Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The DCE: Last of the Mohicans?

Yesterday I had a delightful lunch with several of the gals I know around the presbytery who served their churches as Directors of Christian Education during the same time that I did--about 3 years ago.

Note the past tense. None of us are acting in that capacity today. Three of us retired for personal reasons. One was "made redundant" when the church decided to hire an associate pastor for education instead. One is now employed at the presbytery level.

Discussion revolved around plans for a DCE retreat later this month. When we talked about who was going to come, I realized that only one was currently employed as a DCE in a church and that her position was tenuous due to financial issues there.

Eight years ago when I first became a DCE there was a sizeable group of us in the presbytery. We served "program" size churches for the most part. The largest churches had associate pastors overseeing their Christian Education programs and the smaller church CE programs were covered by elders and interested lay people. Based on the discussion, it seems that DCE's are going the way of the albatross.

One of the problems, of course, is the odd position the DCE has in our polity. If you pursue the certification courses and become fully qualified as a DCE then your minimum salary in our presbytery is the same as that of a first-call pastor. Efforts to have the position of DCE become an ordained position, like that of a minister of Word and Sacrament, have been rebuffed at the last two General Assemblies and are unlikely to be successful. One of my friends pointed out that if you completed all the certification courses you only needed two additional courses to qualify as a Commissioned Lay Pastor and there is much more demand for CLP's in our presbytery than DCE's because small churches can afford them.

Although I took a couple of the courses, I made the decision not to pursue the certification because I believe my call to work in the church is not as a church professional but as an elder. I am sympathetic to the fact that without the protection afforded by being ordained under the Book of Order and having a formal call to serve as a DCE the educator can be underpaid and lack job security. But the demographics and financial realities of most PCUSA churches are not conducive to change.

Program size churches looking for DCE's find that their best (or only) candidates are found within their own congregations and will be women who can afford to work for part-time pay and no benefits. In these cases the church can't afford to cover continuing education costs for the DCE, so she either does it on her own or doesn't do it at all. Neither option is good.

The PCUSA has a surfeit of pastors seeking calls in urban and suburban areas and a decreasing number of members to support them. That doesn't augur well for the future of the DCE. And it is a shame, because when I looked around the lunch table yesterday I had to give thanks to God for the energy, intelligence, imagination and love my friends have given to the church as Christian Educators par excellence.


John Edward Harris said...

My wife is a 1981 graduate of PSCE and while serving as a DCE worked toward and received certification. A few years later, however, she went to SFTS and earned a M.Div. and was later ordained a MWS because she had learned as a DCE that Christian Educators generally get no respect.

Mary M said...

One of the saddest things about the loss of the role of DCE is that it does not correspond to a lack of need. True, the hayday for Church educators was probably linked to a time when this was the only way women could serve as church professionals. I'd hate to go back to a time whne women were discouraged from serving as pastors. Yet it also seems to me that DCEs possess a particular skillset and approach to ministry that is sorely needed in all our churches. And if I am the professional dinosaur that I expect that I am, we need to get serious about training pastors to be teachers, how to engage a variety of learning styles, how to evaluate and select curriculum, how to train teachers and youth workers, etc. And that's just the short list. Here's to significant, transformative, intentional Chirstian Education for all ages in the church, however it happens!

Stushie said...

Jody, we've hired a full time educational specialist who is also an ordained pastor. Our church is at that in-between stage, so we're trying to grow her ministry. If we waited until we had enough money to cover a full time associate pastor, we would never get there. There has to be greater flexibility from the denomination for churches that are growing, but who are trying to reach the next level of giving.