August 16, 2018

Debbie Hough

Director of Christian Education



Confession time:  I’ve been putting off writing this article, my last. Not because I’m too sad, because it is the right time to retire. Not because I’m too happy, and now I can say whatever I want. It’s  because there are just too many things to say to you, and I can’t possibly convey all the thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams that I have for Derry.

In my struggle, I noticed the few odds and ends I still had on my office bulletin board and one caught my eye. My hunch is this is not something I have shared with you, but something that is very important to me. The small piece of paper is titled “Chuck Melchert’s Criteria of Education.”

Chuck Melchert was one of my Christian Education professors at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE). I had the privilege of doing a work/study program there and my assignment was working for and with Chuck. He was doing research for a book and gave me assignments which kept me going through book after book in the library (no internet back then) looking for documentation to support or refute his thinking. For a book and library nerd, this was a heavenly job! Plus, I got to know Chuck so much better as we talked over my discoveries and he gave me my next assignments. Later, Chuck did some teaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary following his time in Richmond. Chuck has long retired but he finally published his thesis, “Wise Teaching”  – a great book on Christian Education.

Chuck taught the Theory course and we had a great time. We debated whether or not the Sunday School was dead or dying (this was 40 years ago, so the discussion has been going on a for long, long time) and we heard Chuck debate John Westerhoff on the future of Christian Education. Very thought provoking.

As I have reflected on my vocation and my profession over the years, I have come to realize the profound impact Chuck had on me and how I have tried to “do” Christian Education over the years. Chuck was partly right in his debate: the topic has changed dramatically over the 40 years since. PSCE is no more,  many Sunday Schools have indeed died or are on life support and theologies are blended more today because fewer denominations support their own curricula.

What he gave to me was a theory that I tried to put legs on and walk through the churches I have had the privilege to serve. I don’t have the full-blown theory any more – those notes disappeared a long time ago -- but what I have kept and treasured is the synopsis,  the heart of Chuck’s theory (and mine). He said:

  1. Christian Education is always intentional – never accidental.
  2. Christian Education is always of value and morally sound.
  3. Christian Education involves knowing and understanding in depth and in breadth – CE is deep and wide and it is so much more than knowhow or accumulated facts.
  4. Christian Education refers to a long period of time (this is a lifetime’s work) and it will lead to something (I called it discipleship).
  5. Christian Education is of necessity built of interpersonal interaction – an interaction of interactions between teachers, learners, content and place. Chuck said there were no self-educated people. But these relationships must be of a helping nature. The teacher’s primary function is to help the learner learn, and the teacher learns, too.
  6. Christian Education involves wholeness – the whole person throughout all of their lives and in all of their relationships.

I don't know how close I came to living out Chuck's theory, but I tried, and I kept it in front of me for nearly 40 years. What I do know is I so appreciate all of the relationships I have made over the years and all the learning (mine included) that I was part of.

Chuck Melchert is one of my heroes and I will let my final words be those of another Christian Education hero of mine – Rev. Fred Rogers. Before the taping of every show, Fred would stand at the studio door and pray. His prayer was simple and I’ve made it mine, too. I believe and hope that there were times over the past 24 years here at Derry and the 39 years all together in the Christian Education field that God answered this prayer for me:

“Let some word that is said be Yours. Amen.”

May it be so. Thank you, Derry!