Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

This week I went home to Chicago to visit with my family. While there, I toured the new church my home Pentecostal congregation just built. They are having their first service in the new facility on Sunday, which will seat 3500. They currently have 12,000 members. When I first came to the church in 1977 there were less than 200 members.

It is difficult to compare the growth of this mega-church with the decline of the Presbyterian denomination. But there are several differences that must be taken into consideration. This Pentecostal church is located in a community called Bronzeville. In 1910 when African Americans left the oppression of the South by railroad, Chicago was one of the Northern destinations. Unfortunately, they were forced to live in this one area of Chicago. Government redlining, city laws, and community contracts where whites agreed not to sell to blacks, created a huge ghetto. This area of about 1.5 square miles, reached its peak of over 75,000 African Americans in 1950. My Grandparents (who arrived around 1920) lived there. My mother was born there in 1933, and her youngest child (me) was born there in 1958.

As the city opened up and people scattered to different areas and communities, Bronzeville was always home. There are at least three mega-churches in Bronzeville. My Dad and brother who currently attend this Pentecostal church, live over 30 minutes away in the South Suburbs. Like other members of the church, they pass hundreds of congregations, as they drive through the streets of Chicago to worship in Bronzeville.

Are there ways Presbyterians can work with an African American mega-church to provide services for a community that Presbyterians are struggling to reach? I believe it is possible.

As Presbyterians, our future will be different than our past. It will be a future of partnerships and collaborations. I see a future where Presbyterians work with other denominations and other faith traditions to reach the mission field we are called to serve.

Some of our partners are already defined. We currently have a Formula of Agreement with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), UCC (United Church of Christ) and the Reformed Church of America. This means that any ordained pastor from these denominations can be installed to serve Presbyterian churches, and vice-versa.

I see a future where we will broaden our connections to include denominations and congregations outside of our reformed tradition, especially racial-ethnic churches. Working together, we can align the best of our faith traditions, and reach a more diverse population during this time of racial ethnic change in our society. Working with churches that are majority racial-ethnic, as well as non-profits, we can connect with people outside of our tradition, but inside of our mission field. We can share our grace-filled-gospel to new ears, and lead to a fresh way of being church that keeps us vibrant and relevant into the future.

Rev. Craig M. Howard



View from the Pew – Environmental Racism & Justice

Learning More about Environmental Ministry 
by Sue Bradford Edwards
Member of Florissant Presbyterian Church

When I volunteered to be a part of the FPC Green Committee, I hoped to learn about becoming an environmentally aware church. What I hadn’t counted on was being called on to learn about environmental racism.

On November 14, 2017, I participated in a videoconference put on by the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee for the Self-Development of People. The title itself was more than a little intimidating – Impact of Environmental Injustice on Low-Income and Communities of Color.

This was a videoconference about how environmental problems have a greater impact on marginalized people.  People who are living near the edge in terms of food and shelter suffer the most when the environment is damaged.  The areas that they live in are more likely to be polluted. They often live in low lying areas that are subject to greater flooding. These problems damage their health and impact how long they live.  The problem is compounded by the fact that they often have less power to improve things than people who live in less polluted areas.

This problem was illustrated by a summer 2017 event. The World Council of Churches participates in the annual UN Climate Change Conference.  The island nation of Fiji was the host for the 2017 event, COP23. Unfortunately, they couldn’t actually hold the event in Fiji because of the vast amounts of ocean plastic surrounding their nation. Although Fiji is being forced to deal with the plastic, it is from countries all over the world.

Another example of environmental racism is much closer to home – the situation in Flint, Michigan.  In the videoconference, we previewed a movie about Flint.  We learned that their local GM plant had quit using the water because it was corroding their pipes. Although the auto industry was responsible for the pollution, it made no attempt to stop polluting or clean the water. They also didn’t warn people not to drink it. In addition to the brain damage seen in the children, the lead levels are also contributing to higher levels of heart disease, kidney disease, and lupus.  “This is not supposed to be happening to us in America,” said one resident on the video.

In addition to pollution, environmental racism means not disrespecting communities that consider the land itself sacred. This can be seen in the situation with Bears Ears National Monuments.  Our nation’s newest monument, 1.3 million acres in Utah, was created with cooperation between the Ute, Hop, Pueblo, Zuni, and Navajo tribes.  Following the Civil War, the Navajo came to the area to hide as the army burned their crops.  The people were rounded up and driven to Fort Sumter in the Long Walk. The bones of those who died can be seen along the trails today.

This story should be part of our national memory.  But the current administration is considering reducing the monument to 160 thousand acres in spite of the fact that the tribes consider the whole area sacred and it contains the remains of their ancestors.

As the organizers reminded us Presbyterians are called on to care for God’s creation.  We are also called on to aid “the least,” the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden.  Environmental ministries speak to both of these callings.

What can you do?  When we hear stories like these, we wonder what we can do. 

  • First, consider your purchases. What you buy impacts the area in which it was built.
  • Second, consider the packaging used to transport what you buy.  Minimize plastics like those surrounding Fiji. 
  • Third, consider how you dispose of recyclable materials.
  • Fourth, listen to those whose lives are different from our own.  Speak for them and for our planet.

