Ruling Elders Rule

Ruling Elder Installation Presbytery of Baltimore

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader


I come from a family of bishops. My great-grandfather was a bishop of several Holiness churches along the east-Texas border with western Louisiana. My father became a bishop of the same Holiness organization. My brother became a bishop of Pentecostal churches in Michigan.

I wanted nothing to do with bishops. This is one reason I became Presbyterian!

Presbyterian polity believes in a shared governance. Congregations are led by pastors and sessions. As moderator of the session, the pastor has great influence, but the Book of Order is clear that ruling elders who serve on the session, are the leaders of the congregation as well. “The session shall have responsibility for governing the congregation . . . so that the congregation is and becomes a community of faith, hope, love, and witness (Book of Order G.3.0201).”

Ruling Elders occupy a unique place in the life of the church. Many of them serve the church while working a secular job: one foot in the world and one foot in the church. Ruling Elders understand theology at a pragmatic level. This means faith in action. Sessions can be a place where people bring skills and gifts that are enhanced by their work experience, and apply them to the challenges of the church.

If we are going to have vibrant congregations in our presbytery, we need strong, knowledgeable, and faithful ruling elders on our sessions. These are the dynamic leaders our mission statement is calling for.

Leadership training, small group ministry, and stewardship training are just some educational opportunities our ruling elders should be a part of, along with our pastors. Creativity and innovative input from ruling elders on session is what will keep a congregation pushing for excellence in ministry, while expanding the work of mission in the world.

As we prepare for 2018, ruling elder training in each congregation is a must. We have resources in the presbytery office, as well as materials on the denomination’s website. Let’s make sure 2018 is the year ruling elders rule!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Presbyterian Family


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

Happy New Year!

In 2018 I invite, entreat, encourage, and request that each person in the presbytery step outside of their congregational box and get involved in an event, meeting, gathering, or worship service at the presbytery, synod, or national level. The opportunities are numerous, and the experience will change your thoughts and hearts about the health of our presbytery, and denomination.

GA 223 will be held in St. Louis, June 16 – 23. This is an excellent time to volunteer and be a part of the larger Presbyterian family. I’ve attended every GA in the past 18 years. As a Presbyterian, it is an experience that should not be missed.

In additional to this national event, 2018 will be an exciting and experimental year for our presbytery gatherings. The new Presbytery Planning Team is looking for creative ways for us to learn, fellowship, worship, and conduct cooperative business together. Our February 24 gathering will be held in conjunction with Faith365 at Webster Groves. The format will be different, and will include a nationally known plenary speaker, Brian McLaren. If you are not familiar with Brian, watch him here. In addition, there will be workshops on the topic Moving your passion from your heart to the world. The event is free for all commissioners (except lunch is $10). However, I am encouraging all members of sessions to attend as well. The price for session members will be discounted, and scholarships are available. I want everyone who feels the Spirit calling them to be present for these workshops and plenary, to be able to attend.

Finally, when was the last time you attended worship in our presbytery, outside of your congregations? Well, you will have many opportunities in January and February! There will be several pastor installations in the first two months of the year in Giddings-Lovejoy. The ordination and installation of a pastor is a presbytery event. All members of the presbytery are invited to attend and take part in the worship experience. It is so encouraging to the installed pastor and congregation when people from outside of their church are present, singing, praying, and letting them know we are a connected church. All services are listed on the presbytery calendar.

It is a joy to serve as your Transitional Presbytery Leader, and I look forward to writing, visiting, teaching, preaching, and just being with you in 2018!


Rev. Craig M. Howard




From Limping to Leaping

Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

Several years ago, the son of a friend fell off of his bike and somehow broke his ankle. As a result, he had to wear a cast for several weeks. After the cast was removed, a strange thing happened. The little boy still walked with a limp. The ankle was perfectly healed. But the memory of the pain made him resist placing weight on the ankle. Even though he was perfectly healthy, the boy walked with a limp in fear of causing himself pain again.

