Big Gathering!

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


 On Thursday the Presbytery Gathering will take place, and it is going to be a big one! If you are wondering if you should attend, the answer is yes! At this Gathering we will meet our new Designated Associate Presbytery Leader, Vanessa Hawkins. Also, we will vote on moving the presbytery office to a new home. There will be motions tweaking the presbytery design, as well as new ways to invest in mission and communities. There will be an examination for candidacy, and voting on new members for teams, committees, and commissions. Furthermore, we will present these ideas in a new format that we hope will be efficient, informative, and motivating.

The Presbytery Gathering will begin at 1:00 with a pre-session regarding the sale of the presbytery office building. We will then have a time of fellowship as we enjoy cake from the History Team, while celebrating the 200th year of the presbytery of Missouri. Business begins at 2:00, and we will end with dynamic worship.

The volunteers at Washington Presbyterian church have worked hard to prepare a wonderful setting for our gathering. The presbytery staff is looking forward to receiving your registration, and meeting you in person. Each congregation will receive the book, “Waking Up White,” so they can participate in a presbytery wide book conversation.

Whew! A lot is happening in Giddings-Lovejoy! I am glad that you are a part, and I strongly encourage you to come out and join us!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Building Systems of Peace

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


(I’m writing this blog from Jerusalem as I am coming down the home stretch of my clergy study trip to the Holy Land. The trip is sponsored by the group, Interfaith Partners For Peace. The focus of the trip is to explore relationships between major religious and cultural groups. I am helping to lead the group of 14 African American pastors representing four denominations, four rabbis representing each branch of the major Jewish faiths, and one member of the ELCA. Our goal is to explore relationships between these major groups, along with Israeli and Palestinian conflict.)

We spent Sunday morning in worship at St. George Episcopal Church. The rector, Canon Naoum, met with us to describe the theological, political, and social challenges he faces as he does ministry in Jerusalem. Naoum talked about the challenge of being a peacemaker in the midst of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Palestinian threat of perceived violence, and Christians, Muslims, and Jews living uncomfortably side by side. He said, “Perhaps our goal is not to be peacemakers, because we cannot make peace in this region. But we can build systems that lead to peace.”

What does it mean to build systems of peace?

This trip takes place in the shadow of racial violence in Charlottesville, VA and the rise in expressions of hate groups in the United States. My brother lives in Ypsilanti MI. His daughter wrote on her Facebook page, “My Father just called to tell me that he saw a group of neo-Nazis dressed in full regalia, arm bands and all, marching down Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, MI before noon. He’s lived in Michigan for 40 years. He said he’s never seen anything like it.”

I can only imagine the shock and pain my brother experienced while watching this horrific sight; a sight that is meant to intimidate him and other African Americans and Jews living in the community. And it doesn’t stop there. It is my niece, his daughter, who is relaying the story. Hate has reached the next generation.

Building systems of peace means bringing people of good will together and finding commonality that create bridges to connect and strengthen one another. Only then can we find and become allies of support, and together we can combat the sin of racism.

While in Israel I have met with several organizations who are building peace. These include:

The Sikkuy Partnership, an organization of Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel.

Eco Peace, a collaboration between Jordanians, Palestinian, and Israel environmentalists, working together around water issues.

Shalom Hartman, an institute of scholars dedicated to Middle-East peace.

Kids4Peace, a group that focuses on children and educating them for peace and coexistence.

The Roots, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who are separated by walls of fear.

Atachlit Farm, a community empowering program that helps Ethiopian Israelis connect with agricultures.

Lod, providing services to Arab and Jewish communities.

Natal, The Israel Center for Victims of Terror or War.

Each of these organizations have been created with a vision of building systems of peace. May the Sprit lead us to find ways to support and do similar work in our own country and community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard    (Photos of my journey can be found here)

 

Being Prepared

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


This weekend our nation experienced an ugly outburst of racism. Saturday morning I checked my Facebook page and saw a post from Erin Counihan about White Nationalist, KKK, and Nazi groups marching through a college campus in Virginia with torches, shields, and guns. I thought, “What country is this? Who allows people to march with torches and guns?” Perhaps this is what happens when we mix free speech with open carry laws.

What if this happened in our presbytery? What if the KKK, the Nazi group, or other promotors of hatred decided to march in Pacific, Bellville, or Ballwin? In a way, Giddings-Lovejoy is living in the after-shocks of the murder of Michael Brown, with protests and riots that followed. These were not protest about hate, but race played a key element. Last Wednesday I attended a memorial for Michael Brown in the apartment complex where he lived. It was a sensitive reflection on his life, and a symbolic presentation of the many African Americans whose lives have been cut short. The event included a dance troop, prayers, testimony, and release of doves for peace. I have attached a slideshow of the event below.

