Spinning 45s

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
choward@glpby.org


I spent a lot of my childhood in the Chicago projects visiting my cousins. My one cousin, Opal, loved to dance! She was older and would take all of us little ones, put on a stack of 45s, and line us up to teach us the latest dance steps. Wait, I guess I have to tell some of you what a 45 is! When a hit song would play on the radio, I could go to the record store and purchase the song on small wax disk with a big hole in the middle. The disk went on a record player and played at 45 rotations per minute (rpm)- a 45! Radio hit, record store, record player, and 45s are ideas that defined my youth, but are hard to find today.

There was a time when the only way to hear music was on a limited number of radio stations. These stations were responsible for what we listened to, and what little kids in the projects danced to. In a way, it was a centralized system that created a national consciousness about what was a hit and defined the music of a particular generation. Today, I don’t buy 45s or listen to music on AM radio. Instead I listen to Spotify and create playlists of songs that are provided by an alga rhythm that listens to what I’ve liked in the past and feeds me what it believes will appeal to me. It is individualized music that doesn’t depend upon greatest hits.

Music is just one of the many centralized concepts that has been decentralized in the past 30 – 40 years. In his excellent book, Age of Fracture, Daniel T. Rodgers argues that after World War II American culture experienced a period of centralization. This centralization fell apart beginning in the 1960s and since the 1980s we have been living in a time of fracture. He writes, “. . . in the last quarter of the (20th) century, through more and more domains of social thought and argument, the terms that had dominated post-World War II intellectual life began to fracture. One heard less about society, history, and power and more about individuals, contingency, and choice. . . In political and institutional fact and in social imagination, the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s had been an era of consolidation. In the last quarter of the century, the dominant tendency of the age was toward disaggregation.”

The disaggregation of society has been felt in the life of the church as well. I believe our denomination has shifted from a broad brush centralized authority that is represented in our center in Louisville, and authority has shifted to our individual presbyteries. Now, even the presbytery is challenged to be sensitive to the geographical issues within its bounds. These issues are further fractured into regional differences. Giddings-Lovejoy is not defined by the issues of St. Louis. It is responsible for understanding Southern Missouri, the areas of Illinois over the river, the Metro St. Louis suburbs, and all of the towns and rural areas in-between.

In an age of fracture, it is more difficult for us to agree on issues. Concepts of centralization and connectional church must be redefined during an age where the individual congregation matters more.

I am writing this reflection in the shadow of General Assembly that is coming to St. Louis. Our denomination needs prayer as we continue to figure out what it means to be a centralized and connected church during an age of disaggregation and fracture. I believe God is with us, and God will lead us into the change that is needed for the times in which we live.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Pappy’s Revelation: From Burnt Ends to the Great Ends of the Church!

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
choward@glpby.org


Every other month I meet with the large church pastors in our presbytery over lunch. This month it was decided to eat at Pappy’s, the popular barbeque restaurant near St. Louis University campus. I will admit that St. Louis has some of the best barbeque in the country. Yes, even better than Chicago and Kansas City!

Over burnt ends and hot sausage, we had an open discussion around church growth. We talked about streaming media, projectors and screens, messaging and signage. But the entire conversation was reduced to a simple question, “What is the purpose of the church?” One pastor shared how a parishioner wept because the pastor said their name while serving communion. “Sally, this is the body of Christ broken for you.” She said how that made it personal and how she felt seen, known, and loved. The other pastors chimed in emphasizing that our faith is all about relationships.

They talked about the challenge of getting members to invite others to church.

The more we talked, the fog of the future church became clearer. As we discussed our Presbyterian niche or market, we realized that the best thing we have to offer is the grace of God. “We are a unique people. We are different from the Methodist or Baptist because God has called us and loved us from the foundations of the world. This is the message we need to express with our congregations and have our members share with their friends. They need to hear they are loved by a gracious God who welcomes them.”