As a presbytery, we have experienced many difficulties the past several years. There were times when presbytery gatherings were difficult to attend, staff may have been difficult to approach, and finances were short, resulting in promises and trust being broken.

In my first sermon to this presbytery, I apologized for the mistakes and problems caused by the presbytery staff. My hope was to spend 2017 rebuilding trust through transparency and relationships. The staff of the presbytery has attempted to be inclusive, as we have visited every geographic corner, made sure there is racial and theological diversity in leadership, and used the newsletter and other communication to make sure multiple voices are heard.

My hope is that 2018 will be the year we walk without a limp.

The presbytery is now fully staffed, fiscally sound, and ready to dream again. Presbytery Gatherings are energized, creative, and fun! We hope to move into our new space at the end of February. We are planning a farewell worship service for our building, sometime in January. This will mark a change in the way we plan and vision as a presbytery and as Presbyterians.

In 2018, I will continue to preach a future where Presbyterians will own less, control less, and will not have to be the leaders of every event we take part in. It is a future of partnerships. It is a future of collaboration with others, where we leverage the small amounts we have to make a big difference.

This means letting go of buildings, traditional programs, and less emphasis on bringing people into our space, and more emphasis of going into other spaces. The gospel of tomorrow is a gospel that is preached outside of the walls of the church; preached where the people are; preached where God is.

I look forward to fleshing out this missional gospel in 2018.

I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! It is a joy serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I’ll write to you again in 2018!


Rev. Craig M. Howard


Resilient Small Congregations

Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

Serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader has been a multi-dimensional journey. One of eye opening experiences I’ve had is learning about the many ways small church ministry happens in our presbytery.

Earlier this year, I created a graphic that placed each of our congregations in an “ecosphere.” This graphic went from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky. It showed congregations that skim on the waters, fly high like hawks, and soar like eagles. It also showed congregations that are “under water,” with some described as deep-water congregations. These are the smallest of the small congregations, averaging less than 25 in worship.

And yet, these small congregations had something to teach us. They have learned to survive, and some even thrive in deep water.

The past two weeks I have encountered three such faith communities. These are Elm Presbyterian in Alton Illinois, Wurdack Memorial in South St. Louis, and St. Andrews in the Princeton Heights area of St. Louis.

Elm has a beautiful sanctuary and a multi-generational worship with a strong music ministry. During worship, the musician went from Harp, to organ, to piano! It is a church with tremendous potential, but lacks consistent pastoral leadership because of its size.

St. Andrews makes it work by housing a Montessori school. This small congregation is able to maintain consistent pastoral leadership from the use of its building.

Wurdack birthed and nests an Evangelical Free church in its basement. Wurdack sees this growing church as their mission. They often worship and fellowship together. In addition, Wurdack has a steady stream of visitors because it stays connected to its community. Easter brings over 300 children to its Easter egg hunt!

At the ordination service for Joy Ridge on Sunday evening, I was moved by the words of Rev. Vicky Brown, as she gave the charge to Joy. Vicky said, “Reviewing a church’s annual statistical report says nothing about the depth of faith or the maturity of the members.  It says nothing about the ministries and the lives touched in the community.  Small churches deserve to have the same high quality, well-educated leadership that larger congregations enjoy.”

These are challenging words to our presbytery. Sadly, some small congregations may need to end their local ministry. But many others may be served with a slight boost from the presbytery to help them continue fruitful and faithful ministry in their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Advent Readings

Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

Sunday marked Advent, the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a season of waiting, watching, and as Jesus said in Mark 13:37, a time to be awake. Each Advent and Lent, I take the opportunity to read a book a week. Reading for these two seasons is a discipline I picked up while serving as Executive Director of the presbytery of Milwaukee. Pastor Deborah Block gave me the idea through a sermon she preached.

