Driving from California

 

Blog Post by the Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

 


 

This past week I flew out to California and drove back to St. Louis with Marilyn. We took our time traversing the 1800 miles. We even stopped in Santa Fe to renew our wedding vows! It was an amazing day, and the drive from California was an amazing route through a diverse terrain.

While driving, I can experience the breath of our country from the west coast to the Midwest. We begin with the mountains of California and drive through the deserts of Arizona. The further we drive east, the dryer the climate becomes and the sparser the landscape. By the time we leave New Mexico headed toward Texas, the heat has reached close to 100 and there are patches of wild grass, bone-dry land, with very few trees. Things begin to improve in Oklahoma as the rain falls and the topography turns greener. By the time we reach Missouri, the landscape is lush with rolling hills covered by flourishing trees. The beauty of the Ozarks is something to behold.

And I’m thinking about churches.

There was a time when the denomination planted churches, they grew like trees in Missouri. The climate was right. the weather had moisture and the soil was rich. It took work to grow a church. But society also encouraged people to attend church, there were blue laws, and pastors were respected leaders in the community.

In the monograph Courage, Gil Rendle writes, “It was in the mid 20th century time that the mainline church, like so many other institutions and organizations, aggressively pursued growth, bureaucratic structure and strength, as well as resource and property development. We became large, strong, and institutional in a cultural moment that favored large, strong and institutional.”

Today is a much dryer climate. It not only takes work, but skill to plant, nurture, and grow a church. Instead of support, society competes with the church from soccer matches to Cardinal games. Pastors are still respected, but their voice and opinions are not sought after, and their leadership is often not requested.

And this is the environment God has called us to. This is our time, and location; our climate and soil. I believe God has equipped us and given us the tools and skills to prosper. We are surrounded by other supporting leaders who surround us and care for us. We may not look like the church of the 1950s, but we are the church the world needs in this day and time.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Nostalgia

 

Blog Post by the Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

 


In the midst of reading several books a month, I’ve been reading the same book for over a year! I’m simply taking my time reading The Fifties, by David Halberstam. I’m somewhere on page 800 or so. It is such a good read!

I began reading the book because many experts believe the 1950s was the golden age of the church. The decline we are experiencing today did not begin until in 1965. Halberstam provides the cultural context that became the seedbed for the denominational expansion of the Presbyterian church. The 1950s was an expansive time for our country, fueled by soldiers who came home from the war in 1945. These soldiers had a global vision of what was possible and what they wanted out of life. They were not constrained by their depression era parents, and instead saw possibility and opportunity in the new wealth and world leadership of the nation.

However, this period of prosperity was limited. Gil Rendle calls this time in our country an aberration: “a confluence of conditions that prompted growth and strength that later could not be sustained, not only by the church but by a myriad of other organizations and institutions.”

When the church of today tries to be the church of yesterday, Rendle calls that practice “Nostalgia.” Nostalgia means looking backward instead of looking forward. It means trying to become what we were, instead of determining what we can be. Rendle write, “(The church) is still dependent on our memories of size and strength, and still constrained by the polity, policies and practices once effective in a large institution.” He goes on to say, “Nostalgia carries the temptation to work harder at what we already know how to do in order to recapture a time and strength that no longer exists. Nostalgia does not ask us how to be different for the future.”

The call for leadership today is a call to reach toward an undefined future, while resisting the temptation to create an obsolete past. The presbytery, along with each pastor and session must address the question of direction and purpose. In what ways are we seeking to recreate and replicate the church of 1950? Or, how are we re-imagining ways that make us the church for now, and the future? I look forward to having these conversations as we walk together into the unknown future.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Interwoven Roots

Blog Post by the Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

 

From left, Rev. Craig Howard, Mayor Hal Patton, and Rev. John Hembruch.


Interwoven Roots

I spent Sunday with the Edwardsville, First Presbyterian church family as they broke ground for their new church building. As the crowd huddled together on this bright sunny and windy day, the excitement bubbled over into spontaneous applause and expressions of joy throughout. The congregation has been meeting in a school the past several weeks as part of their transition from their 133-year-old former structure. Even moving to a new church building can be a mix of joy and sadness. One member of 45 years shared how she is still adjusting as she is releasing her memories and history from the old, while accepting with anticipation the new.