Sometimes it’s so simple. All of our buildings, organs, choir robes, and stained glass are beautiful. These things are good. But what people want is to know there is a God who sees them and loves them and that they are welcome to experience that God through the people in our churches. Welcome the visitor. Share our names. Tell the story of the living God in our lives. And just like the church on Pentecost, day by day God will add to our numbers those who are being saved.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

HMW

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


Last Sunday at Webster Groves was Youth Sunday. The entire program was given over to the young people under the age of 18. Part of the presentation was the videos which the young people had produced. The videos were filled with questions the young people answered: What is the greatest problem in the world today? What is the challenge of your generation? How will you make a difference in the world?

Watching these young people in worship raised several questions for me. First, where are the voices of our young people and young adults in the presbytery? How does the presbytery hear the voices of our young people and young adults? When and how do they have input in the way we do presbytery, the issues we focus on, and the direction we should be going?

The service also speaks to the role of questions and questioning in ministry. In the book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger writes that questions enable us to think and act in times of uncertainty. Berger believes the type of questions we ask and even the way we ask questions can lead us forward to solutions or inhibit us from seeking a creative way out.

Berger lifts up a method of questioning called HMW- How Might We? “‘How might we’ is different from ‘How can we?’ or ‘How should we?’ Can or should implies judgment.” Regarding How Might We, Berger writes:

How– The solutions are out there. How inspires creative confidence.

Might– We can try ideas out there that might work and might not. Either way it’s ok.

We– We’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.”

At our presbytery gathering, Crossroads shared a chart showing a scale called a Continuum of Becoming an Anti-racist Multicultural Institution. The categories moved from left to right, and started with 1 as the most exclusive institution and ended with 6 as the most inclusive and multicultural institution. Most participants put our presbytery in category 2 or 3.

So, how might we move Giddings-Lovejoy from a category 2 or 3 to a category 6? What are the questions we need to ask ourselves that will encourage creativity and risk-taking? Who must we “fearlessly become” to make this journey possible?

It appears we will have to put on our explorers’ caps and be willing to feel the winds of the Spirit as we move across the waters into the future to where God is calling us.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Reported But Not Real

Friends,

Last week I wrote a blog about Southminster Presbyterian Church based on an article from the Washington Post. I was unaware that the article had significant factual errors. Repeating errors do not make them true, and I unintendedly did so.

The main correction is that the prayer vigil that was held at Southminster was not for any police officer. In fact, it was a prayer for peace; peace for Ferguson. The congregation was not siding with Darren Wilson. The concern about a riot was not because of the prayer vigil, but because the police officer’s home is across from the church, and the media and others were using the church’s parking lot for access. This put Southminster in the cross hairs of unwanted attention, and not because of the prayer for peace that was happening inside of Southminster.

Hopefully this correction can make it into the history of this event, and at least set this story straight.

The Washington Post article was written August 17, 2014 and you can read it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/community-turns-to-prayer-for-officer-in-fatal-shooting/2014/08/17/e7580d2a-2636-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.91bd4a5b5313

Peace,

Craig.

Courageous Space

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


Crossroads defines themselves as an organization that is committed to dismantling systemic racism. This weekend they shared many ideas with our presbytery. One particular concept stood out for me, the concept of Courageous Space.

Courageous space differs from safe space. Safe space was originally created so that marginalized people could find a place to go and not experience hate speech, or violent rhetoric. It was a place on university campuses and in other institutions where it was alright to talk about being LGBT, without experiencing push back. While serving at McCormick, I remember making my office a safe space, and putting a sticker on the door to let the student body and staff know. Students and staff felt comfortable “coming out” to me in my office.

The idea of safe space has been extended beyond members of the LGBTQ community, to include anyone who wants to express their opinion and not feel pushed back upon. Mostly this is good. But there are some conversations that require rebuttal in order to move the conversation forward.

Race and racism is one of those conversations.

