Cornerstone to Open Christian Academy

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Equipping a World-Changing Generation

Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos courtesy of Cornerstone Chapel unless otherwise noted

“I am happy to announce to you,” declared Pastor Gary Hamrick from the pulpit of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA, this February, “that after much prayer and discussion with our elders and pastoral leadership, we will be launching Cornerstone Christian Academy.”

The congregation rose to their feet in thunderous applause.

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Pastor Gary Hamrick announces the formation of Cornerstone Christian Academy on a Sunday morning at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA.

Four hours away in Chesapeake, VA, Dr. Sam and Lynda Botta rejoiced with them while watching online. While their church of 20-plus years was closed due to the Covid pandemic, a friend had told them of Cornerstone, a Calvary Chapel affiliate. They were gripped by Gary’s teaching from the first sermon they heard. Since then, they had seen Cornerstone’s commitment to biblical values lived out as it battled to protect children and Christian educators from the radical policies of the Loudoun County School Board. As Gary explained in his announcement:

“I began to watch things like the suspension of teacher Tanner Cross when he spoke out at a public hearing concerning the transgender policy; and the subsequent passage by our school board of that … policy; the … sexually explicit reading material available to students; the suppression of parents’ free speech at school meetings; the now-known dishonesty and cover-up by some school board members and the superintendent concerning two sexual assaults at two different schools by the same student [as a result of the transgender policy]. I started to ask myself: What can we as a church do to help … rescue parents, students and teachers from the school system, and create an environment where students can learn, and teachers can teach with a biblical worldview to help equip the next generation to be strong in their faith so that they can go out and be true to the biblical mission of winning their world for Christ? 

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In May 2021, elementary-school teacher and Cornerstone attendee Tanner Cross respectfully protested Policy 8040 at a school board meeting, citing solid research from respected news sources along with his Christian convictions. “I’m a teacher, but I serve God first,” declared Tanner, “and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl, and vice versa, because it’s … lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God.” Within 48 hours, he was suspended. Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on his behalf. Last November, the Virginia Supreme Court finally overturned his suspension. Photo courtesy of Tanner Cross

Path to a Calling
Education was Sam Botta’s passion. He had roughly 20 years’ experience each in public and Christian schools, ultimately resulting in his current much-loved job as professor and athletic director for Regent University in Virginia. He had witnessed firsthand both the downward spiral of secular schooling and the power of equipping students with a biblical worldview. Watching Gary’s announcement, Sam felt a stirring inside he had felt for a long time but dismissed.

“My wife says my mouth had dropped open,” he laughed. “We looked at each other. She pointed to me and said, ‘You have to apply.’ I knew she was right.” Sam was hired as the head of the school. “When I moved into higher education,” he explained, “I didn’t expect to move back to K-12. But God had other plans; that’s become abundantly clear. Our hearts have been so full in gratitude for the Lord and appreciation for the leadership at Cornerstone. They could take the easy out—starting a Christian school is a lot of work. They didn’t have to do this, but they did, because Pastor Gary knew the Lord had put this on his heart.”

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Gary prays over Dr. Sam Botta and his wife, Lynda, after announcing Sam will be Cornerstone Christian Academy's head of school. The Bottas had been watching online since the Covid-19 pandemic. "We felt very connected to the church from afar," Sam related. "but we wanted to be part of a church where we weren't just receiving but serving, and that was missing." He never dreamed the answer would align so perfectly with his life-long passion for education.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Gary enthused, “Listening to Sam’s story, it was so clear how God positioned the Bottas perfectly to step into this role.” While the school’s formation is happening in a whirlwind for Gary, story after story shows him how God has been putting the puzzle pieces in place for decades. When he announced that the soon-to-come K-8 school would have room for 500 students when it opened in 2023, he invited people to “pre-register” as a show of interest before the official application process began. “Within five hours, I had 1,600 students pre-registered from 27 different states, including about 300 of our online viewers [hoping for] online classes. When I shut it down at the end of the week, we had 2,500. Parents are eager for an alternative.” With the flood of applications came personal stories of what people have suffered within the educational system, and of their prayers to get out. As he noted in his announcement, “Thirty years ago … the idea of a Christian school was something we thought was ‘nice.’ But it’s no longer time for niceties—it’s a time of necessity.”

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Cultural Battlefield
Picturesque Loudoun County, VA, long known for its rolling hills, horse farms, and historic buildings, has more recently become a pivotal battlefield in America’s culture wars. While much of the nation is polarized between political parties, Loudoun’s conflict is primarily between parents and its school board. “Loudoun County School Board has just gone ‘woke’ and abandoned the majority of these parents’ values,” Gary stated. “I wouldn’t have gotten so involved if they had stuck to ‘the three Rs’ (reading, writing, arithmetic), but they’re pushing social issues, like this transgender policy which parents, teachers, and students are forced to go along with. There’s a difference between education and indoctrination.” (Click to read more on Calvary Chapel Magazine's coverage of teacher Tanner Cross' fight for justice in his stand for truth and religious freedom in schools.)

Political efforts to discredit Cornerstone backfired. Instead, it became a hub for legal opposition to the school board. “I had parents coming to sign our petition [to recall certain school board members] who weren’t even churchgoers,” Gary reported, “just parents who love their children and American values. Praise God, a lot of people came in to sign the petition and ended up attending the church.”

