Martha Bettis Gee, APCE Historian 

Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been. . .

For many of us of a certain age, these words have a nostalgic resonance. We recognize them as the concluding words of the refrain of the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin.”  Even if you are on the south side of fifty, you probably recognize that last line. Believe it or not, for me, those lines bring to mind APCE’s Annual Event, the centerpiece of our life together as an organization. It is the one aspect of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators that embodies every facet of our mission statement. We come together to connect with educators whose experiences are much like ours, and others whose ministry, experiences and perspectives may be strikingly different. We connect to new ideas and resources. We are enriched by experiencing speakers and workshop leaders who challenge us and expand our understanding of ministry and of those to whom we minister. We are empowered by hearing of the advocacy our organization is doing on our behalf and in the name of education. And we are sustained by relationships and experiences in a context unlike any other.

If you know the words to the song, however, you may be scratching your head and wondering how on earth I could connect our Annual Event with that particular piece of rock music. Stay with me here—for sure, we don’t have much in common with trashing hotel rooms or dodging warrants or drug use. The word “strange” may seem like an unlikely adjective to apply to such a wonderful event. But if you take two significant nuances of meaning of the word “strange,” it has been a long, strange——as in “extraordinary” “exceptional”—journey. Join me now as we retrace that long “strange” trip.


  • TAUPCE (The Association of United Presbyterian Church Educators) and ACE (Association of Christian Education) come together in New Orleans, LA to form APCE — Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.


  • The scheduled Annual Event to be held in San Francisco, CA was canceled due to lack of registrations. Head scratching and consternation on the part of the Governing Cabinet!


  • A twenty-four-hour APCE event coupled with a second NECE (North American Event for Church Educators) event in Houston, TX has good attendance, but the APCE Governing Cabinet is not willing to risk another Annual Meeting in 1974.


  • No Annual Meeting planned; instead, three regional events were slated, but only two had enough registrations to meet. The APCE Governing Cabinet wonders: is there a need for a Presbyterian organization of educators?


  • No Annual Event. The APCE Governing Cabinet holds a consultation. After slogging through their differences, the group states: we will meet yearly for an Annual Event; we will communicate via newsletters; we will advocate for Christian education/Christian educators.


  • Two hundred fifty members attend the APCE event coupled with the NECE event. With its success, the Annual Event gains a strong footing.


  • Refocusing Our Vision – NECE/Prophets in the Marketplace Annual Event in Louisville, KY. Regional banners and backdrops illustrating the event theme add color and drama.


  • Creative Crossings: Conversations with Art, Science, and Theology, NECE event in San Diego, CA. A dialogue between Fred Craddock (a bit over five feet tall) and Maya Angelou (a bit over six feet tall) provides stimulating food for thought.


  • APCE establishes a scholarship for Annual Event attendance to honor E. Valeria Murphy, recipient of the first LIFE Achievement Award, an African American educator and a former member of the APCE Cabinet who never missed a meeting.


  • Empowered to Become: Presbyterian and Reformed Educational Ministry, Fort Worth, TX. The new Presbyterian and Reformed Educational Ministry (PREM) resources are introduced to the largest ever Annual Event.


  • Singing God’s Song in a Strange Land, Oakland, CA. A joint conference with the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) provides fireworks due to an unanticipated clash of the two organization’s cultures and expectations. APCE members did not expect the final sessions to include resolutions on issues addressed in the conference—an aspect always included in PHEWA conferences.


  • In Cincinnati, OH, a joint NECE/APCE Event features a Love Feast in the tradition of the Church of the Brethren and the Moravian Church.


  • Good News for a Hope-Starved World, Atlanta, GA. Conferees experience an urban plunge on the streets of the city, sparking future conference experiences that extend outside the convention center walls into the communities where the events were held.
  • The Rev. Bill Haire and Patty Crouch with Travelink, Inc., begin working with APCE as meeting service planners, beginning with the 1997 and 1998 events, making it possible to negotiate hotel contracts three years in advance and to lock in space and costs.
  • The Annual Events committee begins using a three-year planning process, allowing them to invite desired leaders before their calendars filled.


  • Give Heed to God’s Word – Bear Light to the Peoples, Chicago, IL. APCE celebrates its 25th anniversary.


  • Seeing Through God’s Eyes, San Diego, CA. In San Diego, CA. All 1005 registrants enjoy a conference-wide trip to San Diego Zoo, where they hear APCE’s Educator of the Year Rodger Nishioka and keynoter Douglas Adams speak. Miraculously, every participant makes it back to the buses!


  • APCE holds a series of “brown-bag conversations” at the Annual Event and invites all registrants who are of various ethnic groups or who are people of color to participate.
  • A record forty Canadians attend Annual Event.


  • Attendance exceeds contracted hotel space at Ecumenical Church Educators Event (ECCE).
  • A special gathering is held for retired educators where Marvin Simmers challenges attendees to mentor new educators.
  • Rosemary Banta takes the Annual Event Marketplace to a new level as show manager, underscoring the value of having someone in charge who understands APCE and its mission.


  • At the joint ECCE/APCE event, registrants are offered choices on plenaries, morning worship styles, and evening worship.
  • APCE recognizes educators from all of APCE’s member denominations who have achieved any level of certification in that year.
  • For the first time, members can register for an Annual Event with a credit card.


