LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – What happens when you put hundreds of Christian educators together in a single room? It’s the perfect set-up to encourage them to get out the box – the four walls of the room, or the church, or the established ideas and mindset of “we’ve always done it this way!” – and to take advantage of new ideas, of fresh offerings gleaned from worship, education, fellowship and field trips.
“Escape the cramped boxes of conventional church programs and explore discipleship through retreat, mission, and justice ministries.” That’s the theme of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) annual event for 2020 – and it’s what APCE is inviting the 649 participants gathered in Little Rock Jan. 29 – Feb. 1 to explore.
“After this…” So begins Luke 10:1-11, the Scripture chosen for opening worship. Preacher Theresa Cho noted, “We get the sense that something not so good is coming ‘after this.’ ”
In the Scripture, “after this,” Jesus sent the disciples out into unfamiliar territory to do the hard work of building the kingdom. This was, she said, in a sense truly getting out of the box they had known. But “before we get out of the box, Jesus invites us to examine the box that we” currently live in, Cho noted. She asked: In our box, what holds us back from truly welcoming the other, the neighbor and the stranger?
Cho, who serves as pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, reflected on the box she lives in: San Francisco is a city of seven miles by seven miles. “I’ll be honest: my box does not smell so good,” she said, noting that there are more dogs than children in San Francisco. Other characteristics of her box: It has a revolving door, because people move out so frequently (last year, the population of African Americans living there decreased by 50%). It has one of the largest wealth gaps of any American city. And in this box, no one is immune to the housing crisis.
However, Jesus also gave instructions on hospitality when visiting someone else’s box, Cho said: Bring nothing with you; remain in the same place as the other people; eat and drink the same things they do; and heal them so they know the kingdom is near.
Cho recalled a scene from the film “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” in which Jimmie Fails, portraying a character of the same name, states: “You don’t get to hate San Francisco. You don’t get to hate it unless you love it.”
Cho encouraged APCE participants to turn this advice on the world: “God’s kingdom is coming no matter what. And all that God requires of us is that we love the world, love it enough to hate it, hate it enough to change it. God’s kingdom is coming.”
She added: “Love it so much that you hate it. Hate it so much that you are willing to do something about it even though it breaks your heart. Because the kingdom of God is near.”
A portion of the offering collected during worship will support Mercy Community Church of Little Rock, a multidenominational worshipping community that welcomes all – especially those living on the streets.
While the exhibit hall is open, participants are encouraged to visit an area designated for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance hygiene kit inspection and packing. Hygiene kits – zip-close bags containing a comb, washcloth, bandages and more – have been shipped to the Disaster Assistance Center at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center near Little Rock. In partnership with PDA and Church World Service, the Disaster Assistance Center is one of two centers in the U.S. to receive these kits and ship them to disaster sites. APCE attendees are invited to help with quality inspection of the kits and preparing them for shipment.