Preaching Political

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

 


I sent a letter to the presbytery last week as a response to the Stockley trail in St. Louis. I received more responses to that letter than anything else I’ve written. Most responses were positive and affirming. A few responses took issue at my claims of injustice and racism. I really appreciate all responses as an opportunity for us to dialogue with one another. This is the way our faith and community are shaped and formed. We are a connected church that does our best work respectfully agreeing and disagreeing, and doing it all in love.

But what happens in a church when the congregation disagrees with a political sermon the pastor preaches? How should members of a congregation respond when the pastor takes them on a path they do not want to go?

Last week Daniel Schultz wrote an article entitled Rev. Rob Lee Lost Congregation for His Anti-Racism Speech: Here’s Why He Should Have Packed His Bags First.

Schultz tells the story of Pastor Rob Lee, a descendent of General Robert E. Lee, and how his remarks from the pulpit against racism got him fired from his UCC church. Schultz believes Lee made a critical mistake in how he approached the congregation. “One of the cardinal rules of working in a church is that you never, ever—ever—tell them they’re doing their faith wrong, even if they clearly are, unless you have your bags packed and the car warmed up.” Schultz believes pastors can talk about difficult political issues, but it must be done with the right attitude.

The pastor cannot demand change, but can explore ideas and different directions. The path must be smoothed with affirmation and uplifting. He writes, “But the trick is to do it in a way that leaves followers feeling like they’re being summoned to their better angels, not being faulted for what someone perceives as their worse devils. That’s not coddling racists. It’s a pragmatic recognition that leaders who want to create social change need something other than ‘Speaking The Truth Boldly’ in their toolbox if they want to be successful. For better or worse, pastoral ministry is about creating change through the power of relationships. It is a very long game, and one that can be lost with one wrong step.

Through the building of relationships, we can all move forward together in our walk of faith. It’s easier to listen to someone we love, even when we disagree with what they are saying. But as a preacher, I must admit, it is a difficult line to navigate when talking about emotionally charged issues. I would love to have to explore this issue further with pastors, and members!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Change

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


Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

The only person who like change is a wet baby!”  Mark Twain

I believe the future of our denomination can be seen in our individual congregations. We have congregations of different sizes, different geographic locations, and different levels of wealth. We have some congregations where you have to wade through the children to get to the pulpit, and other congregations where there are no children present. We have congregations soaked in history and generations of membership, and we have congregations still forming their identity. We have seven congregations that are majority non-white, and several congregations where people of color attend, but they are a small minority.

Yet, there is one consistent feature in all of our congregations, change. And as one congregation recently told me, “We are old and aging, and we do not like change!”

In the book, Strategic Leadership for a Change, Kenneth McFayden uses the scripture text and Mark Twain quote from above. He writes that people do not fear change, they fear loss. Change means letting go of comfort, identity, and familiarity. It means moving beyond “This is how we have always done it.”

There is comfort in repetition. There is power in being the one who knows “how things work around here.” McFayden writes, “Many congregations find themselves in the throes of significant change. The culture is shifting, as are the demographics of communities and denominations. Congregations feel a sense of urgency to grow. What they do not feel is an urgency to change.”

Change means potential loss, and potential conflict. Change is uncomfortable, frustrating, and can even be painful. Change means walking in the fog of liminality, not sure where the ground is; not knowing if we are at the edge of the end or the first step of a new beginning. Change takes courage.

As the presbytery continues to move in the direction that God is calling us to go, we are challenged like Abram to step into the uncomfortable, knowing that God is calling us into new and exciting place. In 2018 we will continue to change-up presbytery gatherings; making them powerful experiences of fellowship, learning, and worship. We will push and challenge our pastors, ruling elders, and leaders to learn, learn, learn! We will continue to tweak our structure so that it will serve us, and not force us to serve it. We will be a presbytery connected to the social issues and changes that are happening throughout our presbytery. And this will only work if we work together.