This Advent season, I have chosen four books on a topic which has been front and center since my time as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. The topic is race. It is a topic that will not disappear if we look the other way. It will not just go away if we ignore it. It is relevant to every area of Giddings-Lovejoy, including all of St. Louis County, eastern Illinois, small city, rural and country areas of southern Missouri, and the city of St. Louis itself.

Racism is especially present where people of color are absent.

It is important that we continue to have conversations that lead to actions to dismantle systemic racism and white privilege. My work is to prepare Giddings-Lovejoy for a prosperous future; a future that will involve more people of color in leadership, and as members of our congregations. Getting to that future means learning and growing together.

Recently, Susan Andrews connected me with Elizabeth Zwoyer-McDonald, a member at Second Presbyterian church. Second has done several adult studies around race. Elizabeth pulled together an amazing collection of books. As a result, the Resource Center of the presbytery purchased over 60 books which we are now cataloging, and will be available to borrow soon.

Next year we will have a presbytery wide anti-racism training. It will be an exciting time of learning and growing together. The training is only a start. What is needed is a commitment from each leader and member of Giddings-Lovejoy to continue to read, attend seminars and workshops on race, and commit to ongoing conversations with people who are different that we are. Only through ongoing activity we will honor the words of Jesus and stay awake.

Here are my four books for Advent with Elizabeth Zwoyer-McDonald’s reviews:

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race–Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us by Benjamin Watson

An NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints and a widely read and followed commentator on social media, Watson has taken the Internet by storm with his remarkable insights about some of the most sensitive and charged topics of our day. Now, in Under Our Skin, Watson draws from his own life, his family legacy, and his role as a husband and father to sensitively and honestly examine both sides of the race debate and appeal to the power and possibility of faith as a step toward healing.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown

In the 1880s, after the U. S. Army’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the government continues to push Sioux Indians off their land. In Washington, D.C., Senator Henry Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in the United States in 1970. This account of how Native Americans were treated and how they were pushed off their land is based on eyewitness accounts and official records-with a focus on the thirty-year span from 1860 to 1890 The book is the first account told from the Native-American point of view.

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis & Jim Wallis

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, reignited a long-smoldering movement for justice, with many St. Louis-area clergy stepping up to support the emerging young leaders of today’s Civil Rights Movement. Seminary professor Leah Gunning Francis was among the activists, and her interviews with more than two dozen faith leaders and with the new movement’s organizers take us behind the scenes of the continuing protests. Ferguson and Faith demonstrates that being called to lead a faithful life can take us to places we never expected to go, with people who never expected us to join hands with them.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

This week I went home to Chicago to visit with my family. While there, I toured the new church my home Pentecostal congregation just built. They are having their first service in the new facility on Sunday, which will seat 3500. They currently have 12,000 members. When I first came to the church in 1977 there were less than 200 members.

It is difficult to compare the growth of this mega-church with the decline of the Presbyterian denomination. But there are several differences that must be taken into consideration. This Pentecostal church is located in a community called Bronzeville. In 1910 when African Americans left the oppression of the South by railroad, Chicago was one of the Northern destinations. Unfortunately, they were forced to live in this one area of Chicago. Government redlining, city laws, and community contracts where whites agreed not to sell to blacks, created a huge ghetto. This area of about 1.5 square miles, reached its peak of over 75,000 African Americans in 1950. My Grandparents (who arrived around 1920) lived there. My mother was born there in 1933, and her youngest child (me) was born there in 1958.

As the city opened up and people scattered to different areas and communities, Bronzeville was always home. There are at least three mega-churches in Bronzeville. My Dad and brother who currently attend this Pentecostal church, live over 30 minutes away in the South Suburbs. Like other members of the church, they pass hundreds of congregations, as they drive through the streets of Chicago to worship in Bronzeville.

Are there ways Presbyterians can work with an African American mega-church to provide services for a community that Presbyterians are struggling to reach? I believe it is possible.

As Presbyterians, our future will be different than our past. It will be a future of partnerships and collaborations. I see a future where Presbyterians work with other denominations and other faith traditions to reach the mission field we are called to serve.

