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

Big Tent

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

choward@glpby.org

 

 


I enjoy hosting parties and gatherings. I love the mingling of friends and associates, sharing food and stories, watching people develop new relationships, and playing silly games. When I became your Transitional Presbytery Leader I was aware that Giddings-Lovejoy would be hosting the biggest parties of the denomination! These include Big Tent and General Assembly (GA). In addition, we are hosting the Association of Mid-Council Leaders and Association of Stated Clerks gathering, along with the Polity Conference (AMCL/ASC Poli-con). GA goes from June 16 – 23, 2018. AMCL/ASC Poli-con is October 12- 17, 2017. Big Tent runs from July 6 – 8 this summer, and is the one we need to focus on.

Like hosting any party, we want to look our best, wash the dishes and vacuum. And of course take all of the undesirables and put them in a room or closet and shut the door tight!

Our focus needs to be on Big Tent for now. The denomination website says, “Big Tent 2017, will be held on the beautiful campus of Washington University in St. Louis, MO, July 6 -8th. The theme will emphasize the hope of the Gospel and its power to transform society in our current cultural context, marked by anxiety, racial division, political animosity, and economic inequality. Through dialogue, workshops, exhibits, and engagement with one another, participants will engage the Church in its mission of justice-making and peace.” We are expecting 400 Presbyterians to attend Big Tent. They will be coming to Washington University campus to participate in learning, worship, and fellowship.

The event is open to all who register, but we are in need of people to do a variety of volunteer activities. The following is the list thus far and how many time slots that are still available. A volunteer can work more than one time slot. You must also buy a parking pass, which is reimbursed by the presbytery for all volunteers.

On Site Registration: 3 slots available.

Information Booth: 6 slots available.

Greeters and Guides: 21 slots available. Especially for Saturday July 8.

Meal Helpers: 2 slots available.

Children/Youth Program Reception: 7 slots available.

Shuttle Drives: These are the folks who drive golf carts around the campus and help people with mobility issues. There are 90 slots available, but once again, you can volunteer for several slots.

Workshop Assistant: 7 slots available.

For more information go to this link: http://oga.pcusa.org/section/churchwide-ministries/big-tent-2017/

I hope you can find the time to volunteer. Let’s have fun as we host the Big Tent event.

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

 

 

 

68 Cents on the Dollar

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


68 Cents on the Dollar

Princeton Theological Seminary finds themselves in a bind. In March they awarded the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness to Rev. Dr. Tim Keller. Keller is the founder of a 4,000 member mega-church in New York city. He is part of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination that does not believe in ordaining women, or accepting members of the LGBTQ community. Awarding the prize to someone with such conservative views created a firestorm in social media and on the Princeton campus. After receiving a petition in which over 300 Princeton students and faculty signed, Princeton rescinded the award to Keller.

Princeton’s actions even got the attention of The New York Times. In an article entitled, Is Your Pastor Sexist?, Julia Baird writes, “While women are regarded as equals in many mainline Protestant churches, for women in the conservative denominations that still adhere to male leadership, the fight has been difficult and protracted.”

Baird’s assumption that women are regarded as equal in mainline churches, caused me to look at the pastoral compensation statistics for our presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. Here is what I found.

  • Full-time installed women pastors earn $16,261 less on average than full-time installed men pastors.
  • Women earn 75% of what men earn doing full-time installed ministry.
  • When looking at full-time solo pastors and head-of-staff, Full-time woman pastors earn $20,329 less on average, than full-time men pastors.
  • This means that for every dollar a full-time male solo or head-of-staff pastor earns, a full-time woman counterpart earns 68 cents.
  • Female associate pastors earn $8,835 less on average, than their male counterpart.
  • Female part-time pastors earn more than male part-time pastors, but that is because the amount of earning is so little compared to full-time pastors.

