Two Mentally Ill People

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
choward@glpby.org 


Beginning in 2011, I spent a year doing fundraising for Bethesda Lutheran Communities. I worked from the corporate office in Watertown WI. I helped fund group homes throughout the Midwest. Bethesda has resources for congregations that help welcome and minister to the mentally disabled. The PC(USA) is greatly lacking in this area. So, when Johanna Wagner and her spouse Michael Coyle developed the idea of Caritas Presbyterian Fellowship (CPF), I saw real possibility.

Johanna writes about Caritas saying, “CPF’s mission will be to provide opportunities for people with mental health issues to benefit from membership in a community focused on spiritual growth, and to educate churches interested in developing programming supportive of people with mental health diagnoses on how to do so effectively. Initially, the focus of CPF’s programming will be serving people diagnosed with mood, anxiety and thought disorders.”

Caritas began by serving the community at the Independence Center in St. Louis. Now, Johanna and Michael have launched a podcast called Two Mentally Ill People!

As I listen to the first podcast of 2MIP (which can be heard here http://2mipeople.org/ ), I understand what they are doing. Johanna and Michael are attempting to remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness by helping us to see life through their eyes. By sharing their lives and examples of the daily challenges and opportunities they face, Johanna and Michael make the difficult subject of mental illness and emotional disability approachable.

I have a daughter who suffers from depression. She was first diagnosed while in college. I see the challenges of her life as her brilliant mind struggles with emotional inconsistency.

2MIP is for people like my daughter. She’ll learn that life can be full, even with depression. 2MIP is for people like me. Listening to Johanna and Michael dialogue with love, helps me to see through the false screen of limitations society places on my daughter and the mentally ill. Because those who suffer from emotional and mental disabilities are also God’s children living in grace, faith, and love.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

The In-Between

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

 


If you have ever moved, or done renovation, or had a home built, you know the frustrations of dealing with transition and contractors! I am working from home the next two weeks as our office transitions to our new space. We find ourselves caught in an in-between space. The Tower Grove office is packed up in boxes, and ready to be transported. Our new office in Creve Core awaits a final inspection approval before we can move in. In the meantime, I and the staff are working from home, and I do not like working from home!

Living in-between characterizes our current office, but also describes the life of many congregations and the presbytery. This place of liminality is described by Murray Stein in the book, “In Midlife.” Stein speaks of liminality as being in a place of drift, alienation, and marginality. It is a place of floating. A place where clearly defined identity fails; there is no “this” and “not that.”

Living in liminality describes many of our congregations. We are operating with a model of ministry that is struggling for survival in our current time. One example is membership. The church seems out of step when it comes to membership and requiring people to join. Counting members goes back to the book of Acts when thousands joined on the day of Pentecost. Throughout time the size of a church as measured by membership has become a badge of prestige. There is nothing wrong with having a large congregation. It is just that we have fewer large churches, and many more congregations under 100 members.

We now live in the Facebook generation where friends are on internet, learning is by Google (for free!), and the focus is on the individual consumer, not a certain community. Membership is in decline everywhere from boy scouts to bowling leagues. People still bowl, but many bowl alone.

People may not join, but they still attend. People may not want to make a public confession of faith, but they want to serve and feel a part of something bigger than they are.

Using the example of membership, how do we let go of the way we value joining, and the way we structure ourselves around numbers? Is there a way to shift our focus from butts-in-the-pews to hands-serving-community? Are we counting the wrong thing? If so, what should we be counting?

Before we can really get at these questions, we may need to let go of our value of membership as a number to be counted. For example, we may focus instead on membership as action. Who participates. How many are served and how many are serving. This may not make denominational sense, but perhaps participating and serving gets us a step closer to the gospel.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Leadership At The Rock

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

choward@glpby.org

 


This year I spent Easter service at Rock Presbyterian church in Imperial MO. I have been observing Rock’s statistics and am amazed at what is going on there. Rock is one of only two congregations in our presbytery that has grown in membership each year in the past five years. The other congregation is Third Presbyterian (which broke 500 members earlier this year!). Rock is a small congregation that boasts 36 members. It is located south of St. Louis on I-55. I’ve learned that the further south I go in Missouri, the more Southern things become! The folks at Rock were extremely warm and hospitable, and greeted me with smiles of welcome. When I told the members that I was there because they are a vital and vibrant congregation in the presbytery, they informed me it is because of the leadership of their pastor, Stephanie Knopf.

Stephanie is not ordained. She is a Commissioned Ruling Elder (CRE). Stephanie is proof that a CRE is not second-class leadership but can be a powerful presence in leading a healthy and vibrant congregation.

Often, CREs are ruling elders who feel a call to serve the church in preaching and the sacraments. What makes Stephanie’s story unique, is that she chose to become a CRE while in seminary. She said, “I knew at some point I would serve small churches unable to afford the pension dues.” So, she graduated with the Master of Arts, with a focus on pastoral care and Bible.

