Christian educators gather at the waters for education and inspiration

Kimberly Bracken Long presided over communion during closing worship.

GALVESTON, TEXAS (Outlook) – Focused on the theme “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (drawn from Isaiah 55), the 2019 Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) national gathering offered education, worship and resources to help Christian educators find inspiration for their ministries. Held Feb. 6-9 in Galveston, Texas, the conference drew about 700 people (pastors, Christian educators, youth workers, children’s ministry directors, adult spiritual formation leaders and more) to the waters of the Texas coast for worship, education and fellowship.

Here are glimpses of what the 2019 conference offered.


Music. Hugh Donnelly, minister at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Canada, served as conference musician. During worship throughout the week, Donnelly led conference participants in songs rich with water imagery and reminders of God’s provision. “Come to the Waters,” the conference hymn – based on the theme passage from Isaiah 55 – was created by Tammy Wiens and Sheldon Sorg.

Education. More than 70 workshops were offered throughout the week on topics including creating a labyrinth; experiential Holy Week worship; Christian education accommodations for youth with autism; social media safety for Christian educators; and aging, caregiving and the church.

Volunteers welcome conference-goers

Workshops presented a variety of theological and practical content to conference goers with many offering opportunity for discussion and questions. Other workshops invited participants into group activities such as brainstorming together or experimenting with spiritual practices. The labyrinth-making workshop even walked down to the beach to practice building labyrinths in the sand for others to walk.

Mission project and offering. The Val Murphy Offering, taken at each APCE annual event, helps fund scholarships and local ministry.  This year, a portion of the offering will support Galveston Urban Ministry, an organization offering mentoring and after-school programs for youth and adult job training.


Plenary teaching. Thomas G. Long, offered an in-depth plenary talk on the roles of repentance and humility in mission formation. Long is the Bandy Professor of Preaching Emeritus at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta and a Presbyterian pastor.

Thomas G. Long encouraged APCE participants to reconsider how they think about mission.

“Our understanding of mission is linked inextricably to our doctrine of eschatology,” he said. Eschatology, the doctrine of the last things, is about where is the world going, how is it going to get there and what God is doing in it, he explained.

Long said that the New Testament doesn’t describe Heaven as a place believers go when they die, but is the “place from where God comes to us.”

Quoting author Christopher Morse and in his book “The Difference Heaven Makes,” Long said: “The task of a disciple is to be on hand for that which is at hand but not in hand.”

Because of this, Christian educators are called to look to the future, and “we must also talk about the inbreaking of the kingdom in present tense.” Long told those gathered to stop thinking of the practice of mission as their doing, as they take Jesus Christ into their communities and the world. “Jesus Christ is already in the world, and we are going out to join” Jesus at work in the world, he said.

Drawing from the writings of agrarian and writer Wendell Berry, Long concluded: “It’s our job to provide in the land that we are given, with the neighbors we are given.”

Kimberly Bracken Long presided over communion during closing worship.

“When we approach mission in repentance and humility, then we are people who trust God and are not afraid of institutional extinction.” He reminded the Christian educators: Be on hand, for that which is at hand, but not in hand, which is the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

Worship. Kimberly Bracken Long served as worship leader for the annual event, preaching at opening and closing worship. She is a Presbyterian pastor, former professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, and wife of Thomas Long. Herfirst conference sermon focused on Jesus’ assurance of living water in John 4. In her closing sermon, she tied together the creation story in Genesis 1 and the vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21. “The water that begins in Genesis, flows all the way through to Revelation,” she said. John’s vision in the Scripture from Revelation “gives us enough hope to act” with justice here and now, she told the educators, and urged them to return to their home communities to proclaim “in every way you can that the kingdom of God is on the way.”

Worship ended with a celebration of communion, with Kimberly Long and Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, co-moderator of the 223rdGeneral Assembly, presiding at the table. Water bearers were present at each communion station, inviting worshippers to reflect on the conference theme – Ho! Everyone who thirsts, comes to the waters – while remembering their baptism.


Awards. Candace Hill received the lifetime achievement award. She served as director of children’s ministry at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church and as an educational advocate in Pittsburgh Presbytery. She later moved to Blackhawk Presbytery in Illinois where she worked as a state evaluator and developmental therapist, while helping churches with educational ministry.

Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri led worshippers in remembering their baptism.

Keith Sundberg was named the APCE Educator of the Year. He has served the last 18 years as associate pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is moderator of the Presbytery of Lake Erie’s spiritual formation committee

Leadership. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, was installed as the new president. Katie Estes, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in South Saint Paul, Minnesota, serves as secretary, and Sarah Bishop, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Winter Haven, Florida, serves as treasurer.

The 2020 APCE annual event will take place Jan. 29 – Feb. 1 in Little Rock, Arkansas, focusing on a theme of “getting outside the box.” In 2021, the organization plans to hold its gathering in Chicago as it celebrates its 50th year.