hero default image
Director of Lifelong Learning Sarah Erickson has been, for over 20 years, one of many contributors helping to provide practical, post-graduate opportunities to educate and nurture leaders for the sake of the Church and world through Columbia’s Center for Lifelong Learning(CLL).
In her final weeks at CTS, she, her colleagues, and friends reminisced on her journey as a lifelong learner.
Sarah Erickson whistles at work. It’s not uncommon for me to hear tunes of glee in the morning as she walks past my office on the way to her own—her rare passion for learning shining through. But Sarah never walks past anyone.
As so many of her colleagues and friends have confirmed, Sarah stops to engage. She pauses to learn about your latest happenings, gauging how she can support you, offer a heads up on work in the Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) pipeline, or rejoice in your life’s good. “Her steadfast commitment” to lifelong learning and efforts to undergird the Church through practical education is evident throughout her career.
Sarah is retiring from the CLL on August 31st. During her years designing seminars, conferences, certificate programs, and online learning courses, she’s witnessed the positive effect that intentional engagement in learning and ongoing spiritual formation plays in supporting the vitality and health of clergy and other church leaders.
Twenty years ago, Sarah learned an Eric Hoffer quote that continues to inspire her: “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”
“Congregational leaders always need to draw upon what they learned in seminary about preaching, pastoral care, and Bible and theology as they serve as pastors, chaplains, church educators, and other positions in various organizations and institutions. But formation continues long after a degree is completed. Understanding a budget, navigating shifting cultural and economic sands, working in human behavioral systems, and supervising staff have always been part of the work of a faith leader. A seminary education – basic or advanced degree – cannot cover everything. Continuing education – lifelong education – keeps professionals in any field connected with their discipline,” said Erickson.
Ralph Basui Watkins, Peachtree Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at CTS, named Sarah’s “visionary leadership” as a critical component in the success of Thompson Scholars (an annual CLL seminar designed to prepare evangelism leaders for the future of the Church) and colleague and Dean of Lifelong Learning, Israel Galindo shared that she’s “helped make the Center for Lifelong Learning a nationally-recognized center, exemplifying what a ‘learning organization’ looks like for participants and staff.”
While she already possessed a significant amount of professional experience through program administration, community outreach, training and education, and in her work with the Red Cross, Sarah’s skills as a lifelong learning advocate were sharpened like many of our other community members—as a CTS student.
In June 2000, Sarah traveled to Decatur, Georgia, from South Alabama to begin Greek school at CTS. She and her two sons, then 16 and 13, settled into the Village and started their respective new schools.
“We thought we would be here for three years and then relocate when I was called to a congregation somewhere,” said Erickson.
But as graduation approached in the spring of 2003, Sarah prayed that she’d receive a call that allowed her to stay in the area so her younger son could graduate from Decatur High School.
“When three people at CTS asked me to consider applying for a new grant-funded position in the Office of Continuing Education, I noticed – the “Trinity” of discernment got my attention. The seminary’s S3 Project, part of the Lilly Endowment’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program, included a position to coordinate the grant and other con ed programs,” said Erickson.
Her prayer was answered. August 31 marks Sarah’s 20th year of lifelong learning adventures.
During her tenure, Sarah was responsible for a handful of programs and courses, including the Older Adult Ministry Certificate, The Coaching Institute, and the Guthrie and Thompson Scholars programs. Facilitators, faculty, and participants know her as someone who “embodies a servant disposition of concern, consideration, and collaboration” and whose “actions are well prepared.”
Sarah’s solid work ethic echoed throughout the well-wishes the CLL received to celebrate her retirement.
“When I think of Sarah Erickson, the word “TRUST” immediately rises in my consciousness,” said POAMN Member Steve Aschmann.
Aschmann said, “I have learned that we can trust and be confident that the task will be done right whenever we work with Sarah on a challenging project. Sarah’s work ethic, intellect, leadership skills, empathetic personality, pastoral concern, faith, and passion for older adult ministry have brought new life and vigor to the Certification Program, as well as elevating the entire scope of POAMN’s ministry. Her work has blessed POAMN.
