Among the General Assembly’s perennial duties is overseeing the certification process of Christian educators, those serving in areas of faith formation throughout PC(USA) congregations, mid councils, and schools.
That effort is about more than examining Sunday school or adult education leaders. It’s about equipping educators for success in different and evolving ministries and raising the profile of educators throughout the denomination.
The Educator Certification Committee (ECC) is the General Assembly-elected body leading this work, funded through per capita dollars.
The committee met in November for the last time in 2021. In addition to discussing future changes to the certification process that will increase access and inclusion, the committee finalized changes to its yearly updated Educator Certification Handbook.
As part of overseeing educator certification, the ECC establishes certification standards, evaluates certification exams and approves Educator Certification Advisors. Certification courses are provided by seminaries, professional associations and presbyteries.
The committee includes pastors, directors of Christian education, mid council leaders and seminary representatives. In selecting members, the General Assembly emphasizes diversity in gender, lay or clergy affiliation, racial/ethnic background and age.
Martha Miller is Manager of Ministry Education and Support in the Office of the General Assembly’s Mid Council Ministries. As a part of this work, she is staff to the ECC and its processes.
Miller serves as the liaison among ECC, educators, advisors, schools and mid councils, maintaining communication continuity even as committee membership changes.
“Faith formation and discipleship are important to ECC members,” Miller said. “Those are things they are all passionate about.”
The same could be said for Miller, who has worked with the committee since 2007.
There are two levels available to PC(USA) Christian educators: Certified Christian Educator and Christian Education Associate. Although not a certification, the latter was redesigned in recent years to include the increasing number of educators who have entered the field through volunteer service or part-time employment.
Certified Christian Educator candidates are examined on their knowledge of biblical interpretation, Reformed theology, worship and sacraments, human growth and faith development, religious education theory and practice, and PC(USA) polity, program and mission.
Christian Education Associate candidates are measured on their knowledge and skills as Christian educators, through a series of assessments.
Miller noted that the needs and backgrounds of Christian educators are always changing.
“A majority of people going through the process now don’t have previous theological education,” she said.
A new online EQUIP course for the Christian Education Associate process is “better tailored to each educator’s role and background,” Miller said.
She noted that the pandemic encouraged the ECC to increase participation in the certification process, including making certification more accessible to educators.
Those changes follow a General Assembly mandate from 2018 instructing the Educator Certification Committee “to expand and promote the level of Christian Education Associate, making it more accessible and emphasizing the diverse needs of committed Christian education and faith formation leaders.”
The mandate’s rationale stated that the associate level at that time was “underutilized and ripe for adaptation, especially for smaller congregations and racial ethnic congregations who have volunteer or part-time educators.”
Jenna Campbell, a previous ECC moderator and the current moderator of one of its subcommittees, said that ECC has recently been discussing working with providers of certification courses to create more online options.
Campbell — a Certified Christian Educator and Director of Children and Youth Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma — identified ways the committee has responded to the General Assembly mandate and to pandemic conditions restricting in-person classroom gatherings.
“We've become more aware of the need to work with certification course providers on offering more online courses… We've also taken advantage of people's ability to use Zoom by offering several trainings for our certification advisors.
“In terms of equity, as a committee we are taking a close look at the entire certification process in regards to cultural sensitivity and accessibility in terms of language.”
During ECC’s November meeting, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) workshop was led by the Rev. Molly Casteel, Assistant Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly and Manager for Equity and Representation. That session focused on ways DEI realities impact the educator certification process.
Mary Taneti, the incoming ECC moderator, pointed to the initial assessment (IA) each Christian Educator Associate candidate now takes as a way the committee is helping educators find their best learning path.
“The initial assessments are meant to be used as a diagnostic tool that helps the educator understand her/his strengths and weaknesses in a given course, thereby inviting educators to feel welcome entering the process,” Taneti said. “Based on their IA outcome, the educator will equip her/his self in the course as needed or become confident enough to take the Final Assessment.
“These assessments are offered online and are easily accessible.”
Like Campbell, Miller identified the creation of materials in Spanish and Korean as important next steps to bring more educators into the certification process.
When asked about future changes to Christian educator certification the committee might discuss, Taneti — a Certified Christian educator at First Presbyterian Church, Goldsboro, North Carolina — mentioned raising the profile and reach of Christian educators (including “encouraging the work of educators in regions that have fewer trained educators”) and organizing more educator forums at the presbytery level.
Find out more about the General Assembly Educators Certification Committee and Christian Education in the PC(USA): https://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/christianeducators/
The Association of Presbyterian Church Educators is celebrating its 50th anniversary: https://apcenet.org/