Old church, school, led by new faces
By Mark Sherry
Trinity Lutheran Day Care youths got an up-close look at a big tractor recently. Special events and activities are regularly held for the youths.
Trinity Lutheran School-Rantoul Principal Pete Monfre read a story to students.

Some fresh faces are leading a church and school which have been in the town of Rantoul for about a century and a half.

Pete Monfre now has one year under his belt as principal at Trinity Lutheran School—which is about twice as long as the Rev. Patrick Niles has been pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. The Rev. Niles was installed as pastor in early January of this year.

But both men seem at home at the rural church, school and day care center, the latter of which is directed by Leah Meyer. The church and school have been around for about 150 years; the modern day care center is much newer. All three continue to serve the same goal today as they did when each was created—serving the Triune God by tending to His flock.

“I was amazed by how much the families of our school get involved,” Monfre said as he looked back on his first year as principal. “Parents do everything they can to help the school. I was excited about working with the smaller classes.” On that note Monfre said the school will have a 7.5 to 1 ratio of students to teachers this fall.

Getting to know all the students

He also said he was impressed by how well he got to know all the students in the school. “I personally got to work with everyone,” he said, whether it was in computer class, lunch, recess or elsewhere. “It gave us a chance to not just teach them science and math but also work with them spiritually. It gives them a voice to be heard.”

Pastor Niles began being a big part of that when he arrived in time for second semester of this past school year. He calls the school the “hub of the ministry” and is there often, well beyond just teaching seventh and eighth grade religion class during the school day.

“It’s been great,” he said of his first few months here. The congregation at which he previously served had a larger school, and the Rev. Niles said, “This year I was able to witness the blessing of small school size.” He and wife Katrina have three young children—Isaiah, Addyson, and Emma—who are already experiencing the benefits of a small, Lutheran-based school and day care. “I saw this care the older kids had for the younger kids,” Pastor Niles said. “It’s been an incredible year.”

Pastor Niles previously served six years as associate pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Concordia, Mo. He worked in youth ministry, parish education, and evangelism along with the normal duties of the pastoral office. He is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and a 2004 graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon. He grew up in Evansville, Ind., and said he enjoys sports—especially basketball—along with reading, writing, and learning.

All three work as one

Both Pastor Niles and Monfre are complimentary of what the other has brought to Trinity Lutheran, and both say the Trinity Lutheran Day Care is an important part of the past, present and future there.

“We’re all one family,” Monfre said. “They’re all together. The congregation is very supportive of all three.” Pastor Niles added, “I’ve been referring to ourselves as Trinity Lutheran Ministries.” People from all three—the church, school and day care—do activities together, such as a recent summer outing at the outdoor theatre in Chilton.

It is important to note that youths do not have to be members of Trinity Lutheran Church or even have any religious affiliation to attend either the school or day care. Students will be exposed to the Christ-centered teachings of the Lutheran Church in both buildings through classes, mealtime prayers, religious stories, etc.

Enrollment at the day care has continued to grow and is nearing capacity, perhaps in part because the facility makes things easy for parents. It is open from 6 a. m. to 6 p. m., they charge by the hour rather than by the day or week, and drop-in and after-school care is offered as well. The facility is relatively new, is located next door to the school, has ample fenced-in outdoor play space, and has the ability to begin serving children as young as 6 weeks old. In addition, day care children receive home-cooked meals and snacks.

Upgrades at the school

Back across the parking lot and playground at the school, Monfre said all upper graders will have Chromebooks to use this year. “The kids have almost constant contact with technology,” he said.

In addition, a new music curriculum is in place. A youth handbell choir is offered, and an all-school musical is held each spring at the Engler Center for the Performing Arts in Chilton. “Every kid has an important part,” Monfre said.

Every Trinity Lutheran School student is also taught Spanish as part of a K-8 program.

Monfre and Pastor Niles both referred to the support the congregation provides to all aspects of Trinity Lutheran, so much support that their primary concern with school enrollment numbers is simply trying to reach more people with the word of God.

Monfre pointed out that one of the primary goals of Trinity Lutheran is right in the congregation’s by-laws: “By any means possible to provide Christian education.”

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