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GA Will Revisit Issue of Ordaining Church Educators
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
25 Apr 2000 13:08:02
Note #5870 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
GA Will Revisit Issue of Ordaining Church Educators
Teachers say they are called by God to a distinct and essential ministry
by John Filiatreau
For one fleeting hour in 1983, Lynn Jostes was qualified for ordination in
the Presbyterian church as a Minister -- not of the Word and Sacrament, but
Minister of Education sounds like a Cabinet position, but Jostes was up for
ordination to a proposed fourth clerical office of the Presbyterian church
-- "educator" -- that was to be added to the three established ordained
offices: minister, deacon and elder.
The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) had approved, in 1982,
a proposal to elevate qualified educators to "The Office of Christian
Educator"; and, over a period of about one year, a majority of PCUS
presbyteries had ratified the idea. Now the 122nd General Assembly (GA) of
the PCUS gave its final approval.
But the measure was soon undone. It was during that same GA -- about 60
minutes later, in fact -- that representatives of the PCUS approved a "Plan
for Reunion" with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of
The reunification of the southern (PCUS) and northern (UPCUSA) Presbyterian
churches in the United States, which repaired a Civil War-era split and
created the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), did not include adoption of the
PCUS provision that Christian Educators (CE's) could be ordained.
But the matter didn't end there.
In 1985, the 197th GA of the PC(USA) passed a new, slightly different
proposal to make educators eligible for ordination -- but that measure,
opposed by many ministers of the Word and Sacrament, failed to win the
required approval of the presbyteries.
Since then the "Book of Order" has been amended several times to accomplish
in small steps some of what the ordination measures were intended to do --
clarify the role of educators in the church, enhance their status, and
encourage professionalism by spelling out the requirements for certification
as a Christian Educator. (Certification is an idea whose time has not yet
come. Of the approximately 2,000 men and women who work as Presbyterian CE's
today, fewer than one-quarter are certified.)
This year's General Assembly in Long Beach, Calif., will once again
consider a measure that would make Christian educators eligible for
ordination -- in this case, not to a new, fourth ordained order in the
church, but to Minister of Word and Sacrament with a specialization in
The GA will also receive a competing measure, an overture from Educational
Ministries Committee of the Presbytery of Chicago that would create a fourth
ordained order for educators. Its sponsors think their bill would go farther
in enhancing the status of Christian educators and ensuring their fair
treatment in the larger context of ministerial service to the PC(USA).
Both groups want to acknowledge the importance of the work done by
Christian educators, enhance their status and improve their career
"We are trying to lift up the ministry of Christian Educators across the
church," said Jostes, a co-chair of the workgroup. "That was our mantra: to
lift up educational ministry in the life of the church, and to lift up
education in the life of the church."
Grayson Van Camp, the Chicago Presbytery's interim associate executive for
nurture and educational resources, who staffs the committee that wrote the
GA overture, said that group shared the workgroup's goals, and also "wanted
to lift up Christian education as a career."
Van Camp, citing a recent study of Christian educators working in the
Chicago area, said many CE's "are not lifted up by the church, nor are they
in my opinion being paid fairly."
Jostes said her workgroup learned that many PC(USA) educators were being
paid so poorly that they "couldn't afford to feed their families," and were
not eligible for pension or other benefits. She said Christian education has
largely become a "women's field," because the only people "who could afford
to work for what the churches would pay" were wives covered by their
The workgroup's 1998 survey found that about 75 percent of CE's earned
between $10,000 and $39,999 in 1997. The best-paid were those who worked
full-time; served outside their local congregation (e.g., for a presbytery
or seminary); were employed by large congregations; or were either certified
CE's or ordained clergy.
The Chicago committee said CE's who achieve certification "make
considerably more than their peers when comparing equal education and work
The workgroup said in its report that it "continues to be aware of
instances where educators are terminated without the benefit of review and
"The church, as employer, must exhibit just and fair employment practices,
including the process and manner of termination," it added. "Such concerns
should also be aggressively addressed by the work and recommendations of the
Committee on Churchwide Compensation Policy and Administration."
During the 210th GA, in 1998, the Committee on the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) in the 21st Century called attention to the importance of the role
educators play in the life of the denomination:
"Many of us are concerned about the relative priority and effectiveness of
our Christian education activities today," it said. "Basic Bible literacy,
in particular, is too low a priority among all populations of the church:
pastors, elders and members, young and old. ... We affirm the historic
Reformed understanding that assigns a central role to education in faith as
an essential and lifelong aspect of Christian discipleship. ... We
especially call upon congregations to empower and encourage pastors to
elevate the teaching role among their functions."
That committee won approval of three recommendations -- that the GA:
* Encourage congregations to consider electing Christian Educators as
* "Strongly" encourage presbyteries to give certified CE's who are ordained
as elders a vote in presbytery; and,
* "Strongly" encourage sessions to review personnel policies that excluded
CE's from being members of the congregations they served.