Helpful Actions & Videos listed by the speakers include:

A petition to save national monuments:

And a community prayer about defending lands that are culturally and spiritually important to Native Americans:


Watch the Webinar Mentioned above
Presbyterian Mission Agency Environment Racism Issues



Being Thankful

Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

I have almost completed my first year as your Transitional Presbytery Leader, and I just want to say, “Thank You.” There are so many things I can give thanks for, but I’ve limited myself to 10. Then, the Vanessa, Leigh, Janice, and Joy decided to jump in with their testimonies as well!

Ten Things Craig Gives Thanks For (In no particular order)

For my wife joining me in St. Louis after being apart for two years
For a roof over my head; being warm in the winter and cool in the summer
For the challenges and opportunities of this time in the life of the church
For a staff I respect and work well together with
For the hospitality and generosity of our congregations
For the many meals, laughs, and stories I’ve been a part of here in Giddings-Lovejoy
For readers who are honest, encouraging, and challenging
For colleagues in ministry whom I respect and admire
For the chance to pour my life into ministry
For the many sessions and congregations honestly struggling with their future
(Plus one for bonus!)
For the “yes” of God that leads to trust, and love of others

Vanessa Adds

For the joy of new beginnings
For the love of family and friends
For God’s abundant grace

Leigh Adds

For family
For a Christian workplace
For abundance

Janice Adds

For the beauty of the sun as it rises every morning, giving light to the hope of each day
For the enveloping strength of a hug from Thanksgiving reunion with friends and family
For the compassion and kindness reawakened in holiday spirit from strangers, in every walk of life

Joy Adds

For the gift of time to explore the wonders God puts before us
For the beauty of family and friends
For the positive future before the Presbytery

How about you? What are some things you would like to give thanks for?
Happy Thanksgiving from the Staff of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Dreamer of Dreams

Blog Post by

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Designated Associate Leader

May 2006, I participated in a guided tour through several neighborhoods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had swept through the city. Starting in the Garden District, our guide systematically led us, a group of nine, through neighborhoods bustling with joggers, commuters, and restaurant employees preparing for the dinner crowds. There was little noticeable damage in this area.  Bit by bit, we meandered through neighborhoods and we witnessed the damage suffered by those living in the lower areas. In the Ninth Ward, it felt as if we were driving into a desolate place – a place of death and destruction and silence. Unlike the Garden District, there was little to no evidence of life—no birds, no commuters, no movement, no sounds, no smells, no people laughing, loving, or moving about.  Katrina had left her mark.

As we began to return to higher ground, we encountered one young woman from the Ninth Ward.  She and her husband were reclaiming their lives, their home, and their neighborhood. Standing alone on a deserted street, the wife turned and pointed from one demolished home to another, she called out the names of her absent neighbors and shared her dreams of a revived neighborhood.  She stated, “If we build, then our neighbors can see that they can come home.  It just takes a little work.”  One by one, through the power of naming and memory of what was- she (re)claimed the future—a neighborhood once again thriving as a community. In reclaiming her past, she was birthing not only her future, but also the future of those left behind.  Vision, faith, memory, and tradition were her tools of resistance to trauma, loss, and disruption. One group member commented, “New Orleans will be rebuilt by people like her. People who can dream dreams and envision a future even when there are no visible signs of renewal.  People with the drive and dedication to do the work even when doing the work seems hopeless.  She is what New Orleans needs because it will be people like her who will create the new New Orleans.”

In many ways, their story is our story.  Over the last 7 weeks, I have meandered Northside, Westside, Southside, and center of the city.  I have listened to narratives of loss and disruption.  I have felt the grief of some as they recounted the challenging decisions made to reclaim a flourishing future for this presbytery. I have heard the sighs of resignation and sensed the fears that the recent undertakings may only lead to failure. But, I have also witnessed the fierce dedication of many seeking to move us towards a more loving, sustainable and just future. I challenge us to be like the young woman from New Orleans and to continue to (re)claim our sense of community and reform our vision of what it means to be a vibrant life-giving presence in the world and in St. Louis.  For this presbytery to be the vision of the Kindom that God holds for us – we all must participate in the reclaiming and rebuilding.  Giddings Lovejoy is not just on the path of claiming a new future, but is also trailblazing a new model of ministry.  Remember, we belong to God and it is God who has extended to us and through us – a call to new life. We are walking an unknown path with God who is very present in our new unfolding drama of discovery. We are the bearers of God’s dreams for this presbytery today.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins



Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

I spent Sunday afternoon at St. Mark. It was the installation of their new pastor, Dr. David Burgess. The service was smooth, efficient, and worshipful. Mike Willock, our new presbytery moderator, led Dave in the installation questions without a hitch. What impacted me the most was the sermon by Dr. Jared Witt. He talked about the latest survey showing the continued erosion of White Christians in American. It is a decline we are experiencing in presbyteries across the country. Our presbytery exists in several cultural bubbles (we still have several churches located in neighborhoods and communities that are over 90% white) that are delaying the change, but it is coming our way. The surprise is that Jared didn’t come up with solutions, strategies, or plans. He stated these truths matter of fact, and challenged the tall steeple church to envision a smaller more faithful church future. This was a strong dose of truth.

