GALVESTON, TEXAS (Outlook) — “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!”
After reading these words from Isaiah 55, Anne Wilson, co-chair of the APCE annual event, said, “We wanted Scripture to be the first words you heard spoken at APCE.”
The 2019 Association of Presbyterian Church Educators annual event being held Feb. 6-9 in Galveston, Texas. Over 700 participants (predominantly Presbyterian, but from at least nine denominations) are attending the event comprised of worship, regional gatherings over meals, plenary keynotes and an abundant array of workshops.
This year’s theme – “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” – is being held mere feet from the sea and focuses on finding refreshment in God, work and relationships.
The opening session on Wednesday, Feb. 6, started with a showing of Pixar’s animated – and waterfront – short “Piper.” Wilson invited attendees to consider how they, like the young bird in the film, are seeking and finding nourishment this week. In the pursuit of that nourishment, Wilson reminded participants to seek the joy of being a learner and to appreciate “worship that you did not have to plan.”
Faith formation is never done, says plenary speaker
Faith formation is never done. That was the message of Lisa Kimball’s opening plenary session, “The language of faith formation.” Kimball, the associate dean of lifelong learning, director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and professor of Christian formation and congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, reminded conference-goers of the text from Isaiah 55 and said: “People are thirsty …. It really matters what we drink. And as church leaders, it really matters what we serve people to drink.”
But faith formation isn’t a single sip, it’s communicated “life-long, life-wide and life-deep,” she said.
Because of this, faith formation is something “we cando on Sunday morning,” Kimball said, but it has to be built into a whole life of practices, understanding and discernment because Christians need to be immersed in communities of faith and practices of faith formation.
“Our faith is constantly in formation,” Kimball stressed.
However, Kimball told those gathered, Christian educators “are teachers of the faith, and the condition of our souls matters.” So, she said, it’s important to gather at conferences like the APCE annual event to nurture practices and expand knowledge of resources for discipleship. That’s why people attend the APCE annual event, she said, to keep learning so that they may share what they have learned with others.
“I’m optimistic because our God has not changed,” Kimball said, encouraging those gathered to have hope in the current state of the church. For example, she said to look for questions from a newcomer to a congregation as an opportunity for a church to recognize that God is moving in their midst.
And: “There are congregations that can’t stay in their building,” because they’re excited about their faith and they know their community.
She closed with a story of a man who worships at a church in Ohio. Asked why he still goes to church, he replied: “At 82, this is the only place that believes I can still learn.”
Worship offers living water
Preaching from John 4, Kimberly Bracken Long swam into the story of Jesus asking for a drink of water from a woman. Long, former professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary and co-editor of the 2018 Book of Common Worship, explored Jesus’ offer of a living water and care for those who thirst for faith, for comfort, for care.
“Jesus is not interested in judging her, is he? He just wants her to know that she is known,” Long preached, asking: “Could it be that we are already known without judgment?”
Just as Jesus said to that woman 2,000 years ago, Long said that Jesus says to the educators gathered in Texas: “Here is water gushing up from an unstoppable stream of water. You don’t need a bucket. … Here is water. Living water. A gift and a call.”
She concluded, “Come to the waters for your sake, for the sake of your ministry, and for the sake of a world that never wants to be thirsty again.”