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‘Released time’ Christian training expands among public school students

GREER, S.C.(BP)–It’s mid-morning on a weekday. Do you know where your children are?
Greer, S.C., about 320 middle-school students leave campus. Elsewhere in the state, 85 middle schoolers in Columbia walk up the street. In Ware Shoals, more than 175 students leave their elementary and middle schools. And, in Clover, that number reaches as high as 625 students. It’s beginning in Spartanburg, Abbeville and Blue Ridge, too.
Alarming? Hardly. These kids aren’t doing anything wrong; they are part of a “released time” program, which — although it’s been legal since the mid-1950s — is seeing a renewed interest among Christian parents.
“Released time is a time set aside in the school day when parents can release their children to leave campus to receive Christian training,” explains Grayson Hartgrove, who was recently appointed by Scripture Union, an interdenominational ministry, to develop the program in South Carolina as a national model.
In most situations, students are excused from study halls or physical education periods to attend a Christian learning center near the campus. These centers — organized and led by pastors and Christian leaders in the community — may be in homes, churches, leased buildings or even buses.
“Nationally, 65 percent of the students who attend released time are unchurched,” notes Hartgrove, a member of Shandon Baptist Church, Columbia. “Most of these go on to find a church home in one of the supporting churches.”
Hartgrove’s work involves equipping churches and communities to begin released time programs to aid in the spiritual and moral development of students. “Released time is the only ministry I know where you can reach kids during the school day with the message of Jesus Christ,” he stresses.
As for the program’s success, Joe Price, chairman of the board of directors for Greer’s Christian learning center, says, “We began with 120 students in December 1996, meeting two days a week.
the end of last school year, more than 300 students were attending, and 21 had made professions of faith.
“This year we’re holding classes four days a week, and there have been 32 more professions,” adds Price, a member of Apalache Baptist Church, Greer.
Roger Blankenship, director of Columbia’s Christian learning center, notes, “Through released time, we can offer moral and Christian instruction in a constitutionally permissible way.
“Students tell us they like these classes because they are curious about God and the Bible,” he adds. “Our aim is to show that the Bible is relevant to their daily lives.”
Information about piloting a released time program may be obtained by phoning 1-800-334-2186.

    About the Author

  • Todd Deaton