When we talk about race, there is often emotion involved. There is also an unwillingness to talk about it. Crossroads taught us that it takes courage for people of color to stay in a white institution and talk about race. It also takes courage for white people to stay in conversations on race and not back out. These conversations are often infused with anger, guilt, and discomfort. This is why I really appreciate everyone who came out and engaged in these difficult conversations on Friday and Saturday.

The challenge is for the presbytery to create space where courageous conversations can happen. These are conversations where people share respect, listen to understand, make room for diverse voices, and trust ambiguity.

Courageous conversations allow emotions, but also create space to check in with one another, in order to keep one another talking and sharing. Checking in is huge! It shows commitment and care for one another. It shows sensitivity about what is said, and how it is being perceived. Checking in means we are all in this together.

Our presbytery is 91% white. Over 50% of our congregations do not have any people of color in their pews on Sunday. This is not a criticism, just a fact. Crossroads taught us that majority white congregations do not have to talk about race. The topic just doesn’t have to come up. Even still, if the members have TV, or drive outside of their neighborhoods, they are being racialized, forming opinions, and have questions. Perhaps the presbytery can be a place where these members can step out of their local congregation and enter a courageous space on race. Let’s try it and see what happens!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Ferguson and Southminster

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


On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. This horrific incident created a line of separation in our community and nation. The city of St. Louis is now viewed through the racialized lens created when a white policeman killed a black man. Sides have been taken.

During the riots that followed after Michael Brown’s shooting, Southminster Presbyterian church took a bold step and held a prayer vigil for their neighbor who happened to be Darren Wilson, the policeman who killed Brown. The national media seized on this division of North side Ferguson churches praying for Michael Brown while white suburban Southminster prayed for Darren Wilson. It was an ugly and dishonest comparison creating a false dichotomy: Ferguson versus Southminster.

Earlier this year, Dr. Mark Laberton, president of Fuller Seminary, gave a powerful and moving presentation to a meeting of evangelical leader at Wheaton College in Chicago. I encourage you to read the entire speech. You can read it here. If you substitute the word “Presbyterianism” for “evangelicalism” the text rings familiar.

Laberton said, “Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves.”

Are we as Presbyterians guilty of this same alignment and complicity with power and the dominant culture?

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is attempting to push back against the dominant culture and the unjust emphasis that create racialized realities. This is why we are having anti-racism training. We are determined not to be defined by a cultural lens that pits us against one another because of the color of our skin. As a presbytery and as Christians, we are committed to a faith that goes deeper than the nightly news, neighborhoods, high school of origin, or any other form of racialization we are exposed to.

These first steps will happen at Ferguson and Southminster.

On Friday night, the presbytery will meet in Ferguson. Crossroads will provide training for leaders who want to be in front of our presbytery wide conversations on race. On Saturday Crossroads will provide training during our Presbytery Gathering at Southminster. This is for everyone who desires to confront, acknowledge, and take steps to move beyond the racial chasm in our city and communities.

I applaud First Ferguson and Southminster for stepping forward to host these conversations. They are symbolic places that have decided to be part of the solution, and not continue to widen the wound in St. Louis, and our Presbytery.

Now it is your turn. Change starts with each of us. Change starts when we come together to pray, fellowship, worship, and have communion as God’s people. Here is where you register. I look forward to seeing you this weekend.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Two Mentally Ill People

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
choward@glpby.org 


Beginning in 2011, I spent a year doing fundraising for Bethesda Lutheran Communities. I worked from the corporate office in Watertown WI. I helped fund group homes throughout the Midwest. Bethesda has resources for congregations that help welcome and minister to the mentally disabled. The PC(USA) is greatly lacking in this area. So, when Johanna Wagner and her spouse Michael Coyle developed the idea of Caritas Presbyterian Fellowship (CPF), I saw real possibility.