Let’s come together. Let’s get connected. Let’s become God’s people for such a time as this.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

 

Called to Serve

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


We had a full and exciting Presbytery Gathering this past Thursday. In addition to hearing motions, voting, and taking actions, this meeting featured several “ignite” presentations. An ignite presentation is a five minute or less slide presentation that focuses on an issue or event. Thursday’s reports included:

  • Highlights of the Nicaragua Trip
  • Invitation to participate in the Hunger Action Network kickoff
  • History Team activities
  • Ukirk presented an update and appeal
  • Hands and Feet provided an update
  • COLA provided an update and request for volunteers

In addition, the sermonic moment during worship was divided into three presentations: one from Isaac Wanyoike pastor of the Pendo Fellowship, John Harrison spoke about his work with the prison ministry, and Johanna Wagner shared about Caritas, our New Worshiping Community that focuses on people with cognitive disabilities.

As we listened to the various presentations, we were moved, excited, and filled with compassion. The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is doing great work through numerous ministries. Our ministries are broad and cover a very large area of need. Most importantly, this work is not top-down. It is not controlled by the presbytery office and then distributed to the members. All of these ministry efforts are embedded within the local community and they benefit the community.

My goal as your Transitional Presbytery Leader is to decentralize the work of the presbytery. I desire to give the work of the ministry to the people who are most capable, passionate, and driven. This means building a strong volunteer base of people willing to participate with Nicaragua, work with Ukirk, reach out to Pendo, connect with the prison ministry, and help with GA 2018.

In the book, “Adaptive Leadership,” Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky write about giving the work back to those closest to it, and sharing responsibility for the organization’s future. The idea is to remove work from the hands of a few leaders in authority, and instead share it with those who are directly involved with the effort.

We need people to step up and get involved.

I’ve noticed a hesitance and reticence of presbytery involvement. I understand the caution. Perhaps you have been involved in the past and have gotten burned. Or you have heard horror stories and have turned your back on the presbytery and focused on your congregation instead.

I’m asking you to take a look at the presbytery again. There are so many opportunities to serve. We need gifted people with hearts of compassion for justice, and a desire to see God’s work spread throughout our area and the world. We need people who can serve for a few weeks, and people who are willing to serve for a few years. We need people who can stand at a booth, or sit and listen to others. We need specialist in finance and accounting. We need attorneys who want to serve the larger church. We need gifted visionaries who see the world as it could be and ask, “Why not?”

Have you been thinking about getting involved? Do you know someone you can recommend serving? Barbara Willock (bwill2@mindspring.com) serves as chairperson of our Committee on Representation and Nominations, and she would love to hear from you.

May God put a fire in your heart, passion in your spirit, and a desire to serve with sisters and brothers beyond your local congregation.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Big Gathering!

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


 On Thursday the Presbytery Gathering will take place, and it is going to be a big one! If you are wondering if you should attend, the answer is yes! At this Gathering we will meet our new Designated Associate Presbytery Leader, Vanessa Hawkins. Also, we will vote on moving the presbytery office to a new home. There will be motions tweaking the presbytery design, as well as new ways to invest in mission and communities. There will be an examination for candidacy, and voting on new members for teams, committees, and commissions. Furthermore, we will present these ideas in a new format that we hope will be efficient, informative, and motivating.

The Presbytery Gathering will begin at 1:00 with a pre-session regarding the sale of the presbytery office building. We will then have a time of fellowship as we enjoy cake from the History Team, while celebrating the 200th year of the presbytery of Missouri. Business begins at 2:00, and we will end with dynamic worship.

The volunteers at Washington Presbyterian church have worked hard to prepare a wonderful setting for our gathering. The presbytery staff is looking forward to receiving your registration, and meeting you in person. Each congregation will receive the book, “Waking Up White,” so they can participate in a presbytery wide book conversation.

