By: Forrest Palmer
I greet you as a disciple in Christ, now serving as the president of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE), a five denomination partnership with the mission goals that APCE exists to “connect, enrich, empower and sustain persons serving in educational ministry in the Reformed family of churches.” The Advocate is one way we enrich the association, connecting us all around a topic of interest to educational ministry.
The focus of this issue is “How can the church help people discuss and confront sensitive and controversial issues?” When I learned that this was the topic for my first Advocate article, I felt a twinge of anxiety. I have learned through the work of Peter Steinke that anxiety is a natural and physiological response to any perceived threat. When confronted, our physiology is built to feel anxiety, feeling a “flight or fight” response.
It is quite common that when facing an issue within the church we feel anxious. Some of us want to run and not face the potential confrontation, while others of us enjoy the contest and want to argue our point of view. Those of us serving churches in positions of educational ministry know of the anxiety in planning an educational study about a current controversial issue. The system responds with anxiousness.
As people of faith, we look to the Scriptures for help and guidance. As we encounter those stories of the faith community, we find many examples of anxiousness there—from Adam and Eve feeling anxious when they hear God walking through the garden to Peter’s denial of Christ to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
Since its beginning, the church has faced controversial issues. Dealing with such issues is a part of our heritage. We are called to pray, think, discuss and act on our faith and to make a difference in the world. We are called to be the disciples of Jesus Christ, seeking out “the mind of Christ.” We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, bearing witness to the world.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:12 NRSV)
Forrest Palmer, former executive associate presbyter for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, is interim executive presbyter for the Presbytery of West Virginia. Forrest has been an educator in congregations in Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina and directed a camp in Virginia. Forrest and his wife, Barbara Hollman Palmer, are both certified Christian educators and ruling elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).