The CRE program in the denomination was created to help small congregations in rural areas provide pastoral services when an MDiv trained minister is unavailable. The program has since expanded and often includes immigrant congregations, small urban congregations, chaplains, and associate pastors. The decision to allow a congregation to use a CRE is up to the presbytery.

Giddings-Lovejoy does an excellent job commissioning and training CREs. The presbytery has designed a two-year program which includes Bible, Pastoral Care, Reformed Theology, Field Education, and more. A new cohort will begin soon. Stephanie serves as the dean of the program.

If you feel called to expand your role as a ruling elder, or if you know someone who may have gifts in pastoral ministry but does not desire ordination, contact Stephanie at sbknopf@yahoo.com.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

10 Things I Learned Moving the Presbytery Office

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

choward@glpby.org

 


 

  1. Change is not easy. There is an emotional level to change that I did not count on. I feel sadness leaving the old building space. So much ministry was done on Tower Grove, and so many lives have been affected. As I’ve read through files, I’ve seen the evidence of strategic planning, hand written ideas that have become policy and structure, and the giftedness of those who serve the presbytery as volunteers and staff.
  2. Plans must be flexible. We planned on selling the building early February, and moving at that time. Instead it sold the last day of February, and we will be moving the first week of April. Every change of plan creates a domino effect involving movers, contractors, deliveries, calendars, etc. I have come to accept that things will not turn out as planned, but eventually all of our plans will happen.
  3. Prayer makes a difference. Each congregation I’ve visited has offered to pray for the presbytery office. We feel these prayers as we work, plan, and move. Thank you all so much.
  4. Good partnerships matter. The Botanical Garden is not just a buyer, they have been a partner throughout. St. Andrews Resource For Seniors is our partner at our new space. They have been a tremendous help with IT, copier, phones, and room reservations.
  5. Think long-term. With each change comes frustration. To offset this feeling, my motto around the office has been, “Five years from now, who will care that minor detail didn’t go as planned.”
  6. A team is better than a superstar. In college basketball, Villanova is favored to win the tournament. Villanova doesn’t have the talent of Kansas, but Villanova works well as a team. Our staff functions seamlessly in thinking through tasks, handing off responsibility, and getting the job done. I am so proud of them.
  7. Support others during times of change. I haven’t been the best at this. I was so focused on what I had to do, I wasn’t as sensitive to Partners for Just Trade, BRO, and the History Team. Unfortunately, we don’t get do-overs, so I can only try to do better next time.
  8. The future will be different. We will work in a different area, around different people, with different expectations. There will be different traffic patterns and parking. We are committed to making our space and experience hospitable for the presbytery and our meetings.
  9. Delegate and let it go. Deciding to delegate something is easy. Allowing others to do it their way and trusting it will get done is where the sweat comes in! As leader, I have to delegate the work and authority, but keep the responsibility. The buck still stops with me.
  10. Ask for help. One day I was frustrated and overwhelmed with all that had to be done. I spoke with my coach who said, “Have you asked for help?” I learned that asking for help is being vulnerable not weak. It means allowing others to get involved so they too can benefit from the work.
  11. (Bonus) Develop a narrative. We thought our office would be ready on March 27th, but it won’t be. Instead it will be ready on the 30th, which is Good Friday. We developed a narrative that we will not move on Good Friday while Jesus is on the cross. Instead we will move after Easter and live into the resurrection! Behold, God makes all things new!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

New Movements in the Journey

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
vhawkins@glpby.org


This past Sunday as I sat in First Church Edwardsville, Illinois, as they dedicated their new building, I was in awe at this new stage of their journey. Entering the building I was engulfed by the sound of excited voices and the smell of newly painted walls, new carpet, chairs, and windows.  My feet sank into the firmness of the mixed grey carpet as I made my way to the pastor’s office with a picture window displaying a winter scene of rural America. New chairs, still wrapped in plastic wrap, were stacked to my right and as I toured the sanctuary I was greeted by the rich colors of the stained-glass windows. The new stained-glass windows complimented the old ones.

I listened as the pastor and members talked about the features of the church and how the past had not been shunted aside, but artfully blended into the new. With this new building in this new location, this discerning congregation made the decision to following the promptings of the Spirit and move onto an unknown path trusting that God walks with them. The dedication service was wonderful.

As I sat in the pews, I thought about the presbytery office building. The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy has made some significant decisions over the last couple of years—ne major decision was to sell the presbytery office building and to rent office space. Each day I walk into the office and I see the evidence of that decision. We are in the midst of moving and there are fewer items in the building to move because our history team has found new homes for some items, presbytery members have claimed a piece of the rich history that has filled this building, and the Presbyterian Historical Society has claimed journals and minutes which they will digitize and store. Boxes are still in offices, along the hallway walls, and tucked away in corners. As staff, we have moved from a distant understanding of the move to a restlessness to once again be settled in one place without the disruptions of packing, purging, and second-guessing ourselves as we discern the best way forward.

