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Presbyterian church educators return to school this week

 

Association of Presbyterian Church Educators meets this week in Galveston

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

J. Herbert Nelson, II, right, was joined on his “Coffee with the Clerk” program Monday by, from left to right, Carl Horton, Anne Wilson, Stephanie Fritz and Ken McFayden. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

LOUISVILLE — The 700 or so people set to gather in Galveston, Texas this week for the annual event of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators can dip their toes not only into the Gulf of Mexico, but into the swirling, often competing demands on faith formation in a world where traditional Christian education venues like Sunday school don’t necessarily meet people where they’re at.

Guests speaking Monday during the Facebook Live event “Coffee with the Clerk” told the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), that the annual event — which attracts educators from four other denominations — seeks to disseminate ideas to clergy and lay educators alike.

“A huge challenge is that our families are so busy,” said Anne Wilson, who together with Priscilla Andre-Colton is an event co-chair. “They are forced to make changes and be flexible, and the church needs to learn to be flexible too. It’s wonderful to have a conference where (professional) educators and volunteers can come for new ideas.”

One idea, said the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the upcoming APCE president, is to “look at the whole life of the church as teachable moments.” Worship and, yes, even session meetings can be seen as educational activities.

“I know a challenge for educators is to provide good resources for those other days of the week when family members are the primary Christian educators for children and youth,” Horton said. It’s the task of church educators, including pastors, to “reawaken the desire for adults to grow so their children can grow.”

“We do what we do because growing in faith matters,” said the Rev. Dr. Ken McFayden, the academic dean at Union Presbyterian Seminary and the current APCE president. “It doesn’t happen accidentally. I interact with church leaders and I wonder how many elders, deacons and trustees are involved in faith formation.”

“We need to practice telling our stories of faith,” said Stephanie Fritz, the PC(USA)’s new associate coordinator for faith formation. “It is a sacred, meaningful tool of evangelism.”

Nelson said he learned years ago that “our welcome is really the entry point.” The message ought to be “Come be a part of this. When you come, there will be a place for you.”

Attendees will worship each day of the four-day conference, which runs Wednesday through Saturday. The Presbyterian News Service will file stories from Galveston, and the major group gatherings will be livestreamed via the APCE website, www.apcenet.org.

Nelson, who’s attended several APCE annual events, calls it “one of the most relaxed environments in the life of the church. There’s no policy agenda. There’s just people doing the work they are called to do, teaching and giving some expression to faith.” He described the event as “a pep rally for the soul.”

“You don’t have to know the whole Bible to come be part of this event,” whether attending in person or viewing some of the activities via livestream, Nelson said. “It’s just good people who love the church, love the Lord and love the faith — and it’s always been an organization that has had some stellar leadership.”

The PC(USA) “has always been known as a teaching church,” Nelson said, “and we’ve been respected because of that.”

The four guests who spoke Monday “are about to put on a powerful conference,” he predicted.

If the PC(USA) is to be the “turnaround denomination” that Nelson has long articulated, it can only happen if Presbyterians are informed by “educated Christians who understand how important it is to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” he said.

Union Presbyterian Seminary students see the relevance. Twelve of them plan to miss a week of classes to attend, McFayden said.

“They know it will be a unique and rich gathering,” he said.

 


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