when he befriended a new student, making him feel like he belonged in a place when he was really scared. Park also urged students to both laugh and cry. “Take time to take care of yourself, and know you are not alone.”

Park concluded by praying a prayer of blessing on the students. He also prayed for God to turn the pain of losing a classmate into an opportunity for the students to experience comfort by being good friends to each other and building a strong community that cares for each other. Park also prayed for Morgan’s family.

The Grade 9 Blast continued with games, good food, and many opportunities for the students to relax and get to know each other. The school had a pastor and a counsellor on hand to meet one-on-one with students or staff, and students were reminded of the additional supports available to them as the school year gets underway.