Being Thankful

Blog Post by

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


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
vhawkins@glpby.org


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

 

Truth

Blog Post by

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


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

Moving of the Presbytery

On Thursday, October 19 the Vision Team voted to move the presbytery office from its current location in the Tower Grove area of St. Louis to Creve Coeur, Missouri. This is a shift away from a presbytery center in a historic building in St. Louis, to a presbytery office in West St. Louis County. Any move involves change, and change is often a mixed blessing. For some it will mean a closer location, easier access, and a better meeting environment. For others, it may mean loss of history, familiarity, and presence in St. Louis. As we move forward, I pray we demonstrate sensitivity to all areas of concern, as we take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

My hope is that this move will help us to become a more decentralized presbytery. Although there is plenty of meeting space in our new location, congregations can take this as an opportunity to host team and sub-team meetings. Furthermore, meeting in the office will be both in person and by tele-conference. This opens the way for members in the southern part of the presbytery, Illinois, and those much further away from St. Louis metro area to have more participation in the life and work of the presbytery. The selling of our building and moving to Creve Coeur is also an act of stewardship. It frees up resources we have been spending on building maintenance and upkeep.

If you have further questions please contact me choward@glpby.org. We are hoping to move into our new location in February 2018.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Power of One

Blog Post by:

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


Today we celebrate the 500th year of the reformation. On October 31 in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door. Luther’s work was the result of personal struggle with what it means to be righteous with God, and struggle with the Catholic church over the sale of indulgences. These indulgences were a way to purchase grace. The more a person paid, the more grace they received. Luther had enough of this corrupt practice, along with others, and the 95 thesis is the result.

What is amazing is that one person was able to break open the most powerful institutions of that time. Luther’s actions ushered in a protest movement, that became the protest-ant church. I recognize that Luther wasn’t the first person to push back against the Catholic church (Joan of Arc, John Huss and John Wycliffe are some examples), nor was he the only strong reformer (Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin come to mind). But Martin Luther exercised power. This one person lit the fires of the reformation. He is an example of what one person can do with imagination, organization, and a willingness to act.

Power is often shunned by ministers and faithful Christians because it is seen as negative or destructive. In reality, power is neutral. It can be used for good and used by those with honest and righteous purpose. In the challenging book, You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, Eric Liu believes we are again living in an age when one person can make a huge difference. However, this person must learn to utilize citizen power; They must learn to imagine, organize, and take action. He writes, “Citizen power is about identify and action in the collective: how we make change happen together.” He writes the book “for people who want to be change agents, not defenders of the status quo.”

Some believe another reformation is needed to shake the church out of its rut, and put it back on course to be God’s deliverer of the gospel. Perhaps the next Martin (or Marsha) Luther is among us now. If so, they would be wise to become literate in the use of power; including the power of the Holy Spirit as well as how to organize people for action. May we all sing the hymn, “Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?”

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Blowing Leaves of Culture

Blog Post by

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


This past weekend I took care of the leaves that had fallen in my yard. I did a wonderful job of raking and bagging. My yard was the cleanest on the block, at least for one day! The problem is my neighbor has a big tree that dumps leaves in his yard and into the street. He hasn’t raked anything so far. So, when the wind blows, all of his leaves end up in my yard! I have come to the conclusion that if I am to win the war on leaves, I must get in rhythm with my neighbor and the timing of his raking.

This incident helped me to better understand the church and culture.

Sometimes we believe that if we just get the right leaders, governance, have the finances and location, our congregations will prosper. But we must always consider the culture in which we live. Our culture influences us, and everyone that comes through our doors. This means the issues that affect our culture, are inside of our churches as well. They cannot be prayed away or theologized out of existence. No matter how much we read our Bibles (and we should read our Bibles!), our culture will also have a great influence on our values, thinking, and beliefs. Culture is like my neighbor’s leaves blowing into my yard. I will never have a clean yard if I only focus on my grass. I must take into consideration which way my neighbor’s leaves are blowing as well.

