The APCE Annual Event is coming to Grand Rapids, MI, in February 2012 and you should make plans to attend. Really. I’m not kidding. Now Grand Rapids in February might not be your idea of a tropical paradise but there are a number of outstanding reasons for you to join us. Those of us who live here know that the reports of frigid temperatures and snow-covered streets are greatly exaggerated. In fact, the normal high temperature for February is well above freezing. OK, it’s one degree above freezing but locals hold onto such promises of warmth with great enthusiasm. Once, in 1976, it hit 67 degrees (Fahrenheit) in February. I’m quite confident that this will happen again when the APCE members gather here next year.

But you don’t need to be outside to enjoy Grand Rapids. The conference is located downtown in what is quickly becoming known as a significant cultural center. With three museums within walking distance and concert halls, restaurants and a beautiful downtown area you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. If you come a few days early you’ll be able to take advantage of the Calvin Symposium on Worship. Held on Jan 26-28, 2012, this is one of the premier events for anyone interested in worship leadership. Every year more than 1400 people (including many international guests) gather on the campus of Calvin College (about six miles from downtown) to experience breathtakingly beautiful worship services, amazing workshops and to interact with many of the most thoughtful and perceptive worship leaders in the world.

But this isn’t mostly about the appeal of Grand Rapids; it’s about the conference itself. The APCE Annual Event is a fun, educational and inspirational experience. Nationally known speakers like Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Carol Bechtel and Claudio Carvalhaes will lead in the large group sessions. If you’ve attended before, you know that these sessions are among the highlights of the conference.

In addition, there are a large number of breakout sessions led by APCE members and other experts in the field. One advantage to having the conference in Grand Rapids is that west Michigan is a hotbed of Reformed Christian excitement with headquarters for the RCA and CRC nearby as well as Calvin and Hope Colleges. Major Christian publishers (Baker, Eerdmans and Zondervan) have their editorial offices nearby. There is a lot of exciting stuff going on intellectually in this area and the APCE Annual Meeting is poised to take advantage of it.

One of the real joys of the APCE event, though, is getting together with other church educators, many of whom have become close friends after years of meeting at these events. The fun of being with those who care about helping others enrich their faith and who love working with people in church settings is hard to duplicate in any other setting. So make your plans now to join us in Grand Rapids for four days of being enriched, inspired and invigorated. It might be cold outside but we’ll have a hot time anyway.

Robert Keeley is Professor of Education and chair of the Education Department at Calvin College. He received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Denver and has more than 30 years of experience working with children and young people in churches and schools. Bob has published a number of articles, two mathematics textbooks and, along with his wife, Laura, has co-authored church school curricula and eleven Christmas plays for children. His latest books are Helping Our Children Grow in Faith: How the Church Can Nurture the Spiritual Development of Kids (Baker Books, 2008) and Shaped by God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth and Adults (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010). Bob and Laura also serve as directors of children’s ministries at 14th St. Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI, where he frequently uses his guitar to lead worship.