Inaugural Lecture for Kathy Dawson, Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education

Inaugural Lecture for Kathy Dawson, Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education

Earlier this year, Dr. Kathy Dawson was appointed the Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education, a chair previously held by Dr. Rodger Nishioka. Her inauguration was held on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. in the Harrington Center Chapel. Her lecture is titled, “Life Together @ 80: What Dietrich Bonhoeffer Might Say About Building Community Today.”



“I am certain that when Jesus commissioned his faithful followers to ‘Go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…,’ he had Kathy Dawson in mind. I had the privilege of teaching with Kathy, and it was always a delight and a joy to learn with her and from her. It is wonderful that she will now hold the Benton Family Chair in Christian Education. As a gifted teacher, Kathy is about doing exactly as Jesus called us – making disciples through teaching!” -Dr. Rodger Y. Nishioka, Village Presbyterian Church and Former Benton Family Professor of Christian Education


We took some time to ask Dr. Dawson some questions:

What scriptures guide you and why?

Kathy Dawson: Three scriptures come to mind that continue to recur in my life and teaching…

Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This was the scripture I chose for my ordination service—the Shema as it is known in Jewish circles. It talks about the handing on of faith to the next generation and the immediacy of God’s word in our lives. I continue to believe that teaching children is one of the most important vocations that one can pursue and that all God’s children have a place in this larger narrative of God’s work in the world.

Matthew 5-7. The Sermon on the Mount is so easy to read and so hard to live out. Like my theology mentor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I would love to see a curriculum and community that would take these words seriously as a guide for living within the beloved community.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31. I continue to find new depths to this metaphor of The Body of Christ for the church. I think about who the least respected parts of the body may be and how we act in concert to be Christ’s body in the world, loving God and serving others.


“Dr. Kathy Dawson’s love for God is exemplified in her authentic ability to help her students realize our truest and highest expression of ourselves through Jesus Christ.” -Dr. Angela Wyatt, the Spiritual Wellness Center


What are your current Interests and passions within Christian education?

Kathy Dawson: I have a number of these firing my imagination at the moment…

I’m curious about narratives that help children, youth, and adults transcend their daily living to see faith and life in a new light. I think of particularly fantasy fiction and the numbers of people that find their story in this genre of literature rather than the Bible or other genres of literature or film. How can we be a bridge by having deep conversations about the themes in this literature that sometimes align and sometimes contradict the Christian story? How can the empathy that readers feel for certain characters in these universes translate to real world compassion for others?

I’m interested in exploring the global Christian education experience, particularly in parts of the world where Christianity is growing. What are their aims? What new contextual methods are they developing? What can we learn as we struggle here in the United States to transition into new ways of pursuing educational ministry?

Finally, I’m interested in the intergenerational ministry conversation. How do we move to a sense of Deuteronomy 6 where the generations are exploring God’s word together? I don’t think we need to throw out the insights of developmental psychology and brain research as some would suggest, but these ways of knowing become even more important if we want to create programs that are meaningful to all or to develop resources for parents to reclaim their role as primary religious educator for their children.


What insights do you have about the future of Christian education?

Kathy Dawson: The hope for the future of Christian education lies in the hands of those who are inspired to try new things in their ministry settings and share them with others. That is one of the main reasons I started and the Hope4CE Facebook group. We’re in a time of transition where the old models are failing. This is frustrating for some, but I see it as an exciting time where God is bringing forth something new. I don’t know that we’ll ever have a predominant model again like Sunday School that most churches embrace. I think God will inspire more localized experiments in education and formation that will reflect the identity of each faith community. The task of continuing to grow in knowledge and discipleship remains, however, regardless of what we call it or how it is manifested.


Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

Kathy Dawson: Usually when someone asks that, I trot out my connection with Disney and recording the soundtrack for the “It’s a Small World” ride as a child. Beyond that, I had many more formative experiences as a child by singing in the International Children’s Choir. I met a good number of the Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong. I sang for Coretta Scott King and the Queen of Denmark. We did a number of different television shows with famous actors and actresses of the day and sang for future presidents.

However, what I currently most appreciate from this period of my life was my mother insisting that I do all the shows, even the ones where many parents were hesitant to send their children—in the prisons, psychiatric wards, convalescent hospitals, and police stations. She wanted me to see all of life and I’m grateful I had that opportunity, as it has made me less fearful of those who have different experiences from me. Because of these early experiences, it is somewhat easier for me to embrace and live into the affirmation that we are all God’s children.


“Kathy Dawson was first my pastor at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church and then, mentor. and as such models a depth of joyful practice, fierce intellect and courageous compassion as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Her modeling and mentoring led me into a life of ministry.” -Rev. Anne H. K. Apple, Idlewild Presbyterian Church


Tell us about your journey into Christian Education.

Kathy Dawson: I have been a learner and a teacher for most of my life. I have always had a deep curiosity to learn new things and to explore new places in the world. My first vocational pursuit of this was in public school education in California, my home state. I taught in elementary schools in various capacities for nine years. During this time, I found that my volunteer educational work in church settings was giving me much more joy and satisfaction than my paid vocation as a public school teacher. This prompted a call to move across country to attend the Presbyterian School of Christian Education to prepare for a calling as a church educator.

While pursuing this Master of Arts in Christian Education degree, I was surprised to discover that God was also calling me to ordained ministry, so after graduating I headed to Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue the MDiv degree here. Having been a mentor-teacher in my public school teaching days, I had discovered a love and facility for teaching other educators. I knew I wanted to serve the church for a few years, but also had the desire to help prepare educators and pastors for the teaching ministry. This led to pursuing a PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary after having served Spring Hill Presbyterian Church in Mobile, Alabama for three years as Associate Pastor focused in Christian Education. I have now been back at Columbia Theological Seminary since 2004, and continue to love learning and teaching with the wonderful students, staff, and faculty of this institution.


More About Dr. Kathy Dawson:

Dr. Kathy Dawson was chosen as the 2015 Educator of the Year by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.

In addition to serving as professor of Christian Education, Dr. Dawson is also the Director of the Master of Arts in Practical Theology (MAPT) program for professional and volunteer ministry. The program has areas of concentration in Christian Education, Christian Leadership, Pastoral Care/Pastoral Theology, and Worship.

Dr. Dawson holds degrees from California State University (BA), Presbyterian School of Christian Education (MA), Columbia Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Princeton Theological Seminary (PhD). She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and has created a number of denominational resources including Confessing Faith: A Guide to Confirmation for Presbyterians, 2006.

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