Johanna writes about Caritas saying, “CPF’s mission will be to provide opportunities for people with mental health issues to benefit from membership in a community focused on spiritual growth, and to educate churches interested in developing programming supportive of people with mental health diagnoses on how to do so effectively. Initially, the focus of CPF’s programming will be serving people diagnosed with mood, anxiety and thought disorders.”

Caritas began by serving the community at the Independence Center in St. Louis. Now, Johanna and Michael have launched a podcast called Two Mentally Ill People!

As I listen to the first podcast of 2MIP (which can be heard here http://2mipeople.org/ ), I understand what they are doing. Johanna and Michael are attempting to remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness by helping us to see life through their eyes. By sharing their lives and examples of the daily challenges and opportunities they face, Johanna and Michael make the difficult subject of mental illness and emotional disability approachable.

I have a daughter who suffers from depression. She was first diagnosed while in college. I see the challenges of her life as her brilliant mind struggles with emotional inconsistency.

2MIP is for people like my daughter. She’ll learn that life can be full, even with depression. 2MIP is for people like me. Listening to Johanna and Michael dialogue with love, helps me to see through the false screen of limitations society places on my daughter and the mentally ill. Because those who suffer from emotional and mental disabilities are also God’s children living in grace, faith, and love.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

The In-Between

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

 


If you have ever moved, or done renovation, or had a home built, you know the frustrations of dealing with transition and contractors! I am working from home the next two weeks as our office transitions to our new space. We find ourselves caught in an in-between space. The Tower Grove office is packed up in boxes, and ready to be transported. Our new office in Creve Core awaits a final inspection approval before we can move in. In the meantime, I and the staff are working from home, and I do not like working from home!

Living in-between characterizes our current office, but also describes the life of many congregations and the presbytery. This place of liminality is described by Murray Stein in the book, “In Midlife.” Stein speaks of liminality as being in a place of drift, alienation, and marginality. It is a place of floating. A place where clearly defined identity fails; there is no “this” and “not that.”

Living in liminality describes many of our congregations. We are operating with a model of ministry that is struggling for survival in our current time. One example is membership. The church seems out of step when it comes to membership and requiring people to join. Counting members goes back to the book of Acts when thousands joined on the day of Pentecost. Throughout time the size of a church as measured by membership has become a badge of prestige. There is nothing wrong with having a large congregation. It is just that we have fewer large churches, and many more congregations under 100 members.

We now live in the Facebook generation where friends are on internet, learning is by Google (for free!), and the focus is on the individual consumer, not a certain community. Membership is in decline everywhere from boy scouts to bowling leagues. People still bowl, but many bowl alone.

People may not join, but they still attend. People may not want to make a public confession of faith, but they want to serve and feel a part of something bigger than they are.

Using the example of membership, how do we let go of the way we value joining, and the way we structure ourselves around numbers? Is there a way to shift our focus from butts-in-the-pews to hands-serving-community? Are we counting the wrong thing? If so, what should we be counting?

Before we can really get at these questions, we may need to let go of our value of membership as a number to be counted. For example, we may focus instead on membership as action. Who participates. How many are served and how many are serving. This may not make denominational sense, but perhaps participating and serving gets us a step closer to the gospel.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Leadership At The Rock

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

choward@glpby.org

 


This year I spent Easter service at Rock Presbyterian church in Imperial MO. I have been observing Rock’s statistics and am amazed at what is going on there. Rock is one of only two congregations in our presbytery that has grown in membership each year in the past five years. The other congregation is Third Presbyterian (which broke 500 members earlier this year!). Rock is a small congregation that boasts 36 members. It is located south of St. Louis on I-55. I’ve learned that the further south I go in Missouri, the more Southern things become! The folks at Rock were extremely warm and hospitable, and greeted me with smiles of welcome. When I told the members that I was there because they are a vital and vibrant congregation in the presbytery, they informed me it is because of the leadership of their pastor, Stephanie Knopf.

