Great Job!

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

I’m still receiving thank-you notes. Some are in the form of cards. Some are by email. Others come in envelopes. These are words of thanks and appreciation to Giddings-Lovejoy for hosting General Assembly. The notes are a reminder of the generosity and kindness in the hearts of Presbyterians. The many acts of kindness are directed toward the entire presbytery. We did it, and we did it together!

This issue of the newsletter is focused on the events of General Assembly. Sometimes we forget to stop and inhale after expending a great amount of effort and energy. Sometimes we forget to celebrate a job well done. I have spent the past week meeting with presbytery staff and COLA staff debriefing the event. The debriefing was done with memories, meals, and music. We listened to testimonies, stories, and marveled at the flexibility of all involved. Giddings-Lovejoy showed the entire denomination what hospitality looks like.

Enjoy the photos and videos in this edition of the newsletter, found here. It is all about you. It is all about us. I pray we can ride the energy and connectionism created from our time together at GA into the future of the presbytery.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Our Neighborhood

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


I remember 1968 very well. Dr. King was assassinated in April, and later that year, 50 years ago this month, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I still remember the newscast that morning as I was preparing for school. In that momentous and devastating year, something else happened—something big that would give us hope for the future: A children’s show, Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood, aired for the first time on PBS. A recent documentary has been produced about the making of the TV series. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary about Fred Rodger and Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood. Rodgers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who did a children’s show on PBS from 1968 to around 2001.

I went to see the film after GA. Friends, I highly recommend this documentary. I will not telegraph the content of the film. But I will say that I, along with the audience, was greatly moved by Fred Rodgers. He had a focus and mission to create an internal strength in children. His message was simple: You are loved just as you are. What the documentary made obvious is, that the same message Fred Rodgers pushed each week for the children is necessary for adults as well.

I was amazed at the audience’s emotional reaction to this film and message (there were no children in the audience). Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood was a low budget production with sock puppets and a simple miniature set. There were no pyrotechnics or colorful costumes. Instead, the focus was on the message. It was relevant, gutsy, and a constant reminder of unconditional love.

Fred Rodgers had an unconventional ministry with a consistent message. I believe the church is a place for people to experience God’s love and acceptance. We are living in a time where people could use a gentle reminder that they are special, and we are all God’s children. What a difference such a message could make in our neighborhood called Country, and our neighbors called Citizens.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Shining at GA

COLA Co-Moderators, Rev. Cedric Portis and Rev. Carol DeVaughan

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


I’m going to need my Thesaurus to find the proper words to describe the job our Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) is doing at General Assembly. I will need help finding words to thank all of the volunteers who are participating in GA. Let me start with outstanding, and admirable. I have to add fantastic and incredible.

The Friday night Welcome to St. Louis event, which had never been done in the history of GA, was a sensational success. The music, food, and raffle created a spirit of fellowship and family. This was the goal that Carol Devaughn had when she came up with the idea. We believe this will become part of GA going into the future.

Saturday Worship was extraordinary. The theme of water was brilliant. Thank you Susan Niesen. The reading of the scripture was astounding. The choir was angelic. The dance and singing of “Wade in the Water” thrilled the hearts of the worship participants. I have been attending GA since the year 2000. This was one of the best worship services I’ve been a part of.

Allow me to give a shout out to the video! We have a link on the website, but you can view it here. The video helped to put Giddings-Lovejoy in context. It lifted up our diversity, challenges, opportunity, and the way we have come together as a presbytery. Great idea. Great job.

To all of the churches who hosted convention attendees during Sunday morning worship, thank you! The busses arrived back from the congregations with people full of smiles and joy! Thank you all so much!

Did you attend Bible Study? On Monday morning Deborah Krause created the theological template for becoming a 21st century church and presbytery. Tuesday morning Raj Nadella followed her lead on Tuesday morning. Our souls and spirits were fed. Their teaching was a feast in the Holy Spirit!

And then there was the march on Tuesday. Hundreds of Presbyterians marched from the convention center to the Justice Center to bail our kin out of jail! The denomination raised over $47,000 and the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy raised over $2,000 through the giving button on the webpage. Erin Counihan had a crazy dream for a public action. Well, this is what God can do with our dreams.

I wish I could name and thank everyone for your work, help, and efforts. I hope to meet and greet all of the volunteers while you are serving at the convention center. I am so proud of you. I am so proud, happy, and humbled to be your presbytery leader. Giddings-Lovejoy has become a shining light of what a presbytery can do when we all work together.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

A Brief GA Reflection and Revelation

Blog Post by
Rev. Cedric Portis
Co-Moderator of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA)


The 223 General Assembly is upon us. I’m confident that our preparation and planning will pay off this week as we welcome and host Presbyterians from all over the world.

These past two years I’ve had the privilege of serving as co-moderator of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA). As I continued my work as pastor of Third Presbyterian, there were times the work seemed overwhelming. It was then, in the middle of an already overloaded schedule, God gave me a revelation.

This is how it happened.

When I normally plan my day, I come up with a list of what I HAVE to do.  My revelation is very simple. I change HAVE to GET!!!  This may seem insignificant, but it is revelatory for me. This answer to prayer changes my focus and motivation.

I want to share this testimony with you so that we may all realize the gift we have.  As the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy, we can look at this week and say collectively we GET the opportunity to interact, impact, and transform the church, as we do the work of GA.

Perhaps this small change in perspective will continue to excite and motivate us this upcoming week. We have asked the PC(USA) to meet us in St. Louis, and now they are arriving by the thousands! I’m looking forward to seeing you there as well.

Rev. Cedric Portis
Pastor, Third Presbyterian Church

GA#223 – 10 Days Away

Blog Post by
Rev. Carol DeVaughan
Co-Moderator of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA)


In case you aren’t aware – the General Assembly of PCUSA meets in St. Louis in about 10 days. I really hope this is not news to any of you, because you, as members of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy are part of the hosts for this gathering. For more than two years those of us who are part of the planning team have been working on the myriad details of our hosting responsibilities.

We have planned for welcoming folks from around the world, at the airport and hotels, and the corridors of the Convention Center. We have planned tours to various points of interest in our region. We have asked local congregations to welcome and feed Assembly attendees at their congregational worship on June 17. We have designed apparel for volunteers to wear, and gifts to be given to visitors. So many people wanted to be part of the choir for the opening worship, we had to start a waiting list. There are new web and Facebook pages; social media entries, a video and other publicity materials. We’ve planned a “hands-on mission” project and area for everyone to feel they are contributing to helping the STL region. So much! So many people already involved! And we still need more volunteers.

Why should you care, or offer your time and talents and treasure to support the meeting of the General Assembly? Well, the short answer is because we are GA. Just as I often said during my year as Presbytery Moderator, “We are the Presbytery.” We Presbyterians are connectional. We believe that through Christ we are all part of one another. And this concept is the theme of this Assembly “Kindom Building.” You and I are “kin;” all God’s children are “kin.” As kin we care about and for one another, especially those for whom life is a struggle, those for whom injustice is a daily fact of life, those who cry out to God and therefore to us for help.

Being part of our larger church is both a privilege and a part of who we already are. So I hope to see all of you during this General Assembly. It is a joy to witness the church at work in such a special way, an opportunity that will not be closer or easier for years to come.

Rev. Carol DeVaughan, HR
Co-Moderator, Committee on Local Arrangements

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