View from the Pew

I’m just another face in the pews each Sunday morning.  I regularly tune into the evening news going so far as to also watch the News Hour on PBS.  I need not reprise here the scenarios we are all too familiar with.  But perhaps I can share an insight that puts some of the turmoil in greater perspective for me.

Year after year, week after week I have been admonished to “love my neighbor as myself.”  And year after year, week after week this commandment has been expanded, expounded, and explored in countless contexts.  I have little doubt that there be few who have never heard it.  And then I watch the news, and lo!  It’s as if it has rarely ever been heard!

Sometimes we are privileged to experience rare moments of insight; epiphanies, if you will.  Shortly after The Summer of Love in the late 60s, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released the haunting, Bridge over Troubled Water, which still stirs my soul.  But it wasn’t until recently, when I chanced to read the story of Christopher Thomas Knight that the essence of the message of that song struck me.

Knight was a man who voluntarily lived outdoors continuously in the Northern Maine woods for 27 years without any human contact.  His tale became known after he was finally captured pilfering a small cache of food from the Pine Tree Camp dining hall for his coming winter sustenance.  As we read, he was extremely reluctant to discuss details of his astounding life story with anyone, including the journalist who took it upon himself to learn why this man endured such a hermitacy.  I found myself paused; a man had elected to remain beyond all human contact in a twenty foot square living room behind a wall of granite boulders over a quarter of his life!

Astounding?!  Well, maybe not quite so astounding when I began to reflect that I, too, tend to live behind walls that I put up, you know; like the walls and defenses I throw up around my heart supposedly to safeguard it.  Even as Knight was forced to reenter society, he refused to venture very far from his “walls” and this shook the author’s overwhelming desire to understand this man.

After two years, toward the end of this story the author learns that Knight wants to walk with The Lady of the Woods, his image of death.  This sends the author flying back from his home in Montana to deter such a choice.  In the last words the author hears from Knight, he’s told of the desperation Knight is living with when Knight concludes with the ominous words, “Something’s got to give or something’s going to break.”  At this point all of Knight’s Stoicism and dense walls seem to collapse momentarily as tears began sliding down his cheeks.  The author becomes overcome as well and there stand two grown men weeping and sobbing.  And then it sounds, my epiphany: tears!  The sign of our deepest vulnerability.

Tears are the evidence of our most profound caring.  My tears are your proof that I have become aware of the depth of your suffering.  And now the message latent in the tune of Simon and Garfunkel: “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…” begins its song to me.  Our unchecked tears are those troubled waters separating us.  It is now possible to see that a bridge over troubled water is necessary.  And as we are moved to begin creating those bridges it becomes possible for two hearts to be joined as one.  Then, and only then, does the reconciliation prayed for, the re (meaning ‘again’) + conciliare (meaning ‘to unite’), become truly real.

So pastors and preachers, as you fashion your messages, your stories, your sermons for us sitting in the pews, bring us to those tears that open the way for us all to be healed of our hatreds and divisions.

A time-worn disciple,

Ronald Norgard

Moving of the Presbytery

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

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

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

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Power of One

Blog Post by:

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Craig M. Howard



Blowing Leaves of Culture

Blog Post by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Craig M. Howard


A Week in the Life of the Presbytery




Blog Post by Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Transitional Leader

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

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

Witnessing in the Public Square

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader










Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

Rewriting The Rules

This is hard.

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

So here it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is also the point.

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

Rev. Erin Counihan
Pastor, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church



LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 01: People tend to the wounded outside the Route 91 Harvest Country music festival grounds after shooting on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

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


Horrific. Unimaginable. Frightful. Gruesome. These are some of the adjectives that describe the scenes from Las Vegas, as America experiences another mass shooting. Over the next several days we will hear about the background of the shooter, and what may have motivated him to commit such a heinous crime. We will hear about hotel security, change in open air concerts, and gun control.

There have been over 1500 mass shootings (defined as four people or more being killed or injured) since Sandy Hook, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered. Each person killed or injured in these shootings are part of a community of friends, family, and loved ones. The shock wave of pain ripples throughout, bringing grief and deep sadness.

In addition to the stories of terror, we will also hear stories of courage, compassion, and overwhelming kindness. These stories will speak of how people came to one another’s aid; people who were complete strangers and yet risked their well-being to help another. These stories act as a dam, breaking up to grief and sadness. These positive stories will help us to believe in the goodness of humanity. We are reminded that when called upon, we can be a light in darkness, and no matter how severe, frequent or persistent evil is in the world, it cannot overcome the light and life of goodness.

Perhaps this is what the gospel of John is speaking about when he writes, “In (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Through the grace of God, we have been given the gift of light. In what ways can our light shine when we face human tragedy, injustice, or evil? Sometimes it may mean helping someone right in front of us. Other times it may be a letter of encouragement, or a call to action. It may mean sharing a much needed hug, or participate in a march to show support. However we do it, and whenever we do it, we are called to bring our lights from under a bushel and set them on top of a hill.

