Rev. Dwight Strain is the Registrar of Waterloo North Presbyterian Culture College.
What is a Culture College? As long as we can remember, churches of all denominations have struggled to find imaginative programs that involve the maximum number of youth that require the minimum financial and human resources. Costs, plus limitations and qualified experienced personnel have seen the demise of several programs once very common and even for a time thought to be essential. What can the small-to-medium-size congregation do when faced with all of the challenges stated above?
At Waterloo North Presbyterian Church we have instituted a program which involves two generations of the congregation and reaches out to the community in a unique way. Programs such as Scouts, Guides, etc., and the newer Christian Service Brigade and Pioneer Girls programs require long-term commitments and some training to provide initial leadership and on-going upgrading of skills.
With church budgets being stretched to the limit or even cut, we must now try to find programs that are at least revenue neutral. We must develop innovative ways to provide full service while not appearing to be conforming to extreme financial restraints. Programs must address the concerns and ambitions of both students and parents as well as the community at large which is most distressed with the apparent direction of the young. It is difficult to interest young people in a program over the long haul and we have found that the Culture College concept addresses all of these concerns. The writer has long been a believer that cost and effect need not be related when handled with imagination.
Some of the advantages of a culture program target different age groups. Initially we addressed the 8 to 14-year-olds with programs such as Instrumental Music — level one, wood carving, baking and cooking and model building. Although perhaps three times that many courses were offered, each student indicates a first, second and third choice at the time of registration. Some courses are 10 to 12 weeks in length and each course has a course number assigned and the program structure is not unlike that of a community college.
It is interesting to note that hi tech courses have not been offered for obvious reasons but what is more interesting is that they have not been requested so it would appear that hands-on skills are still sought today as in yesteryear.
The Culture College program is adjusted on an on-going basis as requests for changes come from parents and students. The 10 to 12 week periods are called semesters and two semesters make up one church year. Credit is given in the form of credit hours for each course completed and those who complete 100 hours or approximately 10 programs are considered graduates. Diplomas are presented at the conclusion of each semester and a suitable recognition time is held during the Sunday morning service to which all students and parents are invited.
We have found that the parents have requested courses and in the initial semester many parents came in and actually assisted and in some cases learned beside their children. We have found that the ethnic community in our suburban area has been most anxious to assist in any way and so we have students of other world religions as well as unchurched.
Courses interesting adults appear to be genealogy, floral arranging, wood carving and baking. Instrumental music courses are a cooperative effort between a musical instrument dealer, the instructors, and the college. In the second semester we have offered second-level courses to those interested as well as new courses and all which fit all available instructors, resources and students.
While we do not charge for the courses, we have asked for a $5 registration fee and for those for whom the fee would be a financial hardship, a simple "X" marked in the "Scholarship Required" box solves that problem. Materials vary from the cost of a model kit ($15) to rental of a musical instrument for $100/year to little or no cost for wood carving, baking, genealogy or floral arranging. Flowers are obtained from local funeral homes and are beautifully recycled into attractive arrangements that each student takes home weekly for family, friends or shut-ins.
A choral music component is mandatory for each course and approximately 20 minutes per week is spent teaching unison singing and sight reading of familiar children's hymns. It is obvious that this leads to the formation of an "instant" Junior Choir.
At Waterloo North we have found the congregation extremely active and supportive in this venture. There are no start up costs due to the fact that news releases are released on a timely basis to the media and the resulting news stores result in registrations.
What are the pitfalls of such a program? We firmly believe that if the instructors, facilities and materials are all available, the Culture College may be an answer to problems facing the modern congregations.