Whew! A lot is happening in Giddings-Lovejoy! I am glad that you are a part, and I strongly encourage you to come out and join us!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Building Systems of Peace

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


(I’m writing this blog from Jerusalem as I am coming down the home stretch of my clergy study trip to the Holy Land. The trip is sponsored by the group, Interfaith Partners For Peace. The focus of the trip is to explore relationships between major religious and cultural groups. I am helping to lead the group of 14 African American pastors representing four denominations, four rabbis representing each branch of the major Jewish faiths, and one member of the ELCA. Our goal is to explore relationships between these major groups, along with Israeli and Palestinian conflict.)

We spent Sunday morning in worship at St. George Episcopal Church. The rector, Canon Naoum, met with us to describe the theological, political, and social challenges he faces as he does ministry in Jerusalem. Naoum talked about the challenge of being a peacemaker in the midst of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Palestinian threat of perceived violence, and Christians, Muslims, and Jews living uncomfortably side by side. He said, “Perhaps our goal is not to be peacemakers, because we cannot make peace in this region. But we can build systems that lead to peace.”

What does it mean to build systems of peace?

This trip takes place in the shadow of racial violence in Charlottesville, VA and the rise in expressions of hate groups in the United States. My brother lives in Ypsilanti MI. His daughter wrote on her Facebook page, “My Father just called to tell me that he saw a group of neo-Nazis dressed in full regalia, arm bands and all, marching down Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, MI before noon. He’s lived in Michigan for 40 years. He said he’s never seen anything like it.”

I can only imagine the shock and pain my brother experienced while watching this horrific sight; a sight that is meant to intimidate him and other African Americans and Jews living in the community. And it doesn’t stop there. It is my niece, his daughter, who is relaying the story. Hate has reached the next generation.

Building systems of peace means bringing people of good will together and finding commonality that create bridges to connect and strengthen one another. Only then can we find and become allies of support, and together we can combat the sin of racism.

While in Israel I have met with several organizations who are building peace. These include:

The Sikkuy Partnership, an organization of Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel.

Eco Peace, a collaboration between Jordanians, Palestinian, and Israel environmentalists, working together around water issues.

Shalom Hartman, an institute of scholars dedicated to Middle-East peace.

Kids4Peace, a group that focuses on children and educating them for peace and coexistence.

The Roots, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who are separated by walls of fear.

Atachlit Farm, a community empowering program that helps Ethiopian Israelis connect with agricultures.

Lod, providing services to Arab and Jewish communities.

Natal, The Israel Center for Victims of Terror or War.

Each of these organizations have been created with a vision of building systems of peace. May the Sprit lead us to find ways to support and do similar work in our own country and community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard    (Photos of my journey can be found here)

 

Being Prepared

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


This weekend our nation experienced an ugly outburst of racism. Saturday morning I checked my Facebook page and saw a post from Erin Counihan about White Nationalist, KKK, and Nazi groups marching through a college campus in Virginia with torches, shields, and guns. I thought, “What country is this? Who allows people to march with torches and guns?” Perhaps this is what happens when we mix free speech with open carry laws.

What if this happened in our presbytery? What if the KKK, the Nazi group, or other promotors of hatred decided to march in Pacific, Bellville, or Ballwin? In a way, Giddings-Lovejoy is living in the after-shocks of the murder of Michael Brown, with protests and riots that followed. These were not protest about hate, but race played a key element. Last Wednesday I attended a memorial for Michael Brown in the apartment complex where he lived. It was a sensitive reflection on his life, and a symbolic presentation of the many African Americans whose lives have been cut short. The event included a dance troop, prayers, testimony, and release of doves for peace. I have attached a slideshow of the event below.

As we continue to be confronted by racism in our nation, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team is encouraging us to read “Waking Up White.” Our denomination has been reading this book this past year. Some congregations in Giddings-Lovejoy have already been involved with reading and discussing this helpful book. I am asking, along with DRAP, to set aside the month of September to read this book together. At the end of the month we will form discussion groups and invite those who desire to attend.