On Saturday at the presbytery gathering, Dr. Deborah Krause taught an excellent Bible class, and then preached a powerful sermon from Mark 12:41ff on the widows offering. Deb showed how Jesus didn’t come to support the religious structure of his day. Instead he came to disrupt the religious system and challenge assumptions of what it means to be faithful, and what it means when the kingdom of God collides with the values of the empire. When the church is intertwined with the American culture, and supports it without reflection or without criticism; including the cultures of white privilege and racism, then the church is guilty. Deb summed it up using the slogan chanted by the St. Louis street protestors, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” This was a strong dose of truth.

Flash back one week ago Saturday. I was at Dardenne Presbytery church for a men’s gathering. Pastors Larry Maley, Cedric Portis, and myself led the group in conversations. About 80 men from Third Presbyterian church (100% Black) and Dardenne (99% white) came together to discuss the connection between the reformation 500 years ago, and the protest in St. Louis today. These were straight forward and difficult conversations. They discussed questions like, “If you woke up Black (or White if you’re Black) what would change in your life?” “Why don’t Black people talk about Black on Black crime instead of what the police are doing in Black communities?” One of the participant said, “White people have to stop painting the whole black community with one brush. We’re not all good, but we’re not all bad either.” These two communities coming together challenges our cultural norms of separation by race and class. Meeting together allowed truth to be shared.

Truth sharing is difficult. It removes the veneer we work so hard to maintain (wealth, class, prestige). But the truth is our tall steeples are strongly affected by the erosion of White Christian America and won’t be so tall in the future, our presbytery system is designed to let the “right” ones in and reward those who follow the rules, and people of color have a harder time being connected in our connected church.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell.

I will continue to support bringing people before the presbytery who are speaking truth. I will continue to support pastors and members who live out their truth on the streets and in the pulpits. I am committed to searching my own heart for courage to stand with the gospel, and grow into discipleship. Hopefully, as we share truth together, we will strengthen the ties that bind us as God’s children.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

View from the Pew

I’m just another face in the pews each Sunday morning.  I regularly tune into the evening news going so far as to also watch the News Hour on PBS.  I need not reprise here the scenarios we are all too familiar with.  But perhaps I can share an insight that puts some of the turmoil in greater perspective for me.

Year after year, week after week I have been admonished to “love my neighbor as myself.”  And year after year, week after week this commandment has been expanded, expounded, and explored in countless contexts.  I have little doubt that there be few who have never heard it.  And then I watch the news, and lo!  It’s as if it has rarely ever been heard!

Sometimes we are privileged to experience rare moments of insight; epiphanies, if you will.  Shortly after The Summer of Love in the late 60s, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released the haunting, Bridge over Troubled Water, which still stirs my soul.  But it wasn’t until recently, when I chanced to read the story of Christopher Thomas Knight that the essence of the message of that song struck me.

Knight was a man who voluntarily lived outdoors continuously in the Northern Maine woods for 27 years without any human contact.  His tale became known after he was finally captured pilfering a small cache of food from the Pine Tree Camp dining hall for his coming winter sustenance.  As we read, he was extremely reluctant to discuss details of his astounding life story with anyone, including the journalist who took it upon himself to learn why this man endured such a hermitacy.  I found myself paused; a man had elected to remain beyond all human contact in a twenty foot square living room behind a wall of granite boulders over a quarter of his life!

Astounding?!  Well, maybe not quite so astounding when I began to reflect that I, too, tend to live behind walls that I put up, you know; like the walls and defenses I throw up around my heart supposedly to safeguard it.  Even as Knight was forced to reenter society, he refused to venture very far from his “walls” and this shook the author’s overwhelming desire to understand this man.

After two years, toward the end of this story the author learns that Knight wants to walk with The Lady of the Woods, his image of death.  This sends the author flying back from his home in Montana to deter such a choice.  In the last words the author hears from Knight, he’s told of the desperation Knight is living with when Knight concludes with the ominous words, “Something’s got to give or something’s going to break.”  At this point all of Knight’s Stoicism and dense walls seem to collapse momentarily as tears began sliding down his cheeks.  The author becomes overcome as well and there stand two grown men weeping and sobbing.  And then it sounds, my epiphany: tears!  The sign of our deepest vulnerability.

Tears are the evidence of our most profound caring.  My tears are your proof that I have become aware of the depth of your suffering.  And now the message latent in the tune of Simon and Garfunkel: “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…” begins its song to me.  Our unchecked tears are those troubled waters separating us.  It is now possible to see that a bridge over troubled water is necessary.  And as we are moved to begin creating those bridges it becomes possible for two hearts to be joined as one.  Then, and only then, does the reconciliation prayed for, the re (meaning ‘again’) + conciliare (meaning ‘to unite’), become truly real.

So pastors and preachers, as you fashion your messages, your stories, your sermons for us sitting in the pews, bring us to those tears that open the way for us all to be healed of our hatreds and divisions.

A time-worn disciple,

Ronald Norgard