Two years before, in 1996, the National Ministries Division (NMD) and
Congregational Ministries Division (CMD) of the denomination together had
created the Workgroup on the Role and Status of Christian Educators,
instructing its members "to study and respond to issues related to the role
of Educators in the Presbyterian Church (USA)."
The seven-member workgroup -- co-chaired by Mary Elva Smith, a Certified
Christian Educator now serving as interim executive presbyter of San Diego
(Calif.) Presbytery, and Jostes, a Certified Christian Educator at Pine
Shores Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Fla. -- recently issued its final
report, which will be presented officially to this year's GA. It urges the
* Affirm the importance of Christian education to the church;
* Name a task force to recommend standards for ordination to "Minister of
Word and Sacrament with a Specialization in Educational Ministry";
* Expand the Preparation for Ministry process to include procedures and
resources for those called to teaching ministries;
* Strengthen the current certification process, which is administered by
the CMD; and,
* Support the ministry of Christian Educators and their "just treatment" --
especially in pay, pension and personnel matters.
The group pointed out in its report that people now regarded as CE's
"serve as Church Educators, Directors of Christian Education, Directors of
Children's, Youth or Adult Ministries, Associate Pastors whose work is
focused on Christian education, Recreation Leaders, Resource Center
Directors, Cluster Educators, Seminary faculty, National staff members,
Church Camp Directors, Presbytery Associates for Nurture (and) Day School
Directors, as well as in a wide variety of other educational positions."
Consequently, the term "Christian Educator" has no consensual definition;
two people serving in the role may have very little – in training, function
or income – in common.
"Persons called to this ministry," the workgroup said, "have provided and
continue to provide essential leadership, yet have had little or no
validation of their call by the church. The absence of affirmation
contributes to the confusion and ambiguity of the place of the profession
within the ecclesiastical life of the Church and of those who respond to
this unique call to service."
Who are the people who respond to this call?
The workgroup, after surveying members of the Association of Presbyterian
Church Educators (APCE) and participants in the annual Christian Education
Conference in Montreat, N.C., said the "average" Christian Educator is
female, married, 47 years old; has an advanced degree; is a lifelong
Presbyterian; is not ordained as elder, deacon or minister; got her start in
Christian education as a volunteer; is not certified; serves full-time in a
600-member congregation; is called a Christian Educator or Director of
Christian Education; feels called by God to a ministry of education; and
thinks CE's should be ordained as educators.
The group added a word of warning about the statistical profile: "Remember
that there is probably no individual Christian educator who matches all of
CE's are just about as diverse in functions as in titles. The tasks
performed by PC(USA)-affiliated Christian educators include: evangelism,
preaching, counseling, visitation, community involvement, preparing people
for the sacraments, leading people in spiritual development, assisting in
liturgy, leading Bible study, teaching, staffing committees, training and
teacher development, selecting/developing curriculum, supervising
church-school and other educational programs, and administrative tasks.
In 1987, the 199th General Assembly amended the "Book of Order" to include
a section on the Christian Educator. It affirmed certification as a way of
recognizing "the gifts, preparation and effective service of those ... in
the ministry of education." There are two levels of certification: Certified
Christian Educator and Certified Associate Educator. At the moment the
PC(USA) has 414 Christian Educators, 106 Associate Educators and 279
candidates for certification.
The workgroup said "providing for the ordination of educators to the
Ministry of Word and Sacrament with a specialization in educational ministry
is consistent with Scripture and the Reformed theological principles by
which our church orders its life by identifying and authorizing persons for
offices of leadership and service in its ministry and governance."
In 1992, a GA task force assigned to study the theology and practice of
ordination said in its report: "Continuing ... to pretend that all ministers
will be engaged primarily in preaching and sacramental ministries ...
perpetuates injustices ... to individuals who perceive themselves called to
alternative forms of leadership. The best solution to the problem appears to
be one that expands rather than limits the possibilities for educators and
other church professionals to respond to God's call."
The workgroup's decision not to call for a fourth order of ordination for
CE's "was a big deal for us," Jostes said. "We really struggled with that
issue. ... But there are some (Christian educators) who feel they are not
called to be ordained. We thought it was important to recognize that not
everyone is called to ministry in the ordained life of the church.
"We read the Book of Order, and concluded that its description of the
ministry of Word and Sacrament was a good expression of the educational
ministry as well. Educators do proclamation when we teach; the reality is
that we do teach about the meaning of the sacraments, in a way we are
‘administering' the sacraments."
In its report, the workgroup said it had "come to believe that the office
of Minister of Word and Sacrament can allow for the full expression of
ministry for those who feel that they are called to be ordained as
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