I look forward to the next step of our journey in a new location as we discern how to best use that sacred space in creative and life-giving ways that witness to our neighbors that we are a community of faith, willing to walk an unknown path for we trust that God walks it with us.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

Membership

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

choward@glpby.org


I often say that Jesus is the worst evangelist in the Bible! When people come up to Jesus to be one of his disciples, instead of telling them to just say a few words and declare, “Now you’re a Christian,” Jesus puts heavy requirements on people. To one he said to sell all you have and give it to the poor, then come and follow me. To others he said they would have to lose everything in this world. My point is that Jesus didn’t make membership easy.

Being a member of a Presbyterian church is not easy either!

As Presbyterians, we take membership seriously. At baptism, parents or guardians profess faith, and commit to raising the baptized child as a Christian. Years later during confirmation, this same child takes the faith as their own, and commits to living as a disciple of Jesus. The Book of Order lists eleven responsibilities of congregational membership (G-1.0304). These include:

  • Lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support.
  • Studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life.
  • Responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others.
  • Participating in the governing responsibilities of the church.
  • Reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.

Taking membership seriously means that every member matters. Taking membership seriously means taking our commitment to God, discipleship of Jesus Christ, and leadership of the Holy Spirit seriously, personally, and connectionally.

I believe in cleaning the membership rolls. As a pastor, this was one of my most difficult responsibilities. If someone didn’t show up at church for the year, we would call, email, and inquire about them. I would even make drop in visits to see if everything was okay. Only when it was clear that the person or family did not want to be connected to the congregation, were they then removed from the rolls.

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is a connection of congregations. Just like individual members, congregations can become distant and non-communicable. The distance is demonstrated by not participating in presbytery gatherings, not giving per capita or mission dollars, and not completing statistical reports for the denomination.

As pastor to the presbytery, I and the presbytery staff are committed to reaching out to each of our congregations, both near and far, including those drifting away and not feeling the connection to the presbytery. Every congregation matters. When we strengthen the lines that connect us, we are all made stronger, and we are able to be the body of Christ for one another and the world.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

The Lens of Disaster

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

choward@glpby.org


My first career out of college was as a claims adjuster. As part of that work I learned how to build a house from the ground up. This lead me to work on a national CAT team, where I would be called to respond to catastrophes anywhere in the United States. While doing CAT duty, I saw the power of hurricanes and tornadoes. I witnessed large scale destruction of communities. I encountered people who had lost everything. To my surprise, these people extended hospitality and kindness toward me and my fellow workers. I was invited to more community pot-lucks, barbeques, and shrimp feast (This was in Galveston Texas) than I could attend.

Oftentimes disaster brings out our generous, compassionate, and supportive nature. Our churches organize mission trips and create disaster kits in the face of calamity. In the book, A Paradise Built In Hell: extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit makes this argument. Solnit challenges us to rethink the worst-case scenario of life, after society and our beloved institutions collapse. She writes, “If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”

The Parkland school shooting is an example of a disaster that is creating a new system and new order. Some argue that the teenagers are using the disaster for political means. I believe the disaster is creating a new way for the students to be citizens, comrades, and members of their learning community. The system broke down and failed them. The walkout planned for March 14th is symbolic of walking away from a failed institution. As a response they are recreating and re-envisioning what society and education can be like, and how they should act toward one another. Solnit writes, “The prevalent human nature in disaster is resilient, resourceful, generous, empathic, and brave.”

I am not trying to get into a gun debate, especially in Missouri! That is not what this article is about. I really think we should look at what these kids are doing, and how it resonates with our human nature, and a positive hope that is made alive through disaster.

The disaster in Parkland is delivering a group of students who are bold, brave, and inspiring. They are appealing to a deeper nature in all of us. A nature that goes beyond constitutional rights, cultural norms, and governance. The students are challenging all of us to rise up and put human life first, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Then all else will fall in line.

For more on the National School Walkout planned for March 14th, go to: https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalSchoolWalkout?src=hash

Rev. Craig M. Howard

8:30 Service

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

choward@glpby.org


 

I knew I was in trouble at the 8:30 worship service at Webster Groves because it began with fellowship and then moved into worship. The service is held in the fellowship hall, and not the sanctuary. The people are able to go back and forth to the food table and bring their muffin and coffee to the worship space. On this Sunday, the chairs are in a semi-circle around an area with a small podium. In back of the speaker’s area, is an elevated stage with a full band, along with spotlights and backlit banners. The dropdown screen displays much of the liturgy, including the music. I still look into the bulletin out of habit, only to see announcements and events that are going on at the church in the upcoming week.