Some of our partners are already defined. We currently have a Formula of Agreement with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), UCC (United Church of Christ) and the Reformed Church of America. This means that any ordained pastor from these denominations can be installed to serve Presbyterian churches, and vice-versa.

I see a future where we will broaden our connections to include denominations and congregations outside of our reformed tradition, especially racial-ethnic churches. Working together, we can align the best of our faith traditions, and reach a more diverse population during this time of racial ethnic change in our society. Working with churches that are majority racial-ethnic, as well as non-profits, we can connect with people outside of our tradition, but inside of our mission field. We can share our grace-filled-gospel to new ears, and lead to a fresh way of being church that keeps us vibrant and relevant into the future.

Rev. Craig M. Howard



View from the Pew – Environmental Racism & Justice

Learning More about Environmental Ministry 
by Sue Bradford Edwards
Member of Florissant Presbyterian Church

When I volunteered to be a part of the FPC Green Committee, I hoped to learn about becoming an environmentally aware church. What I hadn’t counted on was being called on to learn about environmental racism.

On November 14, 2017, I participated in a videoconference put on by the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee for the Self-Development of People. The title itself was more than a little intimidating – Impact of Environmental Injustice on Low-Income and Communities of Color.

This was a videoconference about how environmental problems have a greater impact on marginalized people.  People who are living near the edge in terms of food and shelter suffer the most when the environment is damaged.  The areas that they live in are more likely to be polluted. They often live in low lying areas that are subject to greater flooding. These problems damage their health and impact how long they live.  The problem is compounded by the fact that they often have less power to improve things than people who live in less polluted areas.

This problem was illustrated by a summer 2017 event. The World Council of Churches participates in the annual UN Climate Change Conference.  The island nation of Fiji was the host for the 2017 event, COP23. Unfortunately, they couldn’t actually hold the event in Fiji because of the vast amounts of ocean plastic surrounding their nation. Although Fiji is being forced to deal with the plastic, it is from countries all over the world.

Another example of environmental racism is much closer to home – the situation in Flint, Michigan.  In the videoconference, we previewed a movie about Flint.  We learned that their local GM plant had quit using the water because it was corroding their pipes. Although the auto industry was responsible for the pollution, it made no attempt to stop polluting or clean the water. They also didn’t warn people not to drink it. In addition to the brain damage seen in the children, the lead levels are also contributing to higher levels of heart disease, kidney disease, and lupus.  “This is not supposed to be happening to us in America,” said one resident on the video.

In addition to pollution, environmental racism means not disrespecting communities that consider the land itself sacred. This can be seen in the situation with Bears Ears National Monuments.  Our nation’s newest monument, 1.3 million acres in Utah, was created with cooperation between the Ute, Hop, Pueblo, Zuni, and Navajo tribes.  Following the Civil War, the Navajo came to the area to hide as the army burned their crops.  The people were rounded up and driven to Fort Sumter in the Long Walk. The bones of those who died can be seen along the trails today.

This story should be part of our national memory.  But the current administration is considering reducing the monument to 160 thousand acres in spite of the fact that the tribes consider the whole area sacred and it contains the remains of their ancestors.

As the organizers reminded us Presbyterians are called on to care for God’s creation.  We are also called on to aid “the least,” the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden.  Environmental ministries speak to both of these callings.

What can you do?  When we hear stories like these, we wonder what we can do. 

  • First, consider your purchases. What you buy impacts the area in which it was built.
  • Second, consider the packaging used to transport what you buy.  Minimize plastics like those surrounding Fiji. 
  • Third, consider how you dispose of recyclable materials.
  • Fourth, listen to those whose lives are different from our own.  Speak for them and for our planet.

Helpful Actions & Videos listed by the speakers include:

A petition to save national monuments:

And a community prayer about defending lands that are culturally and spiritually important to Native Americans:


Watch the Webinar Mentioned above
Presbyterian Mission Agency Environment Racism Issues



Being Thankful

Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

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

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



Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader

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