Faculty value her expertise and commitment to education.
“Sarah walked beside me, guided, dreamt, innovated with me, and made the impossible possible. Sarah was not just my colleague; she became my friend and partner in doing the work of the Church,” said Watkins.
Anna Carter Florence, Ph.D. and Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at CTS, shared that Sarah’s been a “bright and constant light on this campus for so many years, leading us with warmth, wisdom, compassion and steadiness—and always with encouragement.”
“The work we have done over the years to support clergy and church leaders during stages of ministry, particularly regarding peer learning and praxis, is foundational to the CLL. The work we continue to do in all our programs is informed by what we learned and continue to learn from our work designed to support clergy and congregations to thrive together in ministry,” said Erickson.
I’ve worked with Sarah for over six years, and she rarely wavers in her consideration, collaboration, and concern for others. She knows everyone’s birthday in our department and distributes cards accordingly. She gifts homemade bread for Christmas. When death strikes, or sickness comes, she acknowledges the somberness through compassion.
And when brainstorming blog content or networking opportunities, her eyes light up as she ponders who to connect me with. CLL Certificate Program Coordinator Alison Riviere said it best: “If there is someone worth knowing, Sarah probably knows where they went to seminary, where they are currently working, and their dog’s name.”
“As an administrator, Sarah has held the CLL team together and kept everyone moving in a unified direction. She guides the staff with care, compassion, and courage, ready to challenge or advocate in any situation,” said Debra Weir, Former Associate Director of Spirituality Programs.
The CLL team can rely on Sarah to “see the big picture while attending to the minor details,” offer “prompt and efficient communication,” and willingly go the extra mile.
“Sarah is one of our best [reKindle] coaches. One special delight was when she made a site visit with me to one of the first rekindle recipients. A road trip with Sarah is great,” said Ministering to Ministers Assistant and reKindle Grant Program Assistant Julie Josund.
Twenty-three years after joining the CTS community, Sarah is wrapping up her work with the institution.
It was her call to support the Church and its leaders, to be part of this world of change, and to encourage the ecosystem of theological education to support the lifecycle of leaders to serve the Church that is becoming, not the one that no longer exists.
She is most proud of being part of the Lilly Endowment’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence project and the seminary’s S3 program, stating it taught her about the importance of attending to age/stage ministry development and the role of peer group support in sustaining ministry over a lifetime.
When asked about the future of lifelong learning, she predicted that it will continue to play an enhanced role in the ecosystem of theological education, with other providers (conference centers, free-standing providers/centers) continuing to play a significant role.
Sarah shared that as congregational ministry faces cultural and economic challenges, pastoral leaders who have already been formed via formal degree education will identify gaps in their skills and knowledge and find ways to address them.
Pulling again from the quote that’s led her learning, she said, “The best leaders are, as Hoffer says, learners who respond to change by learning to adapt and respond to that change.”
During her retirement, Sarah hopes to visit Scotland and work as a volunteer dog walker. She will miss sharing the joys and struggles of ministry among her peers and interacting with the many CTS community members she’s encountered over the years.
Sarah, thank you for contributing to the CLL and the greater Church. We wish you abundant joy as you embark on this new adventure.
The Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary provides a challenging and hospitable environment to explore, learn and grow within Christian Education. It offers avenues for dynamic discovery for ministry leaders and Church professionals looking to heighten their skills. “Christian leaders who seek wisdom and support to navigate the challenges and opportunities of this endemic time do well to turn to the Center for Lifelong Learning,” said Christine Roy Yoder, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty and J. McDowell Richards Professor of Biblical Interpretation.
Curated by Chassidy Goggins
To view all of Sarah’s retirement well-wishes, click here.
To view Sarah’s retirement reflection, click here.