BALTIMORE – The words “Fear not!” rang out in worship, plenary sessions, workshops and the marketplace during the annual meeting of the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE). Held Feb. 4-7 in Baltimore, APCE drew 756 attendees for educational workshops, fellowship, idea-sharing and — perhaps the most important component this year — mutual encouragement.
In a time when resources are dwindling, church staffs are shrinking and outside pressures are mounting, Christian educators are experiencing a series of storms. According to this year’s conference, adaptation is the watchword: adaptation to schedules that often draw people away from church activities; to changes in learning styles that demand interactivity; to the challenges of ministry with smaller budgets. In this context, APCE leaders attempted to speak words of hope and encouragement to the educators. “Fear not,” the sessions emphasized, “God’s got this.”
Speaking to these contextual storms, Brian Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary, led daily worship and preached a series of sermons from Mark 4. His messages focused on the disciples’ fear of the storm and Jesus’ divine act of calming the troubled waters. Carol Howard Merritt, author, minister and church coach, led plenary sessions on moving beyond fear into hope.
This year’s APCE Educator of the Year is Kathy Dawson of Decatur, Georgia. A professor at Columbia Theological Seminary since 2004, Dawson started her Christian education journey as a volunteer in her local church while teaching elementary school for the Los Alamitos and Palm Springs Unified School Districts in California.
After nine years in public education, Dawson enrolled in the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. She went on to complete a Master of Divinity degree at Columbia in 1994 and became a certified Christian educator in 1996. Her heart for teaching led her to pursue a doctorate in practical theology with an emphasis in Christian education at Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1998, she became assistant professor of Christian education at Union-Presbyterian School of Christian Education.
In her current role as associate professor of Christian education at Columbia, Dawson focuses on the needs of those in educational ministry and on fostering partnership with others. She played an integral role in developing the doctorate of educational ministry degree at Columbia, which is the only Presbyterian institution to offer this program.
She also collaborated with the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association to develop the Compass Points Certificate Program, which provides educational opportunities for those in camp and conference ministry.
In her remarks at the awards presentation, Dawson unveiled hope4ce.net, a new multi-platform sharing site she has created for the exchange of ideas and lesson plans among Christian educators.
The APCE cabinet also presented lifetime achievement awards to Pam Engler and Marilyn Hein. Engler spent many years promoting education in congregations in partnership with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Hein served as associate executive presbyter for education and mission in the Presbytery of New Hope for 20 years, advocating for education and educators.