I really hope you participate in this book study. If you’ve already read it, please participate in a study group at the end of September. This is an opportunity for our presbytery to learn together and continue to strengthen the ties that connect us.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Michael Brown Memorial Event

 

From the Middle East to Missouri

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


Next week I will be traveling to Israel. I have the opportunity to lead a group of 15 African American clergy as part of Interfaith Partners For Peace. This 10 day trip will allow me to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, business people, politicians, and educators who are building bridges for peace in this difficult part of the world. I went on a similar trip last year as part of a group of clergy and rabbis. My purpose and rationale is to learn how people with deep disagreements, histories, and narratives, find ways to live together.

As I leave Missouri, I am going at a time the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has issues a travel advisory for people of color who are coming to this state. Even though African Americans have a 75% greater chance than White people of being stopped by the police while driving, the advisory is pointing at a larger issue, SB43. This bill makes it more difficult for an employee to prove racial or gender discrimination. The bill also affects whistleblowers and the amounts they can collect. According to the Governor’s office, the bill is considered business friendly, and reduces the amount of frivolous lawsuits. I have yet to see statistics on the number of discrimination lawsuits being filed in Missouri, and I have not found how many of these lawsuits are deemed “frivolous.” By the way, the representative who submitted the original bill is being suited for racial discrimination in his small business. Business friendly indeed!

Traveling in certain parts of Missouri brings a sickening feeling in my stomach. I am less worried about traveling to the Middle East than I am driving to some of our Presbyterian churches. I have not been stopped by the police, called obscene names, or treated with any disrespect. But I know this reality is present; maybe at the next gas station I’m at, or restaurant I sit down in for coffee. There is fear on Missouri highways for African Americans, and it is palpable.

Tomorrow I will be standing with others at Canfield, in memory of Michael Brown’s shooting. His murder sparked protests and violence. But it also created the Ferguson Commission that has several strategies for approaching racism in our state.

Middle East tensions, NAACP travel advisory, Michael Brown. Could this all be connected? Perhaps it is about how we are different people, and how we can choose to live together in peace, or in bitterness and violence. Maybe the Middle East can teach the Midwest about the struggle for peaceful coexistence, and the consequences when we fail.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

In with the New

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


Sunday at Webster Groves was another celebration of a pastoral installation. Rev. Hannah Dreitcer is the fourth installation in my seven months as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I anticipate at least three more installations of new pastors by the end of the year. In the past three years, there have been a number of pastors who have become a part of the presbytery. I have written about the presbytery being like a forest of large redwood trees, and how we need to nurture new life that is birthed from the fallen trees and rich soil. I was writing about congregations. However, I now see we are in the midst of a pastoral transition as well.

We are living in the midst of a tremendous opportunity. Giddings-Lovejoy has been blessed with many young, gifted pastors who have a vision of ministry that is ecumenical, inclusive, and creative. Erin Counihan is bringing life to the South St. Louis through Amen house. Joshua Noah is weaving hope and energy into Chrystal City. Mel Smith and Kaitie Kautz are pulling together a presbytery wide cohort group of children and youth leaders. Miriam Foltz is building UKirk, a campus ministry that includes both St. Louis University and Washington University.

These are just a few of the new pastors who are seeing the church in new ways. These pastors are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are delivering that message in ways today’s world can understand.

It is not enough to watch them, we must applaud them. We are called to encourage our new pastors, and help them dream dreams. As a presbytery, we are challenged to integrate our new pastors, and allow them to assist in changing the culture of the presbytery.

In the book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block believes a community can be restorative. He writes, “The core question that underlies each (restorative) conversation is, ‘What can we create together?’ This moves us from problems to possibility; from fear and fault to gifts, generosity, and abundance. . . “

God continues to guide new pastors into Giddings-Lovejoy from across the country. These pastors can take us from our fragmented past into a unified future. They have the potential to bring us energy and break us free of our “calcified past.”