As we continue to be confronted by racism in our nation, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team is encouraging us to read “Waking Up White.” Our denomination has been reading this book this past year. Some congregations in Giddings-Lovejoy have already been involved with reading and discussing this helpful book. I am asking, along with DRAP, to set aside the month of September to read this book together. At the end of the month we will form discussion groups and invite those who desire to attend.

I really hope you participate in this book study. If you’ve already read it, please participate in a study group at the end of September. This is an opportunity for our presbytery to learn together and continue to strengthen the ties that connect us.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Michael Brown Memorial Event

 

From the Middle East to Missouri

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


Next week I will be traveling to Israel. I have the opportunity to lead a group of 15 African American clergy as part of Interfaith Partners For Peace. This 10 day trip will allow me to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, business people, politicians, and educators who are building bridges for peace in this difficult part of the world. I went on a similar trip last year as part of a group of clergy and rabbis. My purpose and rationale is to learn how people with deep disagreements, histories, and narratives, find ways to live together.

As I leave Missouri, I am going at a time the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has issues a travel advisory for people of color who are coming to this state. Even though African Americans have a 75% greater chance than White people of being stopped by the police while driving, the advisory is pointing at a larger issue, SB43. This bill makes it more difficult for an employee to prove racial or gender discrimination. The bill also affects whistleblowers and the amounts they can collect. According to the Governor’s office, the bill is considered business friendly, and reduces the amount of frivolous lawsuits. I have yet to see statistics on the number of discrimination lawsuits being filed in Missouri, and I have not found how many of these lawsuits are deemed “frivolous.” By the way, the representative who submitted the original bill is being suited for racial discrimination in his small business. Business friendly indeed!

Traveling in certain parts of Missouri brings a sickening feeling in my stomach. I am less worried about traveling to the Middle East than I am driving to some of our Presbyterian churches. I have not been stopped by the police, called obscene names, or treated with any disrespect. But I know this reality is present; maybe at the next gas station I’m at, or restaurant I sit down in for coffee. There is fear on Missouri highways for African Americans, and it is palpable.

Tomorrow I will be standing with others at Canfield, in memory of Michael Brown’s shooting. His murder sparked protests and violence. But it also created the Ferguson Commission that has several strategies for approaching racism in our state.

Middle East tensions, NAACP travel advisory, Michael Brown. Could this all be connected? Perhaps it is about how we are different people, and how we can choose to live together in peace, or in bitterness and violence. Maybe the Middle East can teach the Midwest about the struggle for peaceful coexistence, and the consequences when we fail.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

In with the New

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


Sunday at Webster Groves was another celebration of a pastoral installation. Rev. Hannah Dreitcer is the fourth installation in my seven months as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I anticipate at least three more installations of new pastors by the end of the year. In the past three years, there have been a number of pastors who have become a part of the presbytery. I have written about the presbytery being like a forest of large redwood trees, and how we need to nurture new life that is birthed from the fallen trees and rich soil. I was writing about congregations. However, I now see we are in the midst of a pastoral transition as well.

We are living in the midst of a tremendous opportunity. Giddings-Lovejoy has been blessed with many young, gifted pastors who have a vision of ministry that is ecumenical, inclusive, and creative. Erin Counihan is bringing life to the South St. Louis through Amen house. Joshua Noah is weaving hope and energy into Chrystal City. Mel Smith and Kaitie Kautz are pulling together a presbytery wide cohort group of children and youth leaders. Miriam Foltz is building UKirk, a campus ministry that includes both St. Louis University and Washington University.

These are just a few of the new pastors who are seeing the church in new ways. These pastors are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are delivering that message in ways today’s world can understand.

It is not enough to watch them, we must applaud them. We are called to encourage our new pastors, and help them dream dreams. As a presbytery, we are challenged to integrate our new pastors, and allow them to assist in changing the culture of the presbytery.

In the book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block believes a community can be restorative. He writes, “The core question that underlies each (restorative) conversation is, ‘What can we create together?’ This moves us from problems to possibility; from fear and fault to gifts, generosity, and abundance. . . “

God continues to guide new pastors into Giddings-Lovejoy from across the country. These pastors can take us from our fragmented past into a unified future. They have the potential to bring us energy and break us free of our “calcified past.”

This is an exciting time to be a Presbyterian! It is a time of change, and an opportunity for possibility. Truly this is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Rev. Craig M. Howard