Christian education has been a passion for the Rev. Dr. Susan Sharp Campbell for many years. It’s something she draws great strength from and what motivates her in her call at the Presbytery of West Virginia and beyond.
“I like to help focus on others growing in faith, sharing God’s love for me and the good news of Jesus with others,” she explained. “I like working with people. Connecting with people – particularly children and youth – was something that I discovered that God was calling me to do, and that God had given me those gifts and skills.”
Susan has turned her love for Christian education into a role with the Presbytery of West Virginia where she has been the Associate for Educational Ministry for the past 19 years. That experience, mindset and devotion made her a perfect choice to lead the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) national chapter as its president in 2021.
“The opportunity to support one another in the work that we do is part of the appeal of APCE for me,” she continued. “There’s a sense of connecting, sharing our ideas with one another and seeing how we can support one another in our ministry.”
Susan’s term as APCE president began with the 2021 gathering in early February. Her year as president is just one of three years in a major leadership role with APCE, as she was the president elect last year and will fill the role of past president in 2022. Susan has been involved with APCE for some time, being on the APCE Cabinet and Connecting Ministry Team and even serving as moderator of the Connecting Ministry Team. Her work didn’t go unnoticed, and she was eventually nominated to be president two years ago.
As president, some of Susan’s duties includes moderating APCE’s Executive Council and Coordinating Council meetings.
“It’s a great honor and a privilege,” she said of being named APCE president. “I felt overwhelmed, but I also thought – when a person asked me if she could put my name in – if that’s where God is calling me to serve, yes she can put my name in.
“There was also a sense of, am I really qualified to do this? I have seen other people do this; do I really believe that I am called to do this? I had to trust the process and trust that God works through the process.”
Despite the initial apprehension, Susan has been able to lead APCE effectively through half of her three-year leadership role term. Last year, of course, was a different animal in that the annual gathering had to be held online and not in-person due to safety precautions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The response was unexpected as it drew 1,000 viewers, compared to the 600 people who attended the 2020 gathering in person in Little Rock, AR.
However, APCE is much more than just an annual gathering.
“APCE’s purpose is to connect, sustain, empower and enrich all who are involved in educational ministry in the church,” Susan said. “We do that through our annual event and webinars throughout the year.”
Antiracism is something APCE has been focusing on in recent years. It has made available eight webinars through Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training for APCE members to use in their own circles, and APCE is also working on a resource list on antiracism that can be used with children.
APCE is also part of a collaboration of organizations that includes UKirk, the Presbyterian Youth Workers Association, the Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center Association and the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network to collaborate with and support each other in their ministries.
“We’re trying to find ways to be more intentional about connecting,” Susan said. “Between the five collectives we cover the age spans. The Coordinating Council has been doing coaching sessions with Crossroads. One of our emphases with APCE is seeking to become a more diverse organization and an equitable and just organization.”
This year was the 50th anniversary of APCE, but it couldn’t be celebrated the way the organization hoped due to the annual gathering being held online. APCE hopes to recognize this milestone in 2022 in Chicago. This is where having councils and the past president to lean on has certainly helped Susan navigate through some of these unprecedented times.
“There are still times I feel overwhelmed, but the advantages are that I’m not out there by myself,” she said. “There are good folks who are involved. The good thing with educators is we are a group of folks who tend to see ourselves working in teams and not as lone rangers.
“It’s a good group of people to work with. It’s something I passionately believe in. I think we all do better in ministry when we do it together than when we all seek to do it in silos.”
APCE used to be known as an organization for professional church educators only. That is no longer the case, and changing that mindset is key for the future of the organization.
“We want to be inclusive of many of our ministers who may not have a title of Christian educator but that’s what they do,” Susan explained. “They may be the only professional in the church. We’re aware that some of them don’t have a lot of background in Christian education. This is for people in educational ministry not just those with the title.
“We also realize that there are many small churches, as they are getting smaller, don’t have or may never have had anyone on staff for Christian education but Christian education still takes place. So, we’re trying to also make APCE and its resources more accessible to them.”
It’s this type of outreach that continues to draw Susan into Christian education work and why she will continue to be motivated by it.
“There’s a sense of feeling that I am where God has called me to be,” she concluded. “As we go through changes, God is still leading us and we’re seeking to find where God is leading us. As I lead the organization, I get that sense of feeling like God is leading me and working with folks. There’s a sense of God leading us as we’re finding God’s new future for us.”