I am confident the gender inequality in our presbytery is reflected in other presbyteries across the denomination. We can parse these numbers and ask questions which will help us better understand the narrative behind the statistics. But in the end two things are certain. First, women are not regarded as equals when it comes to pay for pastoral ministry. Second, as an ethical presbytery that believes in justice, we are called to fix this problem.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kind Word

 

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

 


A Kind Word

When it comes to hearing a kind word, our congregations are just like people. They can always use a compliment too! Our congregations can use a word of hope and inspiration to lift their spirits and encourage them to go forward. Steven Burt and Hazel Ann Roper writes about raising church esteem in their book, The Little Church That Could. Don’t be put off by the title. This is a well written and researched book. Their context is the small church (100 members or less) but the idea applies to all congregations.

Like people, congregations face blows to their egos and sometimes doubt their ability to achieve goals and visions. Congregations and church systems may suffer depression after a severe loss. Congregations also experience post traumatic syndrome (PTSD) after a conflict that leaves the church bruised and battered. Burt and Roper write, “There is a strong correlation with the grief process that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identifies in five states: denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.” As your Presbytery Leader, I have visited congregations struggling with loss of membership, program failures, blaming members and the pastor for their failures (or often the presbytery), and denial of their limitations.

As congregation leaders’  we are called to listen and encourage. We are challenged to help one another see the possibilities that are in each limitation. The role of the presbytery is to come along side each congregation and remind them they are not alone or adrift at sea. Each church is surrounded by the congregations in Giddings-Lovejoy as we bring support in prayer and appropriate resources.

A place to feel the presence of the presbytery is at the Presbytery Gathering, which will be Thursday April 27th at 1:00 at Lovejoy United Presbyterian Church in Wood River IL. The presbytery gathering is a time of fellowship, worship, and a bit of business too! It is a time we encourage one another and remind each other that our challenges are not unique or ignored.

Take the time to register for the gathering by using the link in this newsletter. I look forward to seeing you there and sharing a smile, handshake, and the peace of Christ.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

To register for the April 27, 2017 Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, please click on this link.

Remembering for Life

Guest Blog by Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews

Interim Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, St. Louis

REMEMBERING FOR LIFE

I have always had a hard time remembering. When I think back 35 years, I try to remember what my daughter looked like as a baby, and what Halloween costume my son wore in first grade, and which parishioner gave me the candle that I cherish so much. And more often than not, I just can’t remember. Flitting from moment to moment, in a life too full and too fast, I have not always let the grace sink in.

“This do in remembrance of me.” We have heard the words hundreds of times. Again and again we break the bread. Again and again we dip into the cup. Ritual by rote – relentless, repetitive, remote. But, do we remember? Do we remember the body broken for love and the blood shed for reconciliation? Do we remember the friendship and the betrayal, the suffering and the darkness, the darkness and the death – and the elegance of Life? Do we remember the story – the whole story? And does it make any difference?

In my older years, I am digging into my heart to find memories that have been buried – and the stories of my past are beginning to surface – to nourish and complete my life. The past makes sense of the present – and then propels me into an integrated future.

Those asthmatic nights my father held me as I gasped for breath. Which is why the day I trust in a God who can calm any fear.

The joy and safety I felt year in and year out as I sat in worship – a small child barely able to see over the pew. Which is why weekly worship still feeds my soul.

That traumatic crisis that rocked our family when I was 13. Which is why I still have the need to gain control and keep control when uncertainty threatens my predictable world.

The sad fragility of my brother-in-law fading away – as AIDS suffocated his spirit at the age of 41. Which is why death has become for me both a blessing and a curse.

The countless “coincidences” that have led me to each congregation I have been privileged to serve. Which is why I believe in the providence of a wise and dependable God.

Brothers and Sisters, it is by remembering that we gain perspective. It is by remembering that we redeem the past and understand the present.  It is by remembering that we are reminded of the tenacious perseverance of grace in our lives. And it is by remembering that pain and suffering can be healed – and released into the heart of God.

