Once upon a time, emboldened by 19 years in educational ministry in tiny to very large churches and a whole lot of APCE meetings, a Certified Christian Educator in the PC (U.S.A.) was appointed to the “Workgroup on the Role and Status of Christian Educators.” Two years later (2000), after much inquiry and exploration, she was propelled onto the “Task Force on the Educational Design for the Ordination of Christian Educators,” whose mission was to “recommend standards for ordination as Minister of Word and Sacrament with a specialization in educational ministry to be included in the [Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)] Book of Order.”

In a nutshell, the Task Force failed at its most basic task. Although its recommendations were overwhelmingly adopted at the 2002 General Assembly of the PC (U.S.A.), Presbyteries, many of which had no Certified Christian Educators in their midst and no one to interpret either their preparation or their ministry, defeated the key recommendation. Sadly, there was no happily ever after. 

But it’s not the end of the story. That’s not how advocacy works. Advocacy is something you do until what matters – what is flawed or broken or unjust or simply “not right” – is changed, or turned, or shaped into something new. The “something’ might not be the perfect new thing, not yet, but it’s a step in the right direction, or in a direction. Advocacy is a chipping away at what matters until the whole new thing begins to appear; one new, smooth limb at a time. 

Many things have changed since 2002. The PC (U.S.A.) Book of Order acknowledges Certified Christian Educators and their call to ministry. It names their skills and training, mandates the setting of minimum requirements for compensation and benefits, establishes their right to speak at Presbytery meetings (and vote if Ruling Elders), and gives them access to Presbytery’s counsel in times of difficulty in congregations. Some Certified Christian Educators have forged their own roads to ordination – as Ruling Elders or as Ministers of Word and Sacrament. Some educators serving churches have become Commissioned Lay Pastors. Some have offered their educational ministry skills to worship planning and leadership, ministries of care and compassion, mission engagement, visioning processes for wholistic faith formation in congregations, and reimagining vitality for 21st century ministry. Advocacy is a chipping away at what matters until the whole new thing begins to appear.

Big picture advocacy takes purpose, planning, and patience. Big picture advocacy recognizes the ones who benefit from its tenacious work may be the next year’s or the next generation’s educators and congregations.

Where big picture advocacy may point the way is in the weekly and monthly advocacy that changes lives and ministries in the here and now. It’s the connection you make with the educator down the street and in the next town facing similar challenges to the ones you face. It’s the conversation you have with the volunteer in the small church trying to imagine how to integrate education with their worship and mission. It’s the small group you gather to read a book, talk about your congregation, ask for a resource, share an idea, lift up a need for prayer. It’s the hour you spend listening to the educator who is discouraged, struggling, and facing a tough situation, and the offer you make to walk alongside that educator through this hard time. It’s the courage you show in calling a friend and telling them what support you need, and asking for theirs. It’s chipping away at what matters until a new thing begins to appear.

“And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of . . .” Freda Gardner and Izzy Rogers and Maria Harris and James Fowler and John Westerhoff and Val Murphy and Don Griggs and Carol Wehrheim and John Roberto and (insert your own cloud of witnesses here). 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” 

Advocates all. It’s who we are. It’s what God calls us to do.

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Joyce Mackichan Walker

Joyce MacKichan Walker retired from the Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, in 2018 after 18 years as their Director of Christian Education and 12 years as Minister of Education. Her role in advocating for Christian Educators at local, regional, and national levels led to her own ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in 2007 and may have contributed to her selection as APCE’s Educator of the Year in 2008. A Canadian American, she is a graduate of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union Presbyterian Seminary), Richmond VA, and she continues to write and teach for the church