In a previous blogpost, our readers were introduced to the story of the great cloud of faithful witnesses at work in the Association of Christian Educators (ACE), one of APCE’s predecessor organizations. Yet the history of those faithful witnesses is only part of the APCE story.

By the early 1940s, ACE had been extending its influence and nurturing faith for some twenty years. Meanwhile, in countless Presbyterian congregations across the country, the larger circle of the Northern stream of Presbyterians had also been at work. In the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and later in the United Presbyterian Church in an expanded organization, there were similar challenges for educators seeking to live out their calling. Many of those challenges had to do with how educators were perceived and their status in the church. As in the Southern stream of the church, there were crises and societal upheavals that shaped how Christian educators worked to equip the church to respond faithfully.

This is the story of those educators—an account that parallels the story of ACE in many ways, yet offers contrasts that grew, in part, out of the diversity and breadth of a larger church body. While the educational organization in the South took form immediately after a pandemic and a world war, in the Northern stream, it had its birth in the midst of World War II.  In July, 1943, seventeen directors of religious education gathered under a tree on the campus of Wooster College seeking relief from the heat of the classroom. These women (each were women) were attending the denominational Summer Leadership Training School of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Though there is no mention of the challenges of wartime America in the history of this group, doubtless they shared experiences of nurturing faith within a nation at war. Across the country, many women entered the workplace for the first time. They took the place of men off to war—some of whom would never return. There was rationing of goods and anxiety about the future. Christian educators faced enormous challenges.

In December, 1942, Walter Howell, Director of Church School Administration, had begun to provide a publication, The Bulletin. Howell had been trying to create a national organization but without much success. A meeting scheduled for 1945 was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. But by 1947, with the war over, a Provisional Committee met at the Wooster Leadership School and dubbed themselves the National Association of Directors of Religious Education, Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. (NADRE).

Similar to the goals of the ACE, the organization sought to address professional standards, continuing education, and relationships to congregations and pastors. In contrast to those in the Southern church who first organized as a churchwide group and later connected through their synods (and perhaps because of the much larger territory they inhabited), educators in the Northern stream first organized in at least one regional group. The Directors of Presbyterian Educational Services—in true Presbyterian style, known by the acronym DOPES—held its fifth annual conference at Winona Lake in May, 1948. The newly elected NADRE Central Committee held its first meeting there following DOPES conference. At the first national meeting of NADRE in 1950 in Columbus, Ohio, the group voted to change its name to the National Association of Directors of Christian Education (NADCE).

There were additional name changes reflecting the emerging realities of a growing church. Anticipating the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church, in 1959, NADCE and CEWS (the organization of the United Presbyterian Church) united to become TAUPCE, The Association of United Presbyterian Christian Educators.

In the next decade, The Association grew rapidly. At the same time, the nation was experiencing the turmoil and upheaval of the Civil Rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. This played itself out for TAUPCE in 1969, when national turmoil in Chicago led to misgivings about the organization’s conference that was scheduled after an ecumenical Christian education meeting. Yet, along with the NCC Division of Christian Education and ACE, TAUPCE decided to meet in Chicago with the theme, “Hope: The Word from /for the World,” with opportunities to go out into the city to meet with persons of a variety of economic, social, and racial backgrounds

Annual meetings became a centerpiece of the life of TAUPCE – a time to forge relationships, become familiar with the programs of the church (such as new curricula), and receive intellectual stimulation from such speakers as Walter Brueggemann and Reuel Howe. Over the years, General Assembly actions became the impetus for TAUPCE members to begin to advocate for themselves and for education in the church. The business meetings that were a part of their annual meetings took on new significance.

The larger church was responding to the societal change of the 1960s by taking a variety of actions arising out of social stands that were sometimes controversial. In 1970 and 1971, one such stand rocked the church to its very foundation when the denomination gave $25,000 to defend the Black Panthers and $10,000 to the Angela Davis Defense Fund. Surely, educators in local congregations in those years sought to meet the challenges of nurturing faith in a time when so much change was occurring, both inside and outside the church. Surely, TAUPCE and ACE sought to equip their members to navigate the changes through continuing education and speakers at annual meetings.

The written histories of ACE and TAUPCE do not focus on the crises and challenges of the larger culture, and rightly so. There is so much important information about the genesis and development of both organizations that cannot be found elsewhere, and our separate histories have shaped what APCE is today. Yet, at a time when we are living through an unprecedented crisis—when the way forward is far from clear and when the church is stretching its boundaries in new ways— it is worth noting that those of us called to educational ministries have always sought to discern God’s call in difficult times. We can take heart in the fact that throughout our collective histories, educators have lived into what it means to be faithful, whether in a pandemic, a war, a natural disaster, or daunting societal change.

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Martha Bettis Gee

APCE’s historian, is a writer, editor, and educational consultant. A certified Christian educator, she has served as Director of Christian Education for churches in Knoxville, Tennessee and Columbus, Indiana. She retired from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, where she served as Associate for Curriculum Development and, later, as Associate for Child Advocacy and Networking. Presently, she edits the adult curriculum The Present Word. She lives in LaGrange, Kentucky with her husband.