LOUISVILLE – Deep and wide — that’s the theme of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) 2018 annual event, held Jan. 31-Feb. 3 in Louisville, where Christian educators are immersing themselves in the topic of “boundless hospitality.”
Holly Inglis, president of APCE for the past year, said the conference this year welcomes 674 registered participants, most of which are from the 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. However, Inglis said APCE was pleased to welcome participants from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar to this year’s conference. Inglis noted her disappointment that participants from Pakistan were denied visas to attend this year and hopes they will be able to return for the 2019 conference.
The conference kicked off Jan. 31 with worship led by the APCE leadership team, with greetings from Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly.
Sandra VanOpstal, the preacher for opening worship, spent 15 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and is now pastor of Grace and Peace Community in Chicago, a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church. She introduced the conference theme of hospitality by preaching on Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus climbing a tree to see Jesus.
VanOpstal recalled her earliest memories of hospitality. “I grew up thinking I knew something about hospitality,” she said and noted that her family embraced the Latin American maxim, “mi casa es su casa” (meaning, “my house is your house”), which was enacted by neighbors visiting without waiting for an invitation.
“I come from the people of hospitality,” she said. Recalling her childhood, she lamented, “I saw this in my home, but I didn’t see it in the church.”
But in college, her experience changed. Just like Jesus noticed Zacchaeus up in the tree, she remembered her fellow students noticing that she was out of her element in college and lost spiritually – and reached out to show her hospitality.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but the best part of this story is that Jesus saw him, VanOpstal said. Jesus noted that Zacchaeus was looking for something, longing for something — that he was lost, she said. He had an encounter with God and made the choice to give half of his belongings to the poor and repay his debts in excess, she said. “This is the miracle of encountering Jesus, of encountering a God who sees you.”
She challenged conference participants, “The story invites us to ask: Who do we notice … or who do we not notice?” Stressing the church’s call to welcome, she said, “We join Jesus in extending this invitation to the outermost people of society.”
Jodi Craiglow, a ruling elder from Des Plaines, Illinois, is serving as the conference “liturgy designer,” crafting worship for four services — one each day of the conference.
The Jan. 31 service focused on the act of “welcoming,” with the next three services to cover restoring, dwelling and sending. These four movements of worship are based on the “multidirectional hospitable pedagogy,” according to Craiglow, who drew from the work of Amy Oden and her work in the book “And You Welcomed Me” on hospitality in biblical times.
Since “multidirectional hospitable pedagogy” is a mouthful, Craiglow said she tried to distill it into a week of worship that would feel practical, “giving folks new ideas for how they shape liturgy in their own churches.” Craiglow said she hopes conference attendees leave Louisville feeling “willing to take some risks and have some fun” in their own contexts.
Craiglow said she wants conference attendees to “think of worship in ways they haven’t thought of before,” and “push into the classical meaning of liturgy, which is the ‘work of the people’” in such a way that involves interactivity and physical movement — a blend of the hallmark creativity and responsiveness of Christian educators.