In my remarks, I shared how a church is like a tree in a great forest. And like new trees in a forest, each new church is the expression of hopes, dreams, and visions of an older congregation.

I took my remarks from the book, Deeply Woven Roots, by Gary Gunderson. Gunderson writes, “It is hard not to look up in awe into the high reaches of a deep and healthy forest. But the true story is in the dirt, the roots. And what is forest loam but fallen trees? Everywhere you look in a natural forest you see trees on their way to loam and soil on its way to the sky.”

I envision our presbytery as a great forest with tall and strong trees, and some smaller trees as well. But the connection is in the intermingling of the roots. This is where new trees are found growing. We are a forest rich in the soil of our past which combines the evangelism of Giddings with the social justice of Lovejoy. We stand on the shoulders of congregations that have gone before us, blazing a vision of ministry and mission in this region of the country. It is an ever-evolving forest as some trees fall as new ones take root.

Finally, Gunderson writes, “. . . Any one tree has to grow where it happened to sprout, hoping to bear the fruit it can. . . And while it is a good thing to put down roots, grow into the wind, and rise high into the sky, it is also good to know that even in our falling, even as our individual memories slip behind, we will be part of the whole.”

We are a presbytery of interwoven roots. We are a presbytery where every congregation matters; every congregation is a part of the whole.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Casting a Vision

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

 


Casting A Vision

April 9th marked my first 90 days as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I am pleased with the progress I’ve made in getting the office up to speed with staffing, coordinating our budget with our structure, getting our finances in order, building relationships with presbytery teams, pastors, congregations, and our community. I have tried to be the face of the presbytery from Dardennne Prairie to Ferguson; from Kampsville to Sikeston. With the help of my staff, I have used the newsletter to share thoughts and plant seeds.

I believe I can now begin the conversation about a vision of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.

My idea is simple. Our current vision statement is:

“The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is a community of vibrant congregations and dynamic leaders.”

I would like to add one word to this statement.

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is a community of diverse, vibrant congregations and diverse, dynamic leaders.

But let me take the next few minutes to explain.

I believe the presbytery is a holistic, diverse, and interdependent system.* This means that we have diverse congregations. Some are large and some are small. Some are suburban, city, and urban. Others are country and rural. By recognizing the diversity of our congregations, we are saying there is no cookie cutter church. The rural church doesn’t have to be like the city church- but it is still a church. The country church doesn’t have to be like the suburban church- but it is still a church. The role of the presbytery is to help each congregation to be its best self, not become some other type of congregation. The presbytery is responsible for helping the Urban churches see the value in the rural church.

As a community, this means we are connected and interdependent. It means we need one another, and enhance the value of one another. When a church closes, no matter how far away and no matter what size, it is a loss to all of us. It is a loss to the local community, and a loss to the Presbyterian community. We benefit from the life of every congregation in the presbytery, no matter the size, and no matter the location. We are a community in relationship with one another.

However, the elephant in the room is that we have 31 congregations that are 50/50. These congregations have less than 50 members and less than $50,000 in contributions. Their future is in jeopardy. The truth is that we as a presbytery will hurt at the loss of any of these congregations. The truth is some of them will close.

I have some ideas I will share with the Vision Team regarding next steps with these congregations, and how we can value all of our congregations in the presbytery.

Let me talk about Diverse, dynamic leaders. In the newsletter on Tuesday I wrote about the inequality in pay between our male and female pastors. I was alerted to this issue by Erin Counihan, our presbytery moderator. She did the math and figure out we have a problem.

The future of our presbytery depends upon us becoming more diverse in our leadership as the world around us becomes more diverse. This includes Liberal and conservative. This includes Gender, Race, and Sexual orientation. I will share with the Vision Team and our pastoral transition and Care team some ideas to eliminate pay disparity, and draw more diverse pastoral leadership to our presbytery.

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is a community of diverse, vibrant congregations and diverse, dynamic leaders. It needs work, but it’s a good place to start!

*see the online journal article: The Three Ecological Principles of Economic Sustainability by John Ikerd

Rev. Craig Howard