This is an exciting time to be a Presbyterian! It is a time of change, and an opportunity for possibility. Truly this is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Ministry For Children and Young Adults

 

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

 


Imagine a church building decorated wall to wall with arts and crafts devoted to super heroes! The walls are plastered with posters, objects are hanging from the ceiling and stacked on the floors. As soon as worship is over, more objects are moved into the sanctuary. It is colorful and obviously created with children in mind. This is what is happening at St. Mark in Ballwin where I preached on Saturday and Sunday. They are preparing for “Super Heroes of the Bible,” their theme for VBS. The church is full of energy and excitement. During worship, the children’s director announced that VBS had 201 children signed up. Two-hundred-and-one! The church is at capacity and have created a wait list! 201 children will be playing, learning, laughing, eating, and getting to know Jesus in creative ways.

This gives me excitement. This gives me hope.

The film, Children of Men, is about a future in which there are no children. The last child is born 18 years ago, and the movie begins with his death. There is great sadness throughout the film as we see empty schools and playgrounds. I must admit that watching this film makes me think about the church, and the work we must do to continue to draw children and young adults to the faith. This difficult but faithful work will take leaders with creativity, imagination, and love.

The Education and Youth sub-team, led by Melanie (Mel) Smith has such a vision. Mel and Kaitie Kautz have an idea to build a cohort of children and young adult leaders within the presbytery. This group of leaders will share information, learn from one another, and build systems of nurture and support throughout the presbytery. The cohort group will learn and share the latest methods of youth and young adult leadership. They will be using Ministry Architects, an outstanding organization that focuses on youth leadership. Mel and Kaitie are inviting a small group of congregations to be part of the cohort in the beginning, and plan to grow the cohort over time.

As your Transitional Presbytery Leader, I want to connect the fragmented parts of Giddings Lovejoy together, and build us into the unified presbytery that God is calling us to be. The youth and young adult cohort group is a model of this effort. If you are asked to participate in this initial group, please seriously considering saying yes!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Faith Into Action


Blog Post by the Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org
(Photo by PCUSA Staff photographer)


Big Tent was amazing!!

Big Tent St. Louis was one of the best Big Tent events ever! From the music, to the food; from the Washington University setting, to the inspiring preaching and workshops, the event was accomplished with precision and excellence.

But the shining lights were the volunteers from Giddings-Lovejoy. They did a tremendous job. The leadership from our denomination headquarters in Louisville made sure I knew how outstanding our volunteers performed. The participants had mounds of praise for our volunteers as well! These volunteers included: The five congregations that hosted participants on Friday night. Greeters. Registration table. Hospitality table. Golf Cart drivers. Mound Ridge and their work with the youth. Directors to the various classrooms throughout the campus. General information providers. Stage manager. Food providers. The entire staff of the presbytery who volunteered and filled in gaps where needed. We did it all, and we did it well!

Let me share just one example. For the first time in the history of Big Tent, the participants were invited to attend a local congregation. We opened the doors to five of our congregations: Second, Third, Oak Hill, Cote Brilliante, and Ferguson. Big Tent sent a bus full of participants to each congregation. The congregation served food, provided a program with an opportunity to respond from the Big Tent participants. The energy and enthusiasm of these programs created a spiritual awakening throughout the Big Tent event. The effects could be felt on Saturday in Bible classes, workshops, and worship.(read more here)

Furthermore, On Sunday morning, I preached at Cote Brillante. The congregation was still abuzz about Friday night! The patterns and habits of hospitality they displayed for Big Tent, were still present, as a new visitor came forward to join the church. This spiritual electricity continued through each of these congregations, as they rode the Big Tent wave of faith, mission, and purpose.

This is how it works. When we put our faith into action, we realize we are better than we thought we were, and we can do far more than we even imagine.

During the economic downturn of 2008, Rham Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago famously said, “Let’s not waste a good recession!” Friends, let’s not waste a good Big Tent! Let’s use the energy, creativity, imagination, and plain old hard work we just displayed to continue bringing our presbytery together. It is amazing what we can do, when we turn faith into action and work together.

Craig M. Howard