After 68 years educating children in Hyattsville, the closed its doors for good yesterday during an emotional church service attended by students and staff from throughout the school's history.
School officials and church leaders encouraged the students to use the lessons of their faith as a guide in the days and years ahead.
"This is a hurtful day today," said Rev. Lloyd Gaines to the students during a sermon. "It feels like a promise is being broken…but in this world promises are often broken."
, and the broken promise which that closing represents, Gaines consoled the students by reminding them that, according to their faith, they will never be without God.
"I am with you always," said Gaines, quoting the biblical book of Matthew.
Sally Hiller, who oversees Missouri Synod Lutheran schools in the southeast, also encouraged students and parents to reflect on the long history of the school.
"What we did today, what we did for 68 years, is not just for one term," said Hiller. "It continues to spiral from their life and through their children's lives and their grandchildren's lives."
Pastor Peter Schiebel, who oversees the Mount Rainier-based Trinity Evangelical, which ran Concordia Lutheran in conjunction with in Hyattsville, said that declining enrollment and financial challenges meant that the school was no longer sustainable.
This year's student body numbered less than 75.
That's a far cry from its apex in past decades. Concordia Luthern one time required two Hyattsville campuses, an upper and lower school, to house all of its students.
Part of that declining enrollment was due to the changing demographics of the church itself. According to Redeemer Lutheran Pastor Eric Linthicum, the school's model was dependent upon church members enrolling their children in the school. As the church populations aged and their children grew old, fewer and fewer church members had any children to enroll in the school.
Linthicum also said that increasing backend costs, like regulatory compliance and teacher salaries were making it difficult to keep the price of tuition low.
"We're not the only school that faces this problem," said Schiebel.
Hiller said that private religious schools are facing a lot of challenges. An aging demographic and economic hardships are all cutting into the bottom lines for private schools.
"That's really the biggest problem here," said Hiller in an interview. "There are so many families struggling, and this is a hard thing to make happen."
Now parents like Washington, D.C. resident Alyce Fleming, whose son just graduated from third grade, are left looking for new school options. She isn't keen on enrolling their son in the District's public schools, the distance to Ascension Lutheran School in Lanham might be prohibitive, and she has a meeting set for Monday to learn more about St. Jerome's Academy in Hyattsville.
Fleming said she first thought the school might be in trouble during last year's summer camps.
"It was obvious that enrollment was down," said Fleming. "But I thought it might make it another year."
Isabelle Logossou, a preschool teacher who worked at Concordia Lutheran for 16 years, said she was shocked when she learned of the closing on May 15.
For teachers and staff like Logossou, they now find themselves without a job. Logossou said that she is considering opening her own day car facility.
"We had never talked about the school closing as an option," said Logossou. "And after it was announced, I held out hope that a solution would be found. But I feel like a member of my family has passed."