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Resources and networking opportunities abound at APCE Christian Formation luncheon

Intra-agency partnerships yield a wealth of programs and materials from the PC(USA)

by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Communications | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Office of Christian Formation staff from left: Janet Hayes, Mission Specialist; the Rev. Neema Cyrus-Franklin, Project Coordinator for Around the Table; Stephanie Fritz, Manager for Christian Formation; and Miatta Wilson, Mission Associate. (Contributed photo)

ST. LOUIS — As Stephanie Fritz took the microphone last week to give the sold-out crowd at the APCE Networking and Resourcing Lunch a “fast and furious introduction” to the abundance of resources and initiatives offered by the PC(USA), Laura Sparks caught her breath.

“It’s truly eye-opening how many resources are out there,” said Sparks, director of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Newton in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. “It’s been incredibly beneficial for me as a first-time APCE-goer to know that we’re not in this ministry alone.”

Fritz is manager for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Christian Formation, which sponsored the Jan. 25 luncheon. She eagerly shared the platform with members of the Christian Formation staff team: Janet Hayes, mission specialist; the Rev. Neema Cyrus-Franklin, project coordinator, Around the Table; and Miatta Wilson, mission associate, as well as colleagues from the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, highlighting their many collaborative ventures.

Following a blessing by the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022), over tables overflowing with a wealth of handouts and giveaways — not to mention a generous lunch — Fritz opened the program with a word of affirmation for the power of partnerships.

Cheers and applause accompanied Fritz’s introduction of representatives from the five ministry partners in the Christian Formation Collective, which, in addition to APCE, are the Presbyterian Youth Workers’ Association (PYWA), the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association (PCCCA)UKirk Collegiate Ministries and Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN).

“We do all of this work in partnership with one another because we want to make sure everyone is well equipped for ministry,” said Fritz. “No one is never not learning.”

As Wilson stepped forward to take attendees through a rapid overview of new, up-and-coming resources from the office of Christian Formation, she left them with a word of advice.

“The fastest way to find our resources is to visit our QuickSheets site,” she said.

Wilson added that the Christian Formation office also provides free, downloadable resources for many of the PC(USA)’s Special Emphasis Sundays, such as Camp and Retreat Sunday, coming up on Feb. 11, and Mr. Rogers Day, Wednesday, March 20.

The impressive overview of available resources continued as Martha Miller — who quipped that she was well known to many in the room “from her name in an email” — introduced herself.

Martha Miller, an assistant stated clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, speaks during last week’s luncheon. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

The manager for Ministry Education and Support and an assistant stated clerk in the OGA celebrated the fact that the popular series, “Regarding Ruling Elders,” will have been published for 10 years as of March for a total of 120 archived articles.

“If you consider that each article is published in English, Spanish and Korean, that’s 120 times three,” Miller later said.

Miller then welcomed her OGA colleague, valerie izumi, assistant stated clerk and manager for GA Nominations, to address the gathering.

After izumi gave a brief self-introduction, she spoke to her role as staff resource for the General Assembly Nominating Committee, which makes nominations to almost 30 boards, commissions, and committees.

“Serving on a GA level committee is really about call,” said izumi, emphasizing the theological foundation of her work in coordinating the GA nominating process. “If you feel called to serve the church in that way, please look me up. Although every year I lament when a class is going off, I am always gifted with a class of new people.”

izumi noted that she holds multiple positions in the OGA, including as a co-host of the Along the Road podcast. She also highlighted her equity and inclusion work, inviting attendees to seek her out for help with their anti-racism efforts and statements.

The luncheon’s emphasis on the fruits of collaboration continued as the Rev. David Maxwell, vice president for the PPC, stepped forward.

“Even though General Assembly mandated that we work together, our relationship is better than ever,” Maxwell said with a smile.

The Rev. David Maxwell, vice president of Presbyterian Publishing Corp., addresses those gathered for the Jan. 25 luncheon. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

He took the gathering through a whirlwind tour of the PPC’s offerings in curriculum, digital resource guides, new resources for Lent, These Days, the Around the Table Initiative​, and new items from two of PPC’s imprints, Westminster John Knox Press and Flyaway Books.

Maxwell noted that although PPC is self-funding, it does receive a grant to produce resources in Korean and Spanish, the latter edited by his colleague, the Rev. Marissa Galván Valle. He generously reminded APCE attendees of their free shipping offer and discount through Feb. 17 when ordering from The PC(USA) Store using the promotion code APCE2024.

“And since we’re always looking for writers — and since Christian educators are writers — please contact me if you’re interested in writing for These Days,” he said.

The next initiative to be introduced, Around the Table, brought the Rev. Neema Cyrus-Franklin before the gathering. After sharing highlights of her own faith formation in the PC(USA), Cyrus-Franklin told attendees that her call to serve the PMA is as project coordinator for the new program funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.

The project is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to help parents and caregivers share their faith and values with their children.

Around the Table was designed to come alongside parents, caregivers, churches and worshiping communities to provide skills, opportunities for connection and relationship building, and the resources needed to enhance and prioritize sharing faith in households.

Everyone in attendance was urged to subscribe to the blog to be updated on the numerous opportunities to get involved with Around the Table over the course of the $1.25 million Lilly Endowment grant’s five-year timeline.

“How can you engage?” asked Fritz in closing the luncheon. “Watch for new resources, think about families that you rarely or never see, apply to be in a cohort, keep up with findings, write for us and spread the word.”

The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022), at left, is photographed alongside Laura Sparks of First Presbyterian Church of Newton, North Carolina. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Before attendees headed off to the next event on the busy APCE schedule, door prizes were awarded to four people at each table, including Sparks.

Holding up the book that she won, courtesy of the PPC, Sparks said, “For any newbies out there, I would encourage you to sign up for the networking lunches. Not only are they a great way to meet people, but they’re also a great way to stockpile resources for future use, especially because the resources are adapted and written for us and what we’re going through.”

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