We Presbyterians have an educational history of which we can be proud. We claim 10 theological seminaries, 66 Presbyterian colleges and 9 secondary schools operating today. There is also a rich history out of the former denomination, the UPCUSA, of founding schools after the Civil War that the newly freed slaves might learn to read and write. Many of those schools operated until the celebrated 1954 case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. Today we can celebrate the many fine preschools operated and/or housed in our Presbyterian churches. Nurture and education is an historical hallmark of Presbyterians.1 While our history and tradition in education is rich, I would suggest that we have lost our passion (as defined by Webster’s: “intense, driving conviction; ardent affection; devotion to some activity; deep interest; compelling action) for Christian education at many levels of our denomination. We must rediscover Christian education if we are to “insure that by the time a child reaches confirmation class, she is knowledgeable about Scripture and has the basic information of the holy, universal church.”
Home. So, where do we begin to rediscover Christian education? It is in the home where the parents are the first teachers. Equipping the parents to be able transmitters of the faith is a critical task of the local church. Many of these parents have had little Christian education in their formative years. Since 60% of the adults in our congregations did not grow up Presbyterian, we have lots of Presbyterian work to do. There is an urgent call for parent education at the local church. We need to revisit the format of intergenerational learning. The church must find ways to bring families together at church. Our current model is based on public school education; the 21st Century calls for a model that brings families together.
Congregation. Can we display a passion for Christian education in the halls of the church school? Can parents, teachers, CE leaders, elders together create an environment that welcomes our children, invites them in, that moves them out of the dark basement and into the sunlight of the faith? Can we provide the latest technology, the adequate funding, the teacher preparation for the 21st Century? I would suggest that we have a holy calling at the grass roots to rediscover Christian education, and it must be rooted in deepening relationships. Classrooms for all ages must be experiences of friendship and bonds of fellowship that lead Presbyterians to experience God together. In these contemporary times the church school must provide an experience of God as well as knowledge about God.
Session. Sessions have many responsibilities, among them, “to develop and supervise the church school and the educational program of the church;” BOO G-10.0102f . Can the session develop new energy for the school of the church? I wonder how many elders participate in the church school? How many elders teach? Elders are the spiritual leaders, not experts in the faith, but seekers after truth. “They should cultivate their ability to teach the Bible …” BOO G-6.0304
Before elders can be expected to teach, they, too, must be trained. I believe officer training is one of the most important components of Christian education in our denomination. Presbyterians are complex and fascinating in how we order our lives of faith and practice. Well-trained elders are a gift to the congregations they serve. A new officer training series is essential; so, too, is monthly continuing education for officers. These officers will be prepared to teach the new member classes, another essential if we are to energize and empower Christian education. Let us not forget the importance of a comprehensive preparation for confirmation; some churches are offering a full year’s study for confirmation! And yes, Ben, SOLs are appropriate and welcomed by teachers and leaders in Christian education.
Training. We have seen a vital grassroots movement across the country in the development of the Rotation Model in church school. It began in a local church, First Church of Barrington, Illinois. In less than 15 years it reaches from coast to coast among many denominations. Its energy has revitalized congregations; it is the children who are leading their parents to church school. Another source of vitality in educational ministry is the professional organization for educators, the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE). Thanks be to God for this organization that has modeled the passion for Christian education when our national priorities have gone elsewhere!
More educators. Lastly, we need more trained Christian educators in the denomination. It’s time to resolve the age-old question of what to do with educators. The church has repeatedly denied ordination to Christian educators, thus depleting our numbers and our influence in the governance of the church. Voices of education are not heard around the tables of decision and power. We have empowered lay pastors to meet the church’s need for pastoral leadership. It is time to empower Christian educators to meet the church’s need for educational leadership. Ours is a rich educational history. I have provided only a sample of evidence to support such a claim; much, much more can be added. I recall the African-American churches in southside Virginia who taught me about their Presbyterian history, rooted in the schools and the churches founded by the UPCUSA in the 19th Century. There are so many stories to tell and to hear; who will pass on these stories of faith to the next generation? Who will assure that no Presbyterian child is left behind?
MARGARET M. SHAW is interim educator of Purity Church, Chester, S.C.
Send your comment on this report to The Outlook
Please include your full name, hometown and state.