In the book, Transitional Ministry Today: Successful Strategies for Churches and Pastors, edited by Norman B. Bend Roth, there is a chapter entitled The Changing Landscape of the American Church by Cameron Trimble. Trimble believes the future of the church can be seen through the lens of culture, and how the American culture influences the church. He argues that in order to understand the future of the church, we should look at four forces in our culture and how they influence the church. These forces are resources, technology, demographics, and governance.

We have resources we have inherited from our fore-parents. This includes buildings, but also includes liturgy, denominational systems, seminaries, and finances. There are at least two ways to look at resources. We can believe our role is to conserve and preserve resources as a way of honoring those who gave them, built them, or developed them. This is using resources to focus on our past. Another way to use resources is to believe God is not static, but is also involved in change. We then use our resources to build our future, replacing rigid liturgy and polity with flexible structures that allow creative and innovative ideas to move forward. “The role of transitional ministers must be to rid congregations (and presbyteries) of needless administration, freeing them for permission-giving, innovative ministry.” What does a permission-giving ministry look like in your church? What does it look like in our presbytery?

God is living, present, and in the future. Let us prepare our congregations to join what God is doing in the world, as we become the future church.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

A Week in the Life of the Presbytery

 

 

 

Blog Post by Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


This week the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is hosting a gathering of over 400 Presbytery Mid Council Leaders. This event, which will be held at the Hyatt by the Arch, will bring all of the executive presbyters, associate presbyters, Stated Clerks, presbytery moderators and vice moderators to St. Louis. As a presbytery, we will be very active in hosting and presenting. Our presbytery moderator, Erin Counihan will preach at worship on Saturday afternoon. She will be joined by the Cote Brillante Community Men’s Choral. Erin will also moderate a panel discussion entitled Faith in Action: Being Church in Times of Social Unrest. Our Designated Associate Leader, Vanessa Hawkins, will present a workshop entitled Building Community within Mid Council. Her workshop is the most attended workshop at the event! I will present a workshop on Models of Ministries for Mid Councils.

Hosting the Mid Council leaders is another opportunity for Giddings-Lovejoy to showcase hospitality, service, and ministry. The attendees will be able to talk with the leaders of our presbytery and better understand what is going on in St. Louis, as they prepare to bring their commissioners next year to General Assembly.

This event is happening as we plan the open Vision Team meeting to discuss the relocation of the presbytery office (see following notice). We are also learning what it means to support those who protest (see Vanessa’s article), while planning the details of moving the office.

Hosting national events on top of all of the normal activity of the office is a learning experience. I am blessed to have great staff and volunteers to help carry the load. It is a reminder that ministry can be an exciting and evolving activity. There are no two days the same.

Please continue to lift up the staff, presbytery, and our denomination in prayer. We cannot do this important work without your support.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

St. Louis Public Radio – Comforting protestor after chemical agent used.

Witnessing in the Public Square

My first few weeks in this position has been spent listening and learning from Giddings Lovejoy staff, team members, and various pastors and congregational leaders.  I am also listening and learning from those called to be public witnesses against established ways of being and doing that support and maintain systems of inequity. With the nonstop activities, I wonder about the state of pastoral care for the protesters. Who’s providing them with emotional, psychological, and physical support?  What is happening behind the scenes that affirm their efforts to be on the front lines. Watching the protests unfold daily has caused me to relook at one of my favorite biblical passages in 2 Samuel.

In 2 Samuel 21:1-14, we find the story of Rizpah, concubine of Saul. She’s an obscure character stuck in the middle of David’s efforts to secure the kingdom. She comes on the scene as David carries out a request by the Gibeonites. This request is a state sanctioned lynching of seven of Saul’s remaining sons whose dead bodies were left in the streets for all to see. Two of the sons were Rizpah’s. As a widow, Rizpah was already in a vulnerable position.  So, what will happen to her for she is now a widowed concubine with no sons?

