Service From The Soul

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


On Saturday morning it all came together. The presbytery office hosted a celebration of the work and ministry in Tower Grove. After the celebration, we had a called Presbytery Meeting. Close to 60 people came out to fellowship, tour the building, talk about the past, worship, and imagine a new future for the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.

What caught my attention is how well the staff worked together. Vanessa helped Leigh with the kitchen and set-up. Jennifer helped Joy with handouts and operating the PowerPoint presentation. Janice moved up and down the stairs doing copies, photos, and picking up loose ends.

The presbytery has hired good people. Vanessa, Leigh, Janice, Joy, and Jennifer can stand on their own, do the work they were hired to do, and do it well. But good leadership means taking gifted individuals and forming them into a team. This is done by shifting the focus from the individual, to nurturing relationships between individuals, and the organization.

Teamwork goes beyond individual capability. Being in relationship means moving beyond skills and utilitarian function. Relationships must include seeing staff as people; people with hearts, souls, desires, and dreams. Good leadership is able to knit together these deeper parts of the staff, workers, and volunteers, so they work seamlessly together for the mission and vision of the church.

In the book, Leading In a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan writes, “When individual soul is connected to the organization, people become connected to something deeper- the desire to contribute to a larger purpose, to feel they are part of a greater whole, a web of connection.”

Becoming part of a web of connection is one of the reasons people join churches, serve on session, and go on mission projects. This is what the people who were gathered together on Saturday talked about; this is why they volunteered to work at the presbytery center.

When people experience a soul connection with the church; when staff and volunteers are serving from their souls, it moves people beyond their “jobs” and inspires them to do what is best for the presbytery and church.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Take the Long View

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


 At last count I have over 100 relatives. Yet, I am the only Presbyterian in my entire family. This includes my children, siblings, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I have looked into my family history and gone back to 1865. Not one Presbyterian is mentioned. This is why the story my mother would tell about the Presbyterian church is so prominent.

I grew up in a household of stories. My Mother would tell stories of her childhood, and what life was like in the neighborhood ghetto of Bronzeville, Chicago. This is where the majority of African Americans coming to Chicago during the great migration were forced to live. It was densely packed and desperately poor. But I never knew of the poverty when listening to my mother’s stories.

She talked about her seven brothers and two sisters. She spoke of the crazy antics her cousins would do. She shared stories of my father running the gauntlet through her brothers (physically running!), just to see her.

And she talked about the Presbyterian Church.

Just outside of the cramp spaces of her neighborhood, stood Sixth Presbyterian church (now Sixth Grace Presbyterian). Each summer, Sixth would invite the kids from Bronzeville to learn, play, and have fun in their summer youth program. My mother often spoke of this needed reprieve with great fondness. My childhood memories of Mom sharing stories about Sixth Presbyterian warms my heart even now.

Fast forward to my adulthood. After almost 20 years as a member of the Pentecostal Church which my mother belonged to and loved, I felt called to join the Presbyterians. I went to Mom, hoping for her acceptance and blessing. Once again, she shared her story of Sixth, and how much that meant to her growing up. Then she said, “Craig, I don’t care if you go, just stay with Jesus.”

So many of our congregations serve children and youth with summer programs, Easter events, and Christmas dramas. We are often discouraged by the small return on investment of our time and energy. These children rarely come back as members. I don’t know why my Mother never joined Sixth. I have to believe it had something to do with her being close to her grandmother, who belonging to a Holiness church which Mom attended with her.

But, perhaps we should take the long view. I am a living witness of the value of a long-term investment. What Sixth did for those poor children in Chicago back in the 1930s and 40s have produced a strong Presbyterian adult in 2018. I love the Presbyterian church and am grateful for the warmth in my heart that was created by faithful people; people who had a vision to bring a little joy in the lives of local children.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Two Churches

“The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance. The opposite of scarcity is enough. Dynamic leaders recognize that they have enough to do what God is calling them to do.”
-Rev Craig Howard at FUPC Leadership Summit

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


This weekend I experienced two churches in two different parts of our presbytery.

Imagine asking 40 leaders in your church to come out on a Saturday morning for plenaries and workshops. As they arrive there are quality donuts, good coffee, and fruit. There is lively conversation around tables as people interact with the information and with each other. Plenty of laughter fills the room, people feel free to speak, and recognize they are being heard by the pastor and other leaders. This was Saturday morning at First United Belleville in Belleville Illinois, where Pastor Rob Dyer and I presented workshops.

Something is happening at First United Belleville. There is remarkable energy along with a diversity of age and race. What strikes me is the willingness of people to participate and be involved with the vision of the church. They are making it happen, and the presence of a pastor who is a dynamic leader, makes the difference.

Now, switch to Sunday. I experienced another dynamic and charismatic pastor. Karl Hauser is the new pastor at Southminster Presbyterian. Karl and Jennifer (who is also a minister of Word and Sacrament) arrived here from Northern California. Last week they closed on their home and are settling into the community with their 15 month old toddler, Benny. Karl is already making a difference in the church with his creative ministry style and personal engagement.

I have to say a few words about Benny! He is a curious, active, toddler, who is musically inclined. Benny has a lot to say, but we can’t understand his words yet! As I watched him speak “baby talk,” I began to wonder about all he will teach his parents about life and the world as he sees it.

Southminster (and the presbytery) is like Benny. They are learning a new way of being church, as they articulate God’s dream for them. This future of words-not-yet-completely-formed, will not be a straight line from the present, but it will curl, dip, and dive! It is a future of hope and excitement as seen through a new lens. God is working with and through the congregation, and they have elected the right person to lead them.

Two churches. Two histories. Two futures. The common thread is energy and leadership. It is a great time to be part of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Children

Steelville Presbyterian
2017 Confirmation Class

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


On Sunday I was the keynote speaker for Webster Groves community celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a wonderful and full program. What made the event outstanding were the presentations of the children. A large elementary age children’s choir sang two songs. Later, a group of teenagers sang with tight harmonies and strong emotion.

While the children were getting organized to sing, some were nervous, others laughing, while others were just being obedient. The occasional children’s cough could be heard (it is flu season!). Just seeing them in their bright orange t-shirts and black slacks warmed my heart.

Having children present in our homes and in our congregations, makes a difference. My youngest daughter turns 25 in April. I do not have grandchildren (I’ve let each of my daughters know that my time is running out- no pressure!). I haven’t had to “kid proof” my home in over 15 years!

In Milwaukee, I met an activist who wanted to connect with the presbytery. She had a four year old boy. I thought I’d try convincing her to attend one of my congregations. She asked if the church was “child friendly.” She said she needs a crying-out-loud-running-in-the-aisles-hiding-under-the-pews child friendly church!

The presence of children changes our worship, the structure of our meetings, the content of our curriculum, and what we find meaningful. Children force us to take seriously the economy and ecology. We are forced to think about the financial safety net they will inherit, the poisons we are dumping into the water and air, and the condition of the earth we are leaving for them.

Children bring energy, and mistakes that demand forgiveness. Children remind us that the things we valued and thought were so important when we were young, can dissolve like sugar in coffee, and God still loves us, and life goes on.

I encourage our congregations to make your church a home for children. By doing ministry for children, we open our hearts for God’s grace in our lives.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Ruling Elders Rule

Ruling Elder Installation Presbytery of Baltimore

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

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


 

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
choward@glpby.org


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!

Peace,

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

From Limping to Leaping

Blog Post by

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


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!

Peace,

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Resilient Small Congregations

Blog Post by

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


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
choward@glpby.org


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

Bronzeville

Blog Post by

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


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