What I loved most about the space is the flexibility. I can imagine different ways of experiencing preaching, communion, baptism, and music. I see different ways in which the chairs are arranged because the sermon is a dramatic expression. I not only envision praise music, but blue grass, jazz, and gospel.

According to Ed Zumwinkle, the pastor at Webster Groves, the 8:30 service developed some 20 years ago while the sanctuary was being renovated. Sunday morning service was moved into the fellowship hall. People became less formal, and the tight space created more intimacy. People began to dress differently; dismissing coats and ties and wearing jeans and fleece. When the renovation was completed, and the people returned to the sanctuary, some desired the informality and intimacy that had been created. The 8:30 service was birthed.

I spoke with a couple as I exited the church who were visitors and have been coming to Webster for over a year. They said they have never been to service in the sanctuary, and that this service fits them just right.

8:30 service is an example of space changing us. We are influenced by our environment. Space gives permission and opportunity to experience God differently. For some, this becomes a connectional space that is less cluttered, and more focused. And time matters too. Some people enjoy worshiping early. Others like the routine of a 10:00 or 11:00 service.

Are there spaces in your building that can be used to usher in a different way of experiencing God? Are you already doing alternative worship experiences, along with a traditional program? I would like to hear how it is going.

Rev. Craig Howard

Lifeline of Hope

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

choward@glpby.org


A couple of weeks ago I received a daily devotional from one of our pastors (a huge thank-you for ideas, notes, and articles you all send me!). The devotional is called The Cottage and is written by Diana Butler Bass. This particular article was writing in the wake of the stock market drop, and Diana compared it to the decline in the mainline church. I know you’ve heard the numbers and seen the statistics for our denomination, and our presbytery. Diana’s point though, is that she is tired of the charts and trend lines. She writes, “People are sick of trends. We are searching for lifelines, not looking for trend lines.”

We need a lifeline in Giddings-Lovejoy. And I believe our Presbytery Gatherings can be the lifeline we are looking for.

Our Presbytery Gatherings are changing. On Saturday you will notice a distinctive shift in the format of the gathering. We are organized for change, and the key to change in our local congregations lie in the hearts and minds of our ruling elders. This is why we are inviting all ruling elders who serve on session, to this Presbytery Gathering. Brian McLaren will motivate and challenge us. He will help us to ignite the flame of passion for ministry. It is a message all leaders need to hear, especially those who are responsible for the direction of our congregations. The workshop leaders will speak to our hearts and share ideas we can take back to our congregations and make a difference.

Vanessa Hawkins often reminds me that the presbytery is in a season of resurrection, and we get to decide what that will look like. We need to be aware that in the midst of statistical decline, many, many things are going well. We are designing our Presbytery Gatherings to be a lifeline of hope, and a reminder that God is still active in the world. Our gatherings will remind us that we are being invited into the ministry that God is already doing.

If you haven’t registered, there is still time to be part of our Presbytery Gathering on Saturday at Webster Groves. The cost for non-commissioner ruling elders is only $20. I invite you to the learning, fellowship, sharing, and oh yes, we’ll do some business too!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Sowing Seeds of the Spirit

 Blog post by the Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


Lent comes from the old English word “Lenten,” meaning “spring.” Lent is an invitation to a springtime for the soul. It is forty days to remember what it’s like to live by God’s grace alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves. My Lenten practice is not one of giving up something. Instead, it is a practice of nurturing my mind and soul by reading a book each week.

This year I am experiencing a strong yearning for internal change. Perhaps it is because I want to lead a culture of change in our presbytery, and I am learning that the first step of change has to come from within me. I have to ask myself the difficult question of how I must act and be different, in order for the church to be different.

In the book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, Robert E. Quinn writes, “Deep change requires new ways of thinking and behaving; change that is major in scope, discontinuous for the past and generally irreversible. Deep change means surrendering control.”

Unfortunately, we do not have the option of determining when and how the Spirit moves. I know that just because I want to experience deep change, doesn’t mean it will happen.

Richard Foster, in the book Disciplines of the Spirit writes, “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all (the farmer) can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. (The farmer) cultivates the ground, plants the seed, waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain…This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.”

This Lent, let’s sow seeds of the Spirit through prayer, meditation, reflection, writing, walking, or however you get in touch with the divine. May God bless us with a harvest of Spiritual fruit, and bring the needed change in the church and inside each of us.

Craig’s Lenten Reading 2018

  • God Hunger: Discovering the Mystic In All of Us– John Kirvan
  • The Sabbath– Abraham Joshua Herschel
  • Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives– Wayne Muller
  • Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box– The Arbinger Institute
  • A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster– Rebecca Solnit
  • Maximizing the Triple Bottom Line: Through Spiritual Leadership– Louis W. Fry and Melissa Sadler Nisiewicz

Rev. Craig M. Howard