She was ready to follow in her mother’s footsteps, but her pastor warned her that Christian education was too narrow a field, with few job opportunities. So she got a teaching certificate instead.
LeBron wishes her pastor could see her now. She stood in front of more than 1,000 other church educators to be honored as Educator of the Year at an awards dinner here Jan. 30. The dinner was a highlight of the 2009 conference of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE).
In an interview earlier with the Presbyterian News Service, LeBron said she stayed involved as a volunteer in the church while raising her two children. Her daughter, the Rev. Camille LeBron Powell, associate pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, AR, introduced her mother at the awards dinner by saying, “We don’t mind that you made us your guinea pigs.”
After years of teaching Sunday school, directing vacation Bible school and other tasks at Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Richardson, TX, in 1984 LeBron was asked by the church to become its director of children’s ministries.
A friend introduced her to APCE. Today LeBron says she has attended at least 20 APCE conventions.
After learning about the certification process for church educators, LeBron began taking the required courses in her spare time. She estimates that it took 6–8 years for her to reach her goal of becoming a Certified Christian Educator.
In 1995 she was elected to the APCE governing cabinet and called to be director of children’s ministries at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where she worked until retiring in 2002.
She and her husband, Archie, then moved to a home in the woods in rural Alabama. LeBron becomes wistful when talking about Archie, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2006, and also was very involved in church activities.
“He taught Sunday school from his hospital bed,” said LeBron, explaining that a church van brought members of the adult church school class to the hospital, where Archie was waiting for them, wearing a tie over his hospital gown.
In the painful months before her husband’s death, LeBron turned to her network of educator-friends across the country for support. “I lived by e-mail,” she said. “That was a very formative experience, to be pouring out what was happening to us and getting such faithful, thoughtful responses.
“There were lots of people praying for a miracle, but not everybody gets one.”
After Archie died, LeBron struggled to adjust to life without him. “When you lose your spouse, the future you had planned is gone,” she said. “It’s like senior year in college, when everybody wants to know what you are going to be.”
She has since moved to Little Rock, to be near her daughter and new granddaughter Lily, and perhaps do some consulting with churches in the area that need help in their educational ministries. She also enjoys following her son, Graham, to concerts around the country as he plays keyboard with an alternative rock band.
LeBron said one of the biggest needs she has tried to address throughout her career is for resources to help parents nurture their children’s faith.
“When I was growing up, parents felt pretty comfortable talking to us about Bible stories,” she says. “Now we’ve raised a generation that reveres the expert.” Today’s parents have the attitude, “We’re not the experts, so we’ll let the church do it.”
But the church can’t do it all in an hour on Sunday morning.
So LeBron has taught classes in Christian parenting and developed take-home materials, including a set of guidelines to help parents have conversations with their children about the meaning of the sacraments.
One of her most exciting recent projects was co-writing a resource for “tweens” (5th and 6th-graders), with Joyce MacKichan Walker, last year’s Educator of the Year. The resource, with sessions for both children and parents, was published last summer by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s office of youth ministries.
LeBron’s respect for church educators, beginning with her DCE mother, has deepened over the years, as she has worked in the field and observed the dedication of others. “Educators are the most generous and ego-free people I know,” she said in her acceptance speech at the APCE awards dinner.
Educators are eager to share their good ideas and resources, she explained. “If we learn or create something that blesses others, [we believe] it came from God and therefore it belongs to Christ’s church.”
LeBron ended her speech with some straightforward advice to her fellow educators: “Don’t allow yourself to be undervalued. The church, despite recent changes, still doesn’t quite know what to do with us. . . . Hold your congregations responsible for honoring your ministry with fair compensation.”
Also recognized at the APCE awards dinner were eight newly certified Christian educators, five certified associate Christian educators and two people beginning the certification process as enrolled educational assistants.
The awards program listed recipients of three kinds of scholarships offered for those needing financial help to attend the APCE event:
• E. Valeria Murphy Scholarship — for persons from a racial-ethnic background working or majoring in Christian education.
• Global Partnership Scholarship — for international participants.
• Small Church Scholarship — for Christian education leaders in congregations with 200 or less members.
APCE is an organization of educators from five denominations: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Moravian Church in America. Also attending this year’s event were guests from countries including Taiwan, Pakistan, South India and New Zealand.
Eva G. Stimson is editor of Presbyterians Today magazine.