Almost three years ago, the Rev. Keith Sundberg, Associate Pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Erie, PA, and the Rev. Joyce MacKichan Walker, Associate Pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton N.J., were asked to co-chair an annual event for the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators in Baltimore the week of Feb. 4-7. One of their challenges was to turn around a bottom line of the organization that was in the red.
At the suggestion of the Rev. Dr. David Oyler, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Lake Erie, Keith approached the Synod of the Trinity for support. He received enthusiastic help from the Rev. Susan Faye Wonderland, Synod Transition Executive, and Chantal Atnip, the Synod’s treasurer. They forwarded the need to the Grants and Scholarships Committee, which in turn offered $3,000 for the event, and Chantal authorized the last $400 from a resource account. The funds were used to host the group’s artist-in-residence.
What follows is a first-hand account of the APCE gathering from Rev. Sundberg:
Joyce and I prayerfully traveled these last few years with so many people in APCE to make this event come to fruition. We only had some vague ideas about running an international event and probably would have said no if it hadn’t been for a phenomenal Annual Events Committee chaired by Carl Horton of the PCUSA Peacemaking Program.
What we did know was that our hearts ached for colleagues in ministry and congregations that were struggling to understand what God was doing as membership dwindled and vision dimmed. We knew that fear was strangling the church, and we wanted to address it with faith. So began a journey of gathering people and ideas to address a biblical theme and a contemporary reality of fear and faith.
The other thing that Joyce knew for sure was who she wanted to be the artist-in-residence for the event: Catherine Kapikian, Founder and Director Emeritus of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. We were thrilled when she accepted our invitation! Little did we know that she would begin a journey of living the annual event theme, “Fear Not.”
In the months between our invitation and the day the conference began, Catherine’s husband died plus two beloved friends of 40-plus years. The struggle and confusion that comes from grief raised doubts in her mind as to whether she could find the energy and insight to provide an image for the event platform.
She literally lived the Markan story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, which we had chosen as the biblical story for the annual event. Her friends and Joyce and I lived it with her. When the day came to put the art in place, members of our local committee gathered around and began to help her assemble her creation.
She had chosen brown paper and shades of blue, turquoise, ivory and scarlet mesh netting overlapped to simulate waves on a navy blue curtain. The individual pieces were pinned to the material with straight pins that glimmered in the stage lights like sun upon the water. A paper image of the Holy Spirit rose as a dove into flight on the face of the communion table. Images of water appeared to overflow the baptismal font. And an Alpha and Omega marked the pulpit. It was breathtaking.
When it was up after an unbelievable number of hours, I was relieved that it had come to be. Then Catherine told Joyce and me that she would like to transform it on Friday if she had the energy. Somehow she did. With the help of wonderful volunteers on high ladders, the waves parted as did the Red Sea and a white translucent cross arose over our gathering. This remarkable woman brought hope through her own faith to a crowd of folks struggling with their own fears. It was inspiring.
Thanks was given by 740 attendees of the 2015 annual event in Baltimore for Catherine’s inspiration and to the Synod of the Trinity for making it possible. APCE is in the black. We will be able to carry on our ministry of education for the church. Joyce and I and the whole organization are grateful for the generous support of the Synod and its wonderful leadership.