Volunteers from a global evangelical group are no longer welcome in Delta public schools.
That message was delivered recently by school superintendent Dianne Turner after The Vancouver Sun published a story about the Pais Project and its success in placing young missionaries in two schools — South Delta secondary and University Hill secondary in Vancouver.
"The Delta school district is strictly secular, operating on non-sectarian principles, and therefore promotion of religious views is prohibited in our schools," Turner stated in a letter to parents, some of whom had complained after reading the Sun story. "We take this regulation of the School Act, Section 76, very seriously."
Earlier this year, Pais volunteers approached South Delta principal Helene Gaudreault several times seeking permission to volunteer in the school, but she refused and told them not to contact teachers or students directly, Turner said. Gaudreault did agree, however, that they could help paint sets for a school play, which happened on three occasions.
After that, Pais members approached a teacher directly and asked if they could tutor students.
"The school principal was alerted to their ongoing attempts to volunteer at the school and called them into a meeting," Turner wrote in her letter. "They were firmly informed that they had breached the principal's regulations and were not welcome back in the school."
The Pais Project, which describes its work as 'missionaries making missionaries,' still has volunteers at University Hill, providing individual tutoring and coaching sports teams after hours.
Earlier, on its Facebook page, the group said its young workers were also "taking advantage of every opportunity to build up strong relationships with these students [and] to share God's unconditional love with them."
A volunteer from another evangelical group, Young Life, has been helping at Kitsilano secondary school for years.
University Hill teachers have complained, saying they are worried Pais is trying to recruit students. But school officials insist that is not the case. "They are simply volunteers who happen to also be religious," district communications manager Kurt Heinrich said last month.
"Our principal was very clear ... that we would be happy to accept their help, but only on the condition that there must be absolutely no proselytizing," Heinrich added. "We were assured at that time (and continue to be assured) ... that Pais volunteers are only interested in providing service to the school and its students."
Last week, Vancouver superintendent Steve Cardwell said he hasn't received "any formal or further complaints" regarding any religious volunteers' behaviour. "Our administrators have been, and will continue, to monitor the situation," the district stated.
Donald Grayston, an Anglican priest who taught religious studies at Simon Fraser University before his retirement, said the assumption that the young evangelicals are not proselytizing is naive. "If they are not attempting to convert, they would be unfaithful to their mandate."
Evangelical theologian John Stackhouse warned schools that if they welcome evangelical volunteers, they must be equally open to other groups such as Mormons, Muslims or Marxists. "If you can be confident that these Christian missionaries [as they call themselves] are not going to cross the line into proselytizing, then would you be equally confident of the circumspection of volunteers from points of view you do not share — and especially ideologies that are as 'missionary-minded' as evangelical Christians typically are?"