  • Living into Community: Receiving, Accepting, Building, Celebrating, Birmingham, AL. Planners arrange for all participants to visit the Civil Rights Museum and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where educators can experience the history of the Civil Rights movement.
  • APCE celebrates its 30th anniversary.
  • The APCE Governing Cabinet wrestles with what to do about an NAACP boycott of the Adam’s Mark hotel properties, with which they are contracted for the 2003 Annual Event in Denver, CO. Leadership formulates a plan to provide a witness for a just resolution, pursuing actions that would affect the hotel chain without penalizing its staff. APCE is relieved from having to take action when the boycott is resolved in December.


  • Alive by the Breath of God, Toronto, ON, Canada. The site of the first spirituality center offered at an Annual Event.
  • APCE recognizes educators from all of APCE’s member denominations who have achieved any level of educator certification in that year.


  • APCE awards ribbons of recognition for years of service to be worn on conference ID badges. This recognition continues for several years.


  • APCE establishes new guidelines for the use of the Val Murphy offering:

-25 percent to a local mission project to be decided by the local committee;

-25 percent to the multicultural representatives for ministry with their members;

-50 percent to be allocated for Val Murphy scholarships.

  • APCE holds a first-timers’ gathering at APCE Annual Event as an orientation on what to expect at the conference. These continue to offer a welcome and to provide help in navigating a very large and complex conference.
  • APCE honors M. Agnes Peebles for her twelve years as APCE historian.
  • God is in Our Midst, Norfolk, VA. Dr. Dianna Wright, 2008 APCE president, partners with the Reverend Stephanie Graham, Associate for African American Enhancement, to promote Urban Institute workshops at the Annual Event.
  • The annual Youth Continuing Education Event (CONED) is discontinued. Youth ministry staff are encouraged to attend a Presbyterian Youth Connection Luncheon during APCE Annual Event.
  • Asian American Institute and APCE partner to offer a special Annual Event track: Multicultural Ministry in the Asian-American Context.
  • APCE establishes regional and global scholarships.


  • Down to the River, St. Louis, MO. Advertised as “An Ecumenical Conference for All Who Are Involved in Educational Ministry” brings together long the Lutheran Association of Church Educators and the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors, and APCE. Unique to this Annual Event is an ecumenical luncheon.
  • Annual Event plenary speaker, the Rev. Eric H. F. Law, speaks at an Annual Event breakfast for all the various groups of people of color and ethnic constituencies.


  • After fourteen years as APCE Annual Event registrar, Pat Murphy retires.
  • CERCA celebrates its 25th anniversary.
  • APCE establishes a scholarship for retired educators from the region where the Annual Event takes place.


  • A Light to the Nations, San Antonio, TX. Annual Event planners make the deliberate choice to plan fewer traditional workshops so participants will be encouraged to experience the rich offerings of the San Antonio community.


  • Awake My Soul, Nashville, TN. Participants are treated to a concert by Christian recording artist Amy Grant.
  • PYWA (Presbyterian Youth Workers Association) holds its Winter Symposium in conjunction with APCE. Youth workers are encouraged to register for a PYWA workshop track and special gatherings.


  • Walking in Balance, Albuquerque, NM. Registration is available online for the first time.
  • APCE celebrates its 40th anniversary.
  • Annual Event committee again schedules fewer workshops than at past events to allow participants to experience the many opportunities in the city of Albuquerque
  • The Governing Cabinet approves a motion that co-chairs would head each Annual Event on a trial basis for three years, from 2013 to 2015. With the success of this working model, co-chairs for Annual Events continue.


  • The APCE Coordinating Council holds a called meeting to make decisions about the future of the Annual Event beyond the 2016 Chicago event. The consensus: APCE needs the event in order to sustain the building of momentum for its new structure and vision. Leaders consider various alternative models for the event, then decide to proceed as usual.


  • APCE expands and renames the annual awards: the Connect award, the Empower award, the Sustain Lifetime Achievement award, and the Enrich Educator of the Year award.


  • Deep and Wide: Boundless Hospitality, Louisville, KY. APCE livestreams portions of the Annual Event. Response is good.


  • See, I Am Sending You Out: Getting Outside the Box, Little Rock, AR. The whole conference encounters living history with a Clinton School of Public Service Guest Lecture by Elizabeth Ann Eckford, one of the original Little Rock Nine who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Many participants also experience an extended off-site visit and tour of The Little Rock Nine and Central High School National Historic Site.
  • The Executive Council makes the decision not to renew contract with Travelink, Inc. for Annual Event site selection and to award that contract to Conference Direct/Segi Desta, pending review by an attorney on APCE’s behalf.


  • Annual Events Ministry Team reimagines the 2021 Annual Event scheduled for Chicago with a quick pivot to a virtual event, requiring all the creativity and energy a new team and GNTV can muster.


As we come to the end of our journey, at least for the present, we look forward to the next chapter for APCE’s Annual Events. In February, we will celebrate our fiftieth-plus-one anniversary. Though we had hoped to leave COVID behind, it seems we are confronted with the challenge of celebrating in person and virtually. May we be blessed with meeting this challenge with a fresh sense of APCE’s mission and with appreciation for the long, strange trip we have been on for more than fifty years!

Author Image

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.