ECS still shining brightly after 50 years
It was the early 1960s and Philadelphia’s Dr. Ken Avis had just been offered a faculty position in Memphis at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. In short order, he and his wife, Irma, found a Christian community that welcomed them warmly — First Evangelical Church.
Having committed early in their marriage to gospel-centered education for their children, the Avises began to pray for a schooling option for their family in Memphis. They soon discovered that First Evangelical Church’s pastor, Dr. Stanley Soltau, and good friend Dr. Charles Neal had also been praying for a discipleshiporiented Christian school environment for Memphis families.
In early 1964, Ken Avis stood in a First Evangelical session meeting and made a motion to suggest that the church leadership investigate and research founding a Christian school in Memphis. After 18 months of prayer and labor by the new board of trustees and committed families, Evangelical Christian School opened its doors on Sept. 1, 1965, with seven staff members and 66 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
Julie Neal McDaniel was a third-grader the year ECS opened, and she currently serves the school as Eagles Nest (before and after care) director.
“My father, Dr. Charles Neal, believed in the biblical mandate for children to learn the statutes of God while at home and while they walk along the road. He gave his life to building an institution that would partner with the family to do exactly that,” McDaniel said.
Three of McDaniel’s children have graduated from ECS and, along with those of her siblings, there are 10 Neal alumni grandchildren.
Fifty years later, ECS continues to stand as the only Christian school in Memphis that specifically uses the discipleship model to serve Christian families as a partner with home and church. With nearly 1,000 students on three campuses, ECS competes at the DIIA level in athletics with 11 teams placing in state competitions and 44 high school athletes and coaches represented in the 2015 The Commercial Appeal’s Pepsi Best of the Preps. Academically, ECS competes strongly as indicated by 13 National Merit honor students over the last three years.
Many of the nearly 4,500 ECS alumni are changing the world with their influence. Samuel Bell graduated from ECS in 1979, and has led Patterson Warehouse and Logistics for the past 30 years. Morgan Cox, a 2005 grad, is the Baltimore Ravens’ long snapper and assisted the team to their championship in Super Bowl XLVII. Michael Rhodes, a 2004 graduate, has been at the job creation nonprofit Advance Memphis for the past five years and has recently transitioned to Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies (MCUTS) to begin a new program.
“The Oaks Project is an effort by MCUTS to train local pastors to take Christ-centered financial literacy and job training to their congregations,” Rhodes said. “We will offer classes that equip MCUTS students to lead community development initiatives at their churches and in their neighborhoods, and our internship model will serve to support them as they begin their work in the local community.”
The Oaks Project uses curricula from the internationally recognized The Chalmers Center, a poverty alleviation training effort.
The school is slated to continue to mature over the next decade with recent national commendation in several areas, including inclusion in Gene Frost’s 2013 publication, Learning from the Best, a “Best Christian Workplace” (BCWI) for 2013 and 2014, rating as a Top 50 Christian High School for 2014 and 2015 from TheBestSchools.org, and most recently the 1st Team Safe Schools Sports Award from National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
The ECS community will gather Thursday at First Evangelical Church, 735 Ridge Lake Blvd. to “Celebrate and Shine.” The event will highlight performances from the student body, a keynote address from new head of school, Dr. Dan Peterson, and a time of sharing by ECS alumnus (class of 2000) Drew Holcomb of Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.