                  

(Learn how you can receive a top-tier educational degree from a totally biblical perspective from one of our sponsors, fully accredited Calvary Chapel University, which is 100% online). Calvary Chapel University is pleased to announce a new partnership with Calvary Chapel Bible College Eurasia. Join us in praying for our friends in Georgia! God is growing CCU! Are you interested in learning about enrolling as a student? Or do you want to apply to serve as faculty, staff, or admin? Contact: Calvary Chapel University. 

                  

Land of Plenty
Meanwhile, Gary had been looking at commercial real estate properties for a completely unrelated ministry project. While at one, he mused aloud, “‘You know, this is really too big for what we’re looking for, but it would be great for a school.’

“My realtor said, ‘If you’re interested in a school, I have a property to show you.’

“I wasn’t, but I had been thinking, Here we are pointing out the problem of what’s going on with the Loudoun County School Board, but what are we doing to address the problem with a solution?  So I said, ‘OK, show me.’” The 90-acre property a half-hour drive from Cornerstone surpassed his wildest expectations. The beautiful former Christian school campus included athletic fields, buses, and 22 classrooms. Everything inside seemed frozen in time since its closure during the pandemic: stacks of schoolbooks, desks in place, as if students would rush in any moment.

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Other than the historic manor house, most of Cornerstone Christian Academy's new home was built in the 1960s-‘70s. The 90-acre property in Middleburg, VA, includes a variety of school facilities, athletic fields, its own wells and water treatment plant, and even a fleet of school buses which Gary hopes may be able to shuttle students from Cornerstone Chapel as needed.

... Guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. 1 Timothy 6:20b NIV

Nonetheless, many renovations are needed and much remains to be done before the planned 2023 opening. Top-tier administrators are now being hired, who will then begin looking through staff applications, 450 of which had already been received one-week post-announcement. The first donation arrived before the announcement: Having heard Gary say they were considering starting a Christian school, an online viewer in southern Virginia sent $20,000 in faith. The day after the announcement, a Florida viewer sent $1 million to start an endowment. Donations continue to pour in. With such support, Cornerstone hopes to add a high-school grade each year to provide complete education.

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In Cornerstone Christian Academy's future campus, desks sit in formation as if waiting for the school bell to ring any moment. Cornerstone's purchase included all the desks, books, school supplies, and equipment left behind when the former Christian school closed hurriedly in 2020.

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The empty gymnasium awaits Cornerstone Christian Academy's future athletic teams, possibly named 'The Guardians' after
1 Timothy 6:20. Gary has big plans for the space, not only for athletic events but also as a potential satellite campus as Cornerstone Chapel's 7,000-member congregation continues to grow.

“Ten to fifteen years ago, secular and Christian education weren’t so far apart,” Gary proclaimed. “Now they’re perpendicular. Our nation was built on Judeo-Christian values; even our legal system was based on Blackstone’s commentaries, which are built on the premise that Truth is really defined by God. All we’re wanting to do is return to that premise and shape our children’s education according to it.”

Equipping the Called
“In the 20 years I was in public education,” explained Sam, “there was a shift away from God to a more secular approach. But even in 1999, my last year, I gave pre-game talks from God’s Word and openly prayed with students. In recent years that progressive downfall has accelerated, becoming aggressively anti-God. In public education they’re trying to change who these children are, horrifically to the point of who they are biologically. [At the academy], we want to celebrate who God created them to be and help them fulfill God’s purpose for them.”

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Sam hopes to accomplish that partly through “Calling Prep,” which unlike traditional college-prep programs is less focused on locking students into a career than training them to identify their individual giftings. “We want to help these children discover the dreams and passions God has put in them, and develop them through their education,” Sam elaborated. “You can usually tell when someone is approaching their calling, because when we get to talk about what God has called us to, we light up. Our voice and inflection lift. We become more able to participate in His kingdom as many members with one purpose.”

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. Psalm 139:16

Another key aspect is empowering parents. Sam lamented, “The general push in our public education right now seems to have a clear intentionality of indoctrination to destroy all things of God and the family. Many schools are now trying to be these children’s primary influencers. God has called parents to be their children’s greatest influencers, and [educators] should never step into that role. Our job is to come alongside and support parents, and fill biblical gaps, not to have an agenda.”

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Dr. Sam Botta shares his excitement about Cornerstone Christian Academy after he is announced as head of school, while wife Lynda looks proudly on. Lynda had insisted Sam apply for the job.

Gary and Sam are both vocally supportive of Christians who remain in public education and will continue to support them however possible. Nevertheless, while the Loudoun County School Board clings to their radical agenda despite losing the legal battle against Tanner Cross and federal funding due to sharp drops in enrollment, Cornerstone Christian Academy will allow students to move forward biblically and educationally. “We are committed to infusing God’s Word into these children, and we know His Word never returns void,” Sam proclaimed. “We know these children will be leaders, that they’re going to go out into the world with a Christian worldview and transform it for Jesus.”

                  

Learn more:
• Cornerstone Christian Academy:  cornerstonechapel.net/cca
• Cornerstone Chapel:  cornerstonechapel.net

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(To learn more about Calvary Chapel University, visit their website or read our past coverage on the school)

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.