DENVER (Outlook) – Focused on the theme “God with us in the chaos,” the 2017 Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) national gathering offered education, worship and resources to help Christian educators find God’s order in a complicated world. Held Jan. 25-28 in Denver, the conference drew more than 600 people (pastors, Christian educators, youth workers, children’s ministry directors, adult spiritual formation leaders and more) from 43 U.S. states, Canada and Pakistan.
This year marks APCE’s 46th year. According to the leadership team, the organization now has more than 850 members from five denominations: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Christian Reformed Church in North America, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church in Canada and Reformed Church in America.
To help others understand their mission, the leadership team crafted an “elevator speech” they encouraged participants to use: “APCE is a network of those who are passionate about educational ministry. We connect, enrich, empower, and sustain one another as we model, teach and share the story of Jesus Christ.”
Here are glimpses of what the 2017 conference offered.
Prayground. This area for children to play, color and engage in quiet activities was available in the auditorium during every worship and plenary session.
Spirituality center: Prayer stations, including a labyrinth made of lights, were offered for those wanting time for contemplation.
“Chaos Unpacked” room: This space was designated as a “de-stressing environment” where participants could find a place to be silent or take advantage of personal coaching from Ministry Architects, time with a spiritual director and spiritual practice centers.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance “Gift of the Heart Kits”: Participants brought personal hygiene items that were assembled in 375 kits on Friday evening. PDA will distribute the hygiene kits to communities in need this year.
Music. David LaMotte, a musician with 12 albums and the author of “White Flour,” gave a concert one evening at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver, and provided music during closing worship. Trish and Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, who make up the duo “The River’s Voice,” led music in worship, performed an evening concert and taught a workshop on singing psalms in the 21st century.
Education. More than 60 worships were offered throughout the week on topics including developing resilience skills to help young people deal with grief; the pastor as educator; praying Scripture; and adult faith formation in the 21st century. The workshops presented theological and practical content to conference goers with many offering opportunity for discussion and questions. For example, in one session on teaching the Bible to adults, a participant asked leader Michael Waschevski, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, if it matters that so few adults use a paper Bible. Waschevski replied that he thinks it’s fine as long as they have a Bible in some form, noting that 500 years ago, people didn’t even have their own Bibles, so knowing how to use what is available has always been important. Other workshops invited participants into group activities such as brainstorming together or experimenting with spiritual practices.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints in Denver and bestselling author, focused her plenary talk on discerning where the church finds “success.” The world judges the church in values that the church had no business buying into in the first place, she said. (Click here for a recap of her plenary talk and sermon.)
Denise Anderson, co-moderator of the 2016 General Assembly of the PC(USA) and pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, while not a plenary speaker or preacher, was present for the conference and brought moderatorial greetings to participants. With a nod to the conference theme, she pointed out that Jesus is master and has called Presbyterians to spread good news in the midst of chaos and opposition. Jesus has equipped Christian educators to do the hard work of “bringing order and understanding to the chaos,” she said. She encouraged conference goers to read “Waking Up White” and participate in the “one book, one church” conversation that she and co-moderator Jan Edmiston are promoting. “Racism is insidious,” Anderson said, adding “issues of race are not just about race,” but also about economics, environment and educational rights. “Go into [the chaos] knowing God has sent you and equipped you,” she concluded.
Jon Brown, the pastor of Old Bergen Church (a union of RCA and PC(USA) in Jersey City, New Jersey), referred to himself as “such a spiritual nerd boy.” Brown reflected finding refuge in chaos through his participation with a local group of clergy that gathers at places where crime has occurred to pray. “Seeking refuge in the chaos means we go to those places that are broken in our communities … where people are sure they have been forgotten,” he said. To create refuge is “to make the church one you could fall in love with again.”
Larron Jackson, minister of the American Baptist of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, focused on Psalm 46 and talked about the refuge which believers have in the redeemer. “Let me be totally honest with you,” he opened, “I have a competitive background.” Jackson is a former Denver Bronco and a Super Bowl champion. But God has never lost a battle and “is on our side,” he said. So he urged worshippers to remember “faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is trusting God in the face of fear.”
During question-and-answer time, Jackson shared a bit about his book “The Ghetto, the Gridiron, and the Gospel.” He said he wrote about his journey growing up in the inner city of St. Louis. “I did a number of things as a young person that I should not have done.” But, he recalled April 22, 1963 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon: This was the moment he made up his mind that he was not going to go back to jail and began to live his life differently. The book, he said, recalls his journey in God’s grace.
This was part of “holy humor” worship, which invited worshippers to dance, play with toys on the table, pass the peace in the style of the changing music being played and participate in a prayer of confession while playing Jenga and saying aloud prompts such as, “We make things totter. We make the world less stable.”
Shannon Johnson Kershner, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, focused on the chaos experienced in church life. During her plenary talk, she stressed the need for churches to focus on discipleship, and lifted up Christian educators as the church leaders to best promote those efforts. “I don’t know anyone else better to help claim discipleship as the focus of our church than Christian educators,” she said. (Click here for a recap of her plenary and worship. Click here to read a Q&A with Kershner.)
APCE celebrated a net gain in finances this year, according to its financial statements. The organization is using these funds to live stream portions of the annual event, continue developing its blog and award additional conference scholarships, according to the APCE leadership team.
Awards. Anne Wilson received the lifetime achievement award. She has served as a church educator at Memorial Drive, St. Philip, and Northwoods Presbyterian churches in Houston. A video presentation recounted personal testimony from colleagues Wilson has mentored and inspired. She now serves as a member of the board of trustees of the Texas Presbyterian Foundation and Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary.
Laurie Farquharson was named the APCE Educator of the Year. She has served as director of Christian education at Wekiva Presbyterian Church in Longwood, Florida, and was nominated for the award by her peers. (You can read a Q&A with Farquharson here.)
Leadership. Holly Inglis, associate pastor at Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, was installed as the new president (read a Q&A with Inglis here), Ken McFayden, dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary, as president-elect and Sarah Bishop, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in South Bend, Indiana, as treasurer.
Those completing certification as Christian educators this year were recognized.
The 2018 APCE Annual Event will take place Jan. 30 – Feb. 3 in Louisville, Kentucky, focusing on a theme of “boundless hospitality.”