Stephanie is not ordained. She is a Commissioned Ruling Elder (CRE). Stephanie is proof that a CRE is not second-class leadership but can be a powerful presence in leading a healthy and vibrant congregation.

Often, CREs are ruling elders who feel a call to serve the church in preaching and the sacraments. What makes Stephanie’s story unique, is that she chose to become a CRE while in seminary. She said, “I knew at some point I would serve small churches unable to afford the pension dues.” So, she graduated with the Master of Arts, with a focus on pastoral care and Bible.

The CRE program in the denomination was created to help small congregations in rural areas provide pastoral services when an MDiv trained minister is unavailable. The program has since expanded and often includes immigrant congregations, small urban congregations, chaplains, and associate pastors. The decision to allow a congregation to use a CRE is up to the presbytery.

Giddings-Lovejoy does an excellent job commissioning and training CREs. The presbytery has designed a two-year program which includes Bible, Pastoral Care, Reformed Theology, Field Education, and more. A new cohort will begin soon. Stephanie serves as the dean of the program.

If you feel called to expand your role as a ruling elder, or if you know someone who may have gifts in pastoral ministry but does not desire ordination, contact Stephanie at sbknopf@yahoo.com.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

10 Things I Learned Moving the Presbytery Office

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

choward@glpby.org

 


 

  1. Change is not easy. There is an emotional level to change that I did not count on. I feel sadness leaving the old building space. So much ministry was done on Tower Grove, and so many lives have been affected. As I’ve read through files, I’ve seen the evidence of strategic planning, hand written ideas that have become policy and structure, and the giftedness of those who serve the presbytery as volunteers and staff.
  2. Plans must be flexible. We planned on selling the building early February, and moving at that time. Instead it sold the last day of February, and we will be moving the first week of April. Every change of plan creates a domino effect involving movers, contractors, deliveries, calendars, etc. I have come to accept that things will not turn out as planned, but eventually all of our plans will happen.
  3. Prayer makes a difference. Each congregation I’ve visited has offered to pray for the presbytery office. We feel these prayers as we work, plan, and move. Thank you all so much.
  4. Good partnerships matter. The Botanical Garden is not just a buyer, they have been a partner throughout. St. Andrews Resource For Seniors is our partner at our new space. They have been a tremendous help with IT, copier, phones, and room reservations.
  5. Think long-term. With each change comes frustration. To offset this feeling, my motto around the office has been, “Five years from now, who will care that minor detail didn’t go as planned.”
  6. A team is better than a superstar. In college basketball, Villanova is favored to win the tournament. Villanova doesn’t have the talent of Kansas, but Villanova works well as a team. Our staff functions seamlessly in thinking through tasks, handing off responsibility, and getting the job done. I am so proud of them.
  7. Support others during times of change. I haven’t been the best at this. I was so focused on what I had to do, I wasn’t as sensitive to Partners for Just Trade, BRO, and the History Team. Unfortunately, we don’t get do-overs, so I can only try to do better next time.
  8. The future will be different. We will work in a different area, around different people, with different expectations. There will be different traffic patterns and parking. We are committed to making our space and experience hospitable for the presbytery and our meetings.
  9. Delegate and let it go. Deciding to delegate something is easy. Allowing others to do it their way and trusting it will get done is where the sweat comes in! As leader, I have to delegate the work and authority, but keep the responsibility. The buck still stops with me.
  10. Ask for help. One day I was frustrated and overwhelmed with all that had to be done. I spoke with my coach who said, “Have you asked for help?” I learned that asking for help is being vulnerable not weak. It means allowing others to get involved so they too can benefit from the work.
  11. (Bonus) Develop a narrative. We thought our office would be ready on March 27th, but it won’t be. Instead it will be ready on the 30th, which is Good Friday. We developed a narrative that we will not move on Good Friday while Jesus is on the cross. Instead we will move after Easter and live into the resurrection! Behold, God makes all things new!

Rev. Craig M. Howard