Rizpah takes refuge in the public square as she squares off with David. She takes up her mantle and becomes a symbol of resistance against murder, intimidation, and the public display of disrespect. Her vigil over the dead bodies is a visibly act of protest. It is a testimony given in silence. Scholars write that Rizpah is someone who “redeems the conscience and the soul” of her community and people. She is “a courageous bold woman who stands in solidarity with the dead and who hold the ‘powers to be’ accountable for their actions. And her protest is not a one-day event, but it lasts for months.

Although Rizpah is alone in the public square, she is not alone. There is no way a person can engage in a disruptive sit-in without community support. Who feeds her while she’s out there? Who cleans her clothes? Who continues the work she is not able to do while holding David and other officials accountable for their actions?  Who makes sure that she is safe while out in the public square alone? Or is she alone?

Protesters need community support. They need not only prayers, but other acts that will sustain them while they seek the justice that God requires. What are we doing within our homes, our congregations, and our jobs that supplements the work being done in the streets?  Whether we agree with the protests or not – what can we do as a presbytery to engage the issues being addressed that are part and parcel of the St. Louis’ legacy?

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

Rewriting The Rules

This is hard.

I get that. This conversation. All the emotions. Our cultural backgrounds and personal relationships histories and experiences and political leanings and theological positions. It makes it hard and complicated and difficult to talk about. But I have this little flicker of a vision or a dream or a hope that church could be the very place we can go and gather and discuss and debate the things that matter most to us, the passions of our hearts and the great questions of our spirits, and disagree and explore and learn and try, and still stay in relationship with one another.  In my dream-vision-hope it is still hard, but it is good and gives us life and reeks of faithfulness and makes God proud.

So here it is.

I am a rule-following girl. Looking at my Facebook posts this weekend, you may not think so, but deep in my heart, I am a rule-following girl. I like to make lists and check things off. As a kid I loved getting gold stars on the chart for assignments completed. I love a super detailed worship bulletin and I still read all the instructions before I even take the pieces out to play a board game. My friends tease me because even jaywalking makes me anxious.

I am a rule-following girl. The rules provide structure and order and help me to understand my proper place here, and how things are supposed to run over there. Maps and rules and agendas and plans are how I make sense of the world and my work my church and often, even, my identity.

And much of that is because the rules are designed to work for me. The rules are designed for my comfort. The rules are designed to keep me safe, to help me advance, to keep me wealthy, to keep me protected. I am a straight, white, cis, Christian, middle-class woman. With a few exceptions, the rules were designed to help me. But the thing I keep learning is, the rules don’t work that way for people who don’t look like me. Friends and neighbors and strangers and scholars and journalists and authors tell me about how the rules in our society hurt, silence, oppress and kill black and brown people, Muslim and atheist people, LGBTQ people, and so many others. I often hear folks who look like me say, “Well, if he just followed the rules.” But then I see another video of someone of color following the rules and getting pulled over and arrested anyway. Of someone going to the bathroom where the rules say they are supposed to and getting assaulted anyway. Of someone trying to follow the rules or obey a command and ending up dead anyway. And so what do I do when the rules that protect and uplift me, are keeping others down? What does God call me to do?

And I hear it in my head: Do justice, seek kindness, walk humbly with God.

For me, doing justice has meant working to change the rules, to make them more equitable. That means doing my research, organizing with others, signing petitions, engaging with elected officials, pursuing legal action, and participating in direct action, too. Yup, that means taking to the streets, and standing there, to demand justice. So, me, the rule-following girl, ends up in the street breaking the very rules that make me so comfortable. Breaking the rules in order to help change them. In order to stop squashing my neighbors. In order to stop killing my neighbors. In order to dismantle the white supremacy that serves me so well. In order to be a part of bringing God’s justice to all. In order to bear witness to God’s rule-breaking love and grace and power, even in this time and in this place.

And it’s super uncomfortable. And it is divisive. And it messes with our commutes and our comforts, our theologies and our understandings, our structures and our community. And that is hard.

And that is also the point.

This is hard. May God be with us as we discuss. May God be with us as we debate. May God be with us as we work and do the justice that is required of us. May God be with us as we love.  As we love. As we love. Amen.

Rev. Erin Counihan
Pastor, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church