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APCE adopts new name, welcomes new leadership

Same acronym now stands for Association of Partners in Christian Education

by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Engagement & Support | Special to Presbyterian News Service

From left, Renda Brinson, president; The Rev. Dr. Susan Sharp Campbell, past president; and the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Campbell, president elect, are pictured attending APCE’s annual event in Chicago. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

CHICAGO — When the Rev. Dr. Susan Sharp Campbell, outgoing president of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE), first started attending the organization’s annual event in 1988, she knew right away that she “fit.”

“With APCE, I found my people,” she said.

And increasingly, “people” like Sharp Campbell who serve in educational ministries and seek out the community, resources and support that APCE offers represent denominations beyond the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The association’s homepage identifies APCE’s members as also coming from the Reformed Church in America, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Moravian Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Sharp Campbell presides during Thursday’s meeting of the APCE corporation. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

APCE’s desire to “demonstrate more intentional inclusivity in language … programs, denominations and diversity in every way — racial ethnicity, culture, strangers” — resulted in a recommendation to change the 51-year-old organization’s name to the Association of Partners in Christian Education, which was approved during the annual corporation meeting here Thursday afternoon.

“For a number of years, the idea of a name change was floating around the edges, and it was apparent that there were some who felt they couldn’t become a member because they weren’t ‘Presbyterian,’” Sharp Campbell said. “The Name Task Force was formed to consider whether or not it was time for a change, particularly as we seek to become a more inclusive and welcoming organization. The proposed name change is a result of their work, though it is very important to note that it is a first step in a process, with the formation of a Strategic Planning Task Force.”

Seated for an interview earlier this week in a quiet area of the otherwise bustling fifth floor of the downtown Chicago hotel where this year’s in-person annual event is being held, Sharp Campbell reflected with her immediate successor, Renda Brinson, president, and the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Campbell, president elect, on what being together means to them.

“While we mourn the loss of meeting in person during COVID, we found ways to adapt and do new things,” said Sharp Campbell, associate for Educational Ministry for the Presbytery of West Virginia and pastor of Frankford (West Virginia) Presbyterian Church. “Last year, we had over 1,000 people at our virtual annual event.”

And after nearly two years of doing everything online, more than 550 people eagerly flocked to the in-person gathering, with 211 registrants choosing the online option.

“One of the challenges we met during COVID was that we learned how to build community on Zoom,” said Brinson, APCE’s newly installed president. “It also made us go into more webinars, roundtable discussions and online learning cohorts. As wonderful as all of that is, it’s not the same as being together in person. We derive support from each other.”

Brinson, who serves in a joint position as director of the Christian Education Resource Center for the Presbytery of Charlotte and Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Charlotte campus, said that the organization has always counted community building and hospitality among its core values.

Leigh Miller, left, of Edmond, Oklahoma, and Michele Murphy, right, of New Orleans, flank Jessie Kuehner, who is recruiting people to join an APCE ministry team. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

President-elect Campbell, pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, similarly found that the hunger to build community was so strong that it often eclipsed the tasks at hand.

“A member of our Coordinating Council, Holly Dillon Inglis, told me that the Membership Ministry Team didn’t get through some of the things the council wanted them to do because all they could do was listen to each other,” she said. “Our being together and bonding as a group transcended the work of the organization. It speaks to the richness of our organization that the work, while important, was secondary to caring about each other.”

That caring is reflected in the organization’s new name.

“Help us to live into our name,” Sharp Campbell prayed following Thursday’s vote. “We want others to feel welcome.”

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