During Holy Week this month, Jesus will once more invite us: “Do this in remembrance of me.” On Maundy Thursday, some of us will share a dying man’s meal and stand at the foot of the cross. On Good Friday, others of us will gather in the dark, and hear the nails shattering the night. But then on Easter morning the music and the flowers and the crowds will abound. And the supper of sadness will be transformed into a feast of joy.

Friends, let us remember it all. Let us relive it all. And let us become it all – for the sake of the world.

Blessings,
Susan

In-N-Out

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

 

 


In-N-Out

I spent the weekend in California visiting Marilyn. We spent our time enjoying the wonderful weather and the local eateries. One of my favorite haunts is the “In-N-Out” burger joint. This west coast chain opened in 1945 as a drive through only burger restaurant. Today, In-N-Out can be found in California, Texas, Arizona, and Utah. Now, there is indoor seating to enjoy the meal, as well as the drive-through. 

 What strikes me about In-N-Out is their menu. It only contains three items: burger (single or double), fries, and a drink. Then there are the combinations: single burger with fries and a drink, single cheese burger with fries and a drink, double burger with fries and a drink, double cheeseburger with fries and a drink. 1-2-3 or 4. That’s it. The only question is “Do you want onions?” Furthermore, In-N-Out makes delicious hamburgers! No nuggets, no salad, no wraps. Simple. And they are highly successful. There is always a line inside and cars circle around the building’s drive-through.

 And here is the connection: The primary attraction for millennials to congregations is simplicity and authenticity.  

 In his blog “Reaching Millennials,” Jefferson Bethke writes, “You don’t need the fog and lights to get young people to show up at your church.” He goes on to write about the driving need millennials have for authentic prayer, and theologically sound and biblically based preaching. In the Huffington Post, David Briggs summed it up in the KISS principal: Keep it spiritual, stupid. He writes, “(Millennials) are looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way.” 

As we seek ways to draw younger people to our congregations, perhaps the answer to moving forward is looking backward. The answer may not be more bells and whistles, but more emphases on what we know and do well: an experience with God through preaching, prayer, and theological study. This experience may mean an invitation to study or prayerful reflection. It may mean walking a labyrinth or spiritual exploration through small groups. In-N-Out is a reminder that practicing traditional spirituality may be our best hope for engaging in the future. 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Race: A Difficult but Necessary Conversation

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

 

 

Two weeks ago, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege team (DRAP) sponsored a drama performance entitled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The performance was at Cote Brillante, an African American Presbyterian church located on the Northside of St. Louis. The attendance was outstanding! There was a good mix of African American and European American Presbyterians in the audience. Afterward, DRAP had the audience form small groups of three and four people, and answer three questions. The small groups were intentionally mixed with both African American and European American participants. Each question received about 45 responses from all the small groups. The answers paint a diverse yet similar picture of the members of our presbytery.

As I read the full survey results, I realize the presbytery must find the courage to have a conversation about race. Racism is not just a St. Louis problem. Racism is also hiding under the rug in Cape Girardeau and tucked away in the cabinets in Sikeston. It is present in sleepy Pacific and the refineries of Wood River. Since arriving in Giddings-Lovejoy, I learned of Sundown Towns, where African Americans had to be gone from the area by sundown. Although these laws are now off the books, the towns and this history are part of this presbytery and its history.

At the same time, I’m pleased to report that as I have traveled throughout Giddings-Lovejoy, my experience in each congregation has been one of hospitality and kindness. We have great leaders and members of our congregations.

However, racism and all its ugly tentacles is nevertheless still alive and well in the geographic area of Giddings-Lovejoy.

I believe the future of the church is diversity. The future of our country is diversity. And I believe that’s part of why you called me to serve with you as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. We can either follow the demographic patterns of our communities and our nation, or become a cottage industry catering to a decreasing racial-ethnic group in a smaller and smaller slice of the American pie.