Please pray for Las Vegas, and the many communities the concert goers represent.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

The Spiritual Discipline
           of Protest

I learned about civil disobedience from Shiprah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives who defied Pharoah and refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys – including Moses. I learned about disruptive protest from Jesus, who barged into the temple in a rage, turning over the tables of imperial and economic injustice. So, for me, participating in the protests in St. Louis the past few days has been an act of spiritual discipline.

I have joined three of the official protests since Friday, September 15th, and have attended several planning meetings for clergy and protest organizers. I left the three protests when they were officially disbanded by the organizers partly because my aching knees forced me to, and partly because I wanted no part of the violence that seemed to erupt once the official protest was over. Some of my colleagues have courageously stayed, in order to protect those continuing to express their outrage. But for me, the line between “protection” and encouraging violence is a very thin one, and I want no part of it.

These are some of my learnings and observations from the past 5 days:

  • Holy Disruption, Holy Disobedience, and Holy Disturbance are all spiritual disciplines called for in scripture and modeled by a radical rabbi named Jesus. Holy Destruction is another matter – and such violence undermines the courage and prophetic power of disciplined protest.
  • As a relative newcomer to St. Louis, I am convinced that this city is – and must be – on the front line of confronting systemic racism and white supremacy in our deeply divided nation. The founders of this city arrived with their slaves and so the inequities endemic to this city were there from the beginning. And the old downtown Courthouse still holds the shame of the Dred Scot decision, publicly proclaiming that people of color are not equal to whites. This is our white burden and our calling as people of faith of all colors – to work persistently to repent of the original sin of America and help create a new heaven and the new earth of inclusion, equality, and equity for all.
  • I have been impressed by the intelligence, strategic wisdom, and skill of the official protest organizers – mostly black – some secular and some sacred -passionate, eloquent spokespeople who do not mince words. The white clergy have been asked to provide support and protection and to step back to allow others to lead. This called for humility in spiritual leaders is new and refreshing in my protest experience.
  • For me, the role and power of the police is the most confusing part of this political moment. I have family members who are law enforcement officers – moral, calm, community oriented. And to my eye, the police presence during the official protests was respectful and appropriately peripheral. But the scenes of riot police with pepper spray, trapping both agitators and innocent bystanders in a “kettle” formation, seems both excessive and unnecessary. The criminal justice system in this country, from arrest to incarceration, is both racist and broken – and these reoccurring protests will not – and should not stop – until real change happens.

Many people have asked, “What is the purpose of these protests?  What are the demands that the protestors are asking for?” I have asked the same question. I have finally accepted the answer – which is very simple. What is the demand? STOP THE KILLING!

I hope there will be concrete changes ahead: subpoena power for the recently created Citizens Review Board; implementation of the Ferguson Commission recommendations; independent review for all incidents related to questionable police actions; a cultural transformation within the Metropolitan Police Department.  My tired body may keep me away from some future protests, but my heart will continue to support Holy Disturbance in the Spirit of our Disruptive God.

Rev. Susan Andrews
Interim Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church
September 20, 2017

First Doniphan

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

In the book, Legacy Churches, Stephan Gray and Franklin Dumond address the question, “How do you know when it may be time to close.” They highlight six characteristics:

  • Public Worship Attendance has Drastically Declined
  • Staffing of Essential Ministry is no Longer Adequate or Effective
  • Annual Income is No Longer Adequate to do Local Ministry
  • Age or Tenure of Membership is Unusually High
  • The Church Hasn’t Consistently Grown Over the Last Five Years
  • Survival Has Become the Main Mission

First Presbyterian, Doniphan has signs of all of these. But they also have spunk, resilience, energy, efficiency, hospitality, and love.

You have to drive a long distance to reach our furthest south and west church. Doniphan is located about three and a half hours southwest of St. Louis. The town has an array of churches representing different stripes of denominations. All the more reason why First Doniphan should not be able to survive. Yet, they are alive, and after my visit with them I understand why.

The building is immaculate. It is well maintained and doesn’t show signs of deterioration you would normally see in a struggling church. There were 12 people is worship. In addition to the 8 members, they have faithful visitors who enjoy worship and fellowship with them. Bruce Johnston leads worship. He lives 95 miles away in Arkansas. He is a member of Doniphan, and has been making the 190 mile round trip to serve the people of this congregations for years. Bruce is commissioned to serve communion and approved to moderate session. Also, instead of having a musician, the church uses a programmable piano. A member programs the hymns for the day into the piano, and then it plays on cue. The Sunday I was there, there was a solo by Bruce’s daughter, who lives in New Mexico. As I looked around to locate her, I then realized that she had been recorded, and her voice was playing through the sound system. These folks are up on their technology. They don’t have a telephone, but they have a Facebook page!

I really saw the church in action during the pot luck. The food was delicious! A separate table held the deserts. We ate and fellowshipped. They then cleaned up, all like clockwork. Efficient. Orderly. Plenty of laughter, storytelling, and fun.

This is when I realized this church is going to survive for a long time.

Here is a church with all of the outward signs of a closing ministry. But inside are people who bare the marks of Christian love, and hospitality. It is a reminder that we cannot judge a church by numbers alone. When we take the time to get to know the people, we learn that God is still full of surprises.

Rev. Craig M. Howard