More than 1,200 people gathered in Los Angeles for the annual Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ market and conference, Jan 31. Under the theme, “God is in Our Midst,” participants reflected upon where when and how God is present in their everyday lives.
The Rev. Cynthia Rigby, a theology professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas, called God “our refuge and our strength” in her sermon during the opening communion service and the closing commissioning service.
As we become more aware of the meaning of God in our midst, she said, “we will not fear, but will boldly conceive of the ways we are called to bear God to the world.”
“We recognize that God, our very present help, challenges us not to become complacent or smug about God’s presence with us,” Rigby added. “God does not sign off on our agendas. Rather, we are called fully to participate in the sovereign plans of God. The work of the Kingdom then is both all God’s and also ours.”
Worship services, community-building exercises, a spirituality center, an address by a humorist, and a marketplace was all featured during the conference.
Cindy Herweg, the director of Christian Education at San Marino Community Church in suburban Los Angeles, encouraged more church educators to join.
“I would just encourage churches and presbyteries to encourage their educators to come to events like these,” she said, “because educators are such a vital part of a church’s work and a church’s ministry. Supporting them by helping them grow in their jobs by sending them to an APCE event will only bring ... positive benefits.”
“I’m very lucky that my staff and my congregation send me here year after year,” said Herweg, “They believe in the value of this event, and in what I bring back to them from it.”
The bustling market, managed by Cokesbury, the bookseller, also had exotic, hand-crafted international gifts and tabletop displays featuring the latest tools of the education trade. Herweg, who was attending for the eighth time, said it helps make the APCE experience an indispensable part of her Christian-education ministry.
She said the meetings enable her to stay current in her field, through networking, workshops and informative speakers.
“Sometimes a workshop ... will provide me with food for thought, ways to think about doing ministry in new and exciting ways,” Herweg said. “Other times, there are resources that I take back and put right into play.
“I always find it helpful, because there’s new ideas and great resources and the conversations are very helpful,” said Jerilyn Lueders, a member of the RCA and a Christian-education consultant for one of the denomination’s synods in Iowa. “... This is one of the best places I can come to get new and high-quality resources to put in our library.”
“I find it very supportive and uplifting spiritually,” said Linda Edvar, director of Christian Education at Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Weems, VA. “It helps me with resources and creative ideas for teaching. ... It helps me get in touch with the denomination and what’s happening there, as well as what we can be doing on the local level to help our congregations feel a part of the denomination and grow in their faith through learning.”
In addition to the communal exercises, the APCE honored the Rev. Elizabeth Francis Caldwell of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago as its 2004 Educator of the Year. She urged her colleagues to keep in mind what it means to be part of a church.
“The focus is of course not on the building, windows or walls, but rather on people,” said Caldwell, a professor of pastoral theology and a former APCE president. “We are more than any one church, we are a community of believers.”
APCE is a professional, ecumenical organization that serves the educational ministries of the Reformed family of churches in association with the PC(USA), the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC).
Next year’s conference will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia.