APCE Annual Event workshop resonates with the experience of seasoned church educators

Panel points to the importance of both worship and education

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Anne Wilson, a longtime Christian educator who lives in Houston, led a workshop featuring a panel of fellow faith formation enthusiasts titled “Fresh Elastic for Stretched-Out Educators” last week during the APCE Annual Event held online and in St. Louis.

Panelists included Priscilla Andre-Colton, a certified Christian educator; the Rev. Dr. Von Clemans, a retired pastor and educator; Debbie Hogue, a certified Christian educator; and Linda LeBron of Decatur, Georgia, an educator who joined via Zoom.

When asked about a favorite part of the job, Andre-Colton said it’s writing curriculum. “We would map out a whole year in May, then spend the summer together putting together the rotations,” she recalled.

“I loved doing something I’d never done before — after the fear subsided,” Hogue said. A church she served once asked her to help design stained-glass windows. “We made them teaching windows like in [European] cathedrals, and we had no training,” Hogue said.

“It’s more than just the transfer of information,” Clemans said. “The relationships are just as important.”

Wilson asked: “What do you wish you’d known when you started?”

For Clemans, it’s that the accumulation of more and more information isn’t the secret to providing effective education. “To some extent that’s true, but I learned to focus rather as a co-learner than as an expert,” he said. He recalled Wilson starting APCE meetings with a gathering question. “It’s hard to be mad at people,” Clemans said, “once you get to know a little about them.”

For Hogue, it was the step of faith her home church of 40 members took when it ordained her as a ruling elder. “As time went on, that became increasingly important as part of my ministry,” Hogue said. “It allowed me to get to the table to make things happen for others.”

Andre-Colton grew up “in a teeny-tiny church, and most of the time we didn’t have a pastor or a staff,” she said. “When I got to a church with a staff, I didn’t understand the dynamics of working as part of a staff. I wish I would have had a better understanding of staff dynamics.”

LeBron said she quickly learned “how fearful” many Presbyterians are “of being leaders in education.” The people she would ask to teach often “didn’t think they knew enough to be the teacher. They were afraid students would ask them something they didn’t know.”

One educator in the workshop said, “I wish I hadn’t chased every ‘great idea’ that came up.”

For Wilson, it was “learning the link between education and worship. Those aren’t two separate things.”

Wilson then asked panelists to share what they learned from past failures.

Hogue said it was her effort to install adult education. A core group “would come no matter what. We tried bringing in speakers, and still [more people] didn’t come. I couldn’t find the link to make them hungry to know more,” she said.

“When we were first talking about intergenerational learning, I went home fired up about it. I designed a logo and a brochure, and I thought people would say, if Priscilla is excited about this they would come. But they didn’t,” Andre-Colton said. “Since then, it’s taken off. I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t go into anything by yourself.”

Clemans once designed a mid-week program. “We finally realized it wasn’t working anymore,” he said. “A colleague used to say, ‘When you’re riding a dead horse and it falls over, it’s a good time to get off.’”

Wilson asked panelists to talk about their mentors. Early on in her ministry, Andre-Colton found “a friend of her heart” who has held her hand, cried with her and worked with her for many years. “I can call them at the drop of a hat, and there they are,” she said. “I’ve known them for 45 years now.”

“My mentor was James, the custodian,” Hogue said. “He was a good sounding board, and very wise — a minister in his own right.” Another mentor was Fred Rogers, whom she never met. “I watched what he did and listened to what he said,” Hogue said. “I based a lot of what I did on Fred Rogers.”

“My mom was my first mentor,” LeBron said. “She was a director of Christian education, and I thought what she did looked like a lot of fun.” When LeBron became director of children’s ministries at a church, “I called a nearby church and the educator said I could call her any time with any question. We have such an unusual calling that we really need each other.”

Panelists also spoke about their experiences helping clergy to plan worship. LeBron recommended “enlightening” worship planners “on the relationship between education and worship. You can draw those connections, and it will serve them in their pastorate.”

“I got to know the Book of Order so I could point out that worship is the primary place for nurture,” Hogue said. “Everything you’re doing is part of Christian education.”


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