Lights flicker at APCE event, signaling spirits

M.A.C.E. student Alexa Allmann, right, reunited with her first Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Dr. Laura Sugg, at the APCE 2017 Annual Event.

M.A.C.E. student Alexa Allmann shares her reflections on attending the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) 2017 Annual Event in Denver, Colorado.

When I first arrived in the worship service on Wednesday afternoon, I was filled with anticipation, excitement, and a little bit of fear that my expectations based on last year’s conference wouldn’t be met a second time. However, when I caught a glimpse of Rev. Dr. Laura Sugg across the room (my first Presbyterian pastor, the woman who welcomed me back into the faith in college and affirmed me in my call to Christian Education), I knew that this was going to be an amazing conference. Laura had moved to Denver three years ago and I hadn’t even connected the dots that she might be attending this year. It was nothing short of a God moment to bring her back into my life in my final year of seminary.

It’s hard to summarize all of the wonderful aspects of the APCE conference and the experiences of sharing this trip with 10 of my classmates as well as faculty and staff whom I respect and enjoy from my seminary. But I would be remiss to exclude a meaningful experience directly related to this year’s theme: “God With Us in the Chaos.” I signed up for a workshop called, “The Healing Chaos of Grief,” led by Rev. Dr. Fran Shelton, because I feel like dealing with death and loss has never been my strong suit. I was looking for examples of how to best minister to those around me, knowing that this will continue to arise in my ministry and personal life. What I didn’t expect was for the workshop to begin with a very personal focus on remembering a loved one who has passed. As people went around the room naming their loved ones, the lights in the room turned off. A couple of minutes later, the lights turned back on. They continued their erratic behavior throughout the workshop and I couldn’t help but feel the spirits announcing their presence. No one else really seemed to notice or care, but I was startled every time. It may have just been an electrical flaw or some other perfectly scientific reason I could explain away the occurrences, but I choose to see God and the spirits of those loved ones within the workshop from which I so desperately needed to learn.

I did actually gain valuable and practical knowledge from that workshop about studies on grief, resources for children dealing with loss, and ways in which the church community can best continue to care for its grieving members years after a loss. But I will also remember those lights. The lights of loved ones that will never be put out. And my privilege to remember and honor them.