At a time when many Lutheran schools are closing, the campus across the street from Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, plans to welcome a record 185 students this academic year.
Since Concordia University School-Pilgrim Campus (CUS-Pilgrim Campus) opened in 2012, it has added a new grade and more students each year. It’s also nearing completion of a $1.5 million, multiphase renovation, made possible with the help of Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF).
Without LCEF support, CUS-Pilgrim would not be providing an “unabashedly and unapologetically Lutheran education,” says Richard Laabs, president of Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative (LUMIN), the Milwaukee-based network that incudes CUS-Pilgrim Campus and five other Lutheran schools in the LCMS South Wisconsin District.
“With LCEF’s help, we’ve been able to expand, renovate and make these schools welcoming to 1,600 children,” Laabs said. “LCEF has played a vital role, providing the kind of support we couldn’t get from a local bank.”
While a bank considers old school buildings undesirable, “LCEF understands the potential and the impact these schools can have,” he said. “Without LCEF, we couldn’t do what we’re doing.”
Academic Rigor, Spiritual Growth
Christian education has long been important to congregants at Pilgrim Lutheran Church. Even before they established their church, they opened a school in 1928.
After 80 years, declining enrollment forced the school to close–until another door opened.
When the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program expanded to include Pilgrim’s location, the church and LUMIN joined forces to reopen the school and resume Christian education in 2012.
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program provides vouchers for education costs and “extends choice to low-income families, giving them the ability to send their children to a school they previously had no means to afford,” Laabs said.
“We were blessed to be the only LCMS school that opened” in 2012, Laabs said. “We didn’t realize it at the time but, obviously, that’s very special.”
The response to the school has exceeded expectations.
“We’ve grown more rapidly than we originally anticipated,” Laabs said of the school that began with 75 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
This year, CUS-Pilgrim Campus added seventh grade. Plans are in the works to include eighth grade next fall.
“Enrollment demand has been so strong we accelerated our [renovation] plans,” Laabs said. The extensive remodeling includes asbestos abatement; new flooring, ceilings and lighting; renovated cafeteria and bathrooms.
Nearly every CUS-Pilgrim Campus student comes from a low-income family who qualifies for the voucher as well as free and reduced-lunch programs. Ninety percent are African-American.
Although the school is Lutheran, few students are Lutheran. Some are Christian, but many have no faith affiliation.
But, Laabs said, the parents “appreciate that we teach from a Christian worldview, and that the religion side of what we do permeates everything we do–chapel service, religion class, [academic] classes and conversations. They know what they’re getting and appreciate what they’re getting.”
He credits referrals for the growing enrollment. “Parents are pleased with all aspects of the school, from the academic rigor to the spiritual aspect,” Laabs said.
Mission-Minded’ Loan Support
CUS-Pilgrim Campus is the second site of LUMIN’s flagship school, Concordia University School-Granville Campus, which opened in 2005. Like Pilgrim, the Granville location resumed after an LCMS school–Nazareth Lutheran School–shuttered.
Five of the LUMIN schools formerly were operated by Milwaukee area LCMS congregations that fell on financial challenges. The Renaissance School in Racine previously had been affiliated with a privately owned secular school. (For more about LUMIN schools, visit luminschools.org.)
LUMIN–a nonprofit and LCMS Recognized Service Organization–operates each school, leasing space from the churches or organizations that own them.
Today, Pilgrim Lutheran Church remains involved with the CUS-Pilgrim campus. Congregants serve as volunteers and the church’s pastor, the Rev. Paul Peckman, “is in school every day, talking with the kids,” Laabs said. “He’s always inviting families to church.”
At least 10 CUS-Pilgrim Campus students were baptized last year.
“If Pilgrim didn’t exist, 185 children more than likely would not be attending a Lutheran school,” Laabs said.
Likewise, all six LUMIN schools are operating today with the help of nearly $10 million in crucial loan support made possible by LCEF investors, Laabs said.
“We can’t tell you how much we sincerely appreciate what LCEF does. It’s because of LCEF that Pilgrim and our five other schools can extend Lutheran education to 1,600 kids,” he said. “LCEF is so mission-minded.”
To learn more about how LCEF investments build ministry, visit lcef.org.