BALTIMORE – As the annual meeting of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) kicked off Feb. 4 in Baltimore, 756 attendees gathered in Baltimore for the event. Who’s participating? Anne Wilson, outgoing president of APCE, offered the following highlights of participants (full demographic breakout of attendees was not available):
- 14 percent are pastors;
- 26 percent are children’s directors or youth directors at congregations;
- 21 percent are first-time attendees;
- 25.5 percent are under 40;
- 91 percent are white;
- 35 attendees are theological students;
- 100 are volunteers.
Five denominations partner to form APCE: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Moravian Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The 2015 conference also includes participants from The Cumberland Presbyterian Church and The Korean Evangelical Holiness Church in America.
The theme of this year’s meeting is “Fear Not” (drawing primarily from the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel). In the opening session, participants were invited to name their personal and professional fears, and offer those as a prayer.
Brian Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary, preached at opening worship. “I don’t know what the church will look like in a decade…. But God does,” he said. Blount went on to say that he was not scared for the future of his seminary because God knows Union’s future; instead, his fears were for himself and the things he can’t control. “If we can get over worrying about us, our lives, our church and focus more on the in-breaking of God, we will not be afraid,” Blount said. “What Jesus knows [in Mark 4] is what you should know: God is at work.”
Tuesday’s plenary session was lead by church coach, minister and author Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt recalled a job teaching young children early in her professional life. The children’s behavior was wild, and she quickly created many rules in an attempt to control the situation: Don’t talk out of turn. Don’t get out of your seat. Don’t put things up your friend’s nose. When the classroom didn’t settle down, Merritt turned to a Christian educator for help.
Merritt said her friend told her kids were only listening to the second half of the instructions… she was giving the kids ideas! So, Merritt said she started giving the class positive instructions: Please raise your hand when you need a dance break. Merritt then asked, why do we now say, “Do not fear”? Giving others the option to name a fear then gives them a positive instruction to claim the faith to move beyond the fear into hope.
Meeting Feb. 4 – 7, APCE participants will attend workshops on a spectrum of topics ranging from congregational spiritual formation to spirituality in the smart phone age.