From Limping to Leaping

Blog Post by

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

Several years ago, the son of a friend fell off of his bike and somehow broke his ankle. As a result, he had to wear a cast for several weeks. After the cast was removed, a strange thing happened. The little boy still walked with a limp. The ankle was perfectly healed. But the memory of the pain made him resist placing weight on the ankle. Even though he was perfectly healthy, the boy walked with a limp in fear of causing himself pain again.

As a presbytery, we have experienced many difficulties the past several years. There were times when presbytery gatherings were difficult to attend, staff may have been difficult to approach, and finances were short, resulting in promises and trust being broken.

In my first sermon to this presbytery, I apologized for the mistakes and problems caused by the presbytery staff. My hope was to spend 2017 rebuilding trust through transparency and relationships. The staff of the presbytery has attempted to be inclusive, as we have visited every geographic corner, made sure there is racial and theological diversity in leadership, and used the newsletter and other communication to make sure multiple voices are heard.

My hope is that 2018 will be the year we walk without a limp.

The presbytery is now fully staffed, fiscally sound, and ready to dream again. Presbytery Gatherings are energized, creative, and fun! We hope to move into our new space at the end of February. We are planning a farewell worship service for our building, sometime in January. This will mark a change in the way we plan and vision as a presbytery and as Presbyterians.

In 2018, I will continue to preach a future where Presbyterians will own less, control less, and will not have to be the leaders of every event we take part in. It is a future of partnerships. It is a future of collaboration with others, where we leverage the small amounts we have to make a big difference.

This means letting go of buildings, traditional programs, and less emphasis on bringing people into our space, and more emphasis of going into other spaces. The gospel of tomorrow is a gospel that is preached outside of the walls of the church; preached where the people are; preached where God is.

I look forward to fleshing out this missional gospel in 2018.

I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! It is a joy serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I’ll write to you again in 2018!


Rev. Craig M. Howard


Resilient Small Congregations

Blog Post by

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

Serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader has been a multi-dimensional journey. One of eye opening experiences I’ve had is learning about the many ways small church ministry happens in our presbytery.

Earlier this year, I created a graphic that placed each of our congregations in an “ecosphere.” This graphic went from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky. It showed congregations that skim on the waters, fly high like hawks, and soar like eagles. It also showed congregations that are “under water,” with some described as deep-water congregations. These are the smallest of the small congregations, averaging less than 25 in worship.

And yet, these small congregations had something to teach us. They have learned to survive, and some even thrive in deep water.

The past two weeks I have encountered three such faith communities. These are Elm Presbyterian in Alton Illinois, Wurdack Memorial in South St. Louis, and St. Andrews in the Princeton Heights area of St. Louis.

Elm has a beautiful sanctuary and a multi-generational worship with a strong music ministry. During worship, the musician went from Harp, to organ, to piano! It is a church with tremendous potential, but lacks consistent pastoral leadership because of its size.

St. Andrews makes it work by housing a Montessori school. This small congregation is able to maintain consistent pastoral leadership from the use of its building.

Wurdack birthed and nests an Evangelical Free church in its basement. Wurdack sees this growing church as their mission. They often worship and fellowship together. In addition, Wurdack has a steady stream of visitors because it stays connected to its community. Easter brings over 300 children to its Easter egg hunt!

At the ordination service for Joy Ridge on Sunday evening, I was moved by the words of Rev. Vicky Brown, as she gave the charge to Joy. Vicky said, “Reviewing a church’s annual statistical report says nothing about the depth of faith or the maturity of the members.  It says nothing about the ministries and the lives touched in the community.  Small churches deserve to have the same high quality, well-educated leadership that larger congregations enjoy.”

These are challenging words to our presbytery. Sadly, some small congregations may need to end their local ministry. But many others may be served with a slight boost from the presbytery to help them continue fruitful and faithful ministry in their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Advent Readings

Blog Post by

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

Sunday marked Advent, the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a season of waiting, watching, and as Jesus said in Mark 13:37, a time to be awake. Each Advent and Lent, I take the opportunity to read a book a week. Reading for these two seasons is a discipline I picked up while serving as Executive Director of the presbytery of Milwaukee. Pastor Deborah Block gave me the idea through a sermon she preached.

This Advent season, I have chosen four books on a topic which has been front and center since my time as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. The topic is race. It is a topic that will not disappear if we look the other way. It will not just go away if we ignore it. It is relevant to every area of Giddings-Lovejoy, including all of St. Louis County, eastern Illinois, small city, rural and country areas of southern Missouri, and the city of St. Louis itself.

Racism is especially present where people of color are absent.

It is important that we continue to have conversations that lead to actions to dismantle systemic racism and white privilege. My work is to prepare Giddings-Lovejoy for a prosperous future; a future that will involve more people of color in leadership, and as members of our congregations. Getting to that future means learning and growing together.

Recently, Susan Andrews connected me with Elizabeth Zwoyer-McDonald, a member at Second Presbyterian church. Second has done several adult studies around race. Elizabeth pulled together an amazing collection of books. As a result, the Resource Center of the presbytery purchased over 60 books which we are now cataloging, and will be available to borrow soon.

Next year we will have a presbytery wide anti-racism training. It will be an exciting time of learning and growing together. The training is only a start. What is needed is a commitment from each leader and member of Giddings-Lovejoy to continue to read, attend seminars and workshops on race, and commit to ongoing conversations with people who are different that we are. Only through ongoing activity we will honor the words of Jesus and stay awake.

Here are my four books for Advent with Elizabeth Zwoyer-McDonald’s reviews:

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race–Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us by Benjamin Watson

An NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints and a widely read and followed commentator on social media, Watson has taken the Internet by storm with his remarkable insights about some of the most sensitive and charged topics of our day. Now, in Under Our Skin, Watson draws from his own life, his family legacy, and his role as a husband and father to sensitively and honestly examine both sides of the race debate and appeal to the power and possibility of faith as a step toward healing.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown

In the 1880s, after the U. S. Army’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the government continues to push Sioux Indians off their land. In Washington, D.C., Senator Henry Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in the United States in 1970. This account of how Native Americans were treated and how they were pushed off their land is based on eyewitness accounts and official records-with a focus on the thirty-year span from 1860 to 1890 The book is the first account told from the Native-American point of view.

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis & Jim Wallis

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, reignited a long-smoldering movement for justice, with many St. Louis-area clergy stepping up to support the emerging young leaders of today’s Civil Rights Movement. Seminary professor Leah Gunning Francis was among the activists, and her interviews with more than two dozen faith leaders and with the new movement’s organizers take us behind the scenes of the continuing protests. Ferguson and Faith demonstrates that being called to lead a faithful life can take us to places we never expected to go, with people who never expected us to join hands with them.

Rev. Craig M. Howard