A conversation about race in every corner of the presbytery is the beginning of living into the future.

Now, listen to a few of the voices of the people at the performance. They are African American and European American; young and old; of different economic classes and backgrounds. They are Presbyterians. Some answers are inspiring, and others are surprising.

Here are the three questions, followed by some of answers that were provided.

  1. Some people say that talking about race creates divisions. What do you think?  Should we talk about race?
  • Talking about race does not create division, but it may make people uncomfortable.
  • It may make people think about their part in promoting racism.
  • There’s no chance of getting past race (understanding it) until we talk about it to get to the real issues: Issues of privilege, power, and class.
  • There’s more division when we don’t communicate.
  1. What is the Church’s role regarding social issues?
  • Make sure that people understand that Christ spoke out on social issues. The church should follow Christ’s example.
  • The church’s role is to educate and lead.
  • To stop being so segregated on Sunday.
  • Social issues should not be the church’s main function. We are to spend our time “in church” focusing on God.
  1. What are you afraid of today? What keeps us from going out?
  • Afraid of dying young.
  • Rejection
  • Isolation
  • Lack of support.
  • Cloudy climate.
  • Loss of identity, status.
  • Elimination
  • Crime is a fear.
  • Rapidly changing pace due to technology.
  • Government leadership is negative.
  • Afraid of all congregations shrinking because church is not a priority. Families are not coming.
  • Stigmitization
  • Discrimination

 

Passion Drives Membership

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

Passion Drives Membership

Since arriving in St. Louis, I’ve heard so much about the Missouri Botanical Garden. Last week I and a group of people volunteering at the office went over for lunch at Sassafras Café. The volunteers talked up the garden on the trip over. The place was filled with people coming and going; talking with one another about the various flowers and plants. I got so excited, I became a member!

Passion drives membership…

As your Transitional Presbytery Leader, I spend a lot of time in numbers (not the book of Numbers in the Bible!). I am constantly massaging our presbytery statistics to figure out our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. At the Vision Team meeting last week, Mike Willock and I shared information about the presbytery trends as seen through our annual statistics. Here are some of the highlights of the highlights!

Membership Totals

We have 79 Congregations with 12,585 members. We lost 13.5% of our membership in 2016. If we remove Bonhomme from the statistics, we lost 4.5% of our members in 2016.

  • 18 Congregations grew.  The total increase was 112.
  • 36 Congregations lost members. Total losses were 708.

Membership Attendance

  • On Average 73 people attend worship each Sunday.
  • 15 congregations had 25 members or less in worship each Sunday.

Age

  • 47% of our members are over age 65.
  • 5 Congregations have 75% or more of their members over 65.

Racial Ethnic

  • 10% of presbytery members are racial ethnic. 90% of these are of African descent.
  • However, 50% of our congregations have zero Racial Ethnic members.

As I visit congregations, I hear the concerns about membership declining, aging congregations, and lack of youth and young adults. These are real concerns indeed.

I’ve been inspired in my Lenten reading by James Baldwin’s book, The Cross of Redemption. Baldwin writes, “We are misled here because we think of numbers. You don’t need numbers; you need passion. And this is proven by the history of the world.”

I believe Baldwin has something here. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the passion. And there is a lot of passion happening in our presbytery! After writing last week’s article about my visit to New Hope Presbyterian church, I received four emails from other congregations expounding on the interesting ways they do worship, and the energy and passion they experience. This week I am now hearing more and more stories about congregations where exciting things are happening.

I believe passion can drive numbers. When the gospel is being preached and the liturgy is being done with creativity, quality, and excellence, people tend to show up. But the passion cannot stop with the choir and the pastor. The members must show passion about their God and their faith as well. I believe when people are excited about something they tend to share their excitement with others.

So, where is your passion? What makes you get up in the morning and want to live the day? Where is the passion in your congregation? I’d like to hear about it, and share your story with others.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Save