From the Middle East to Missouri

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


Next week I will be traveling to Israel. I have the opportunity to lead a group of 15 African American clergy as part of Interfaith Partners For Peace. This 10 day trip will allow me to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, business people, politicians, and educators who are building bridges for peace in this difficult part of the world. I went on a similar trip last year as part of a group of clergy and rabbis. My purpose and rationale is to learn how people with deep disagreements, histories, and narratives, find ways to live together.

As I leave Missouri, I am going at a time the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has issues a travel advisory for people of color who are coming to this state. Even though African Americans have a 75% greater chance than White people of being stopped by the police while driving, the advisory is pointing at a larger issue, SB43. This bill makes it more difficult for an employee to prove racial or gender discrimination. The bill also affects whistleblowers and the amounts they can collect. According to the Governor’s office, the bill is considered business friendly, and reduces the amount of frivolous lawsuits. I have yet to see statistics on the number of discrimination lawsuits being filed in Missouri, and I have not found how many of these lawsuits are deemed “frivolous.” By the way, the representative who submitted the original bill is being suited for racial discrimination in his small business. Business friendly indeed!

Traveling in certain parts of Missouri brings a sickening feeling in my stomach. I am less worried about traveling to the Middle East than I am driving to some of our Presbyterian churches. I have not been stopped by the police, called obscene names, or treated with any disrespect. But I know this reality is present; maybe at the next gas station I’m at, or restaurant I sit down in for coffee. There is fear on Missouri highways for African Americans, and it is palpable.

Tomorrow I will be standing with others at Canfield, in memory of Michael Brown’s shooting. His murder sparked protests and violence. But it also created the Ferguson Commission that has several strategies for approaching racism in our state.

Middle East tensions, NAACP travel advisory, Michael Brown. Could this all be connected? Perhaps it is about how we are different people, and how we can choose to live together in peace, or in bitterness and violence. Maybe the Middle East can teach the Midwest about the struggle for peaceful coexistence, and the consequences when we fail.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

In with the New

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


Sunday at Webster Groves was another celebration of a pastoral installation. Rev. Hannah Dreitcer is the fourth installation in my seven months as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I anticipate at least three more installations of new pastors by the end of the year. In the past three years, there have been a number of pastors who have become a part of the presbytery. I have written about the presbytery being like a forest of large redwood trees, and how we need to nurture new life that is birthed from the fallen trees and rich soil. I was writing about congregations. However, I now see we are in the midst of a pastoral transition as well.

We are living in the midst of a tremendous opportunity. Giddings-Lovejoy has been blessed with many young, gifted pastors who have a vision of ministry that is ecumenical, inclusive, and creative. Erin Counihan is bringing life to the South St. Louis through Amen house. Joshua Noah is weaving hope and energy into Chrystal City. Mel Smith and Kaitie Kautz are pulling together a presbytery wide cohort group of children and youth leaders. Miriam Foltz is building UKirk, a campus ministry that includes both St. Louis University and Washington University.

These are just a few of the new pastors who are seeing the church in new ways. These pastors are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are delivering that message in ways today’s world can understand.

It is not enough to watch them, we must applaud them. We are called to encourage our new pastors, and help them dream dreams. As a presbytery, we are challenged to integrate our new pastors, and allow them to assist in changing the culture of the presbytery.

In the book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block believes a community can be restorative. He writes, “The core question that underlies each (restorative) conversation is, ‘What can we create together?’ This moves us from problems to possibility; from fear and fault to gifts, generosity, and abundance. . . “

God continues to guide new pastors into Giddings-Lovejoy from across the country. These pastors can take us from our fragmented past into a unified future. They have the potential to bring us energy and break us free of our “calcified past.”

This is an exciting time to be a Presbyterian! It is a time of change, and an opportunity for possibility. Truly this is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Ministry For Children and Young Adults

 

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

 


Imagine a church building decorated wall to wall with arts and crafts devoted to super heroes! The walls are plastered with posters, objects are hanging from the ceiling and stacked on the floors. As soon as worship is over, more objects are moved into the sanctuary. It is colorful and obviously created with children in mind. This is what is happening at St. Mark in Ballwin where I preached on Saturday and Sunday. They are preparing for “Super Heroes of the Bible,” their theme for VBS. The church is full of energy and excitement. During worship, the children’s director announced that VBS had 201 children signed up. Two-hundred-and-one! The church is at capacity and have created a wait list! 201 children will be playing, learning, laughing, eating, and getting to know Jesus in creative ways.

This gives me excitement. This gives me hope.

The film, Children of Men, is about a future in which there are no children. The last child is born 18 years ago, and the movie begins with his death. There is great sadness throughout the film as we see empty schools and playgrounds. I must admit that watching this film makes me think about the church, and the work we must do to continue to draw children and young adults to the faith. This difficult but faithful work will take leaders with creativity, imagination, and love.

The Education and Youth sub-team, led by Melanie (Mel) Smith has such a vision. Mel and Kaitie Kautz have an idea to build a cohort of children and young adult leaders within the presbytery. This group of leaders will share information, learn from one another, and build systems of nurture and support throughout the presbytery. The cohort group will learn and share the latest methods of youth and young adult leadership. They will be using Ministry Architects, an outstanding organization that focuses on youth leadership. Mel and Kaitie are inviting a small group of congregations to be part of the cohort in the beginning, and plan to grow the cohort over time.

As your Transitional Presbytery Leader, I want to connect the fragmented parts of Giddings Lovejoy together, and build us into the unified presbytery that God is calling us to be. The youth and young adult cohort group is a model of this effort. If you are asked to participate in this initial group, please seriously considering saying yes!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Faith Into Action


Blog Post by the Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org
(Photo by PCUSA Staff photographer)


Big Tent was amazing!!

Big Tent St. Louis was one of the best Big Tent events ever! From the music, to the food; from the Washington University setting, to the inspiring preaching and workshops, the event was accomplished with precision and excellence.

But the shining lights were the volunteers from Giddings-Lovejoy. They did a tremendous job. The leadership from our denomination headquarters in Louisville made sure I knew how outstanding our volunteers performed. The participants had mounds of praise for our volunteers as well! These volunteers included: The five congregations that hosted participants on Friday night. Greeters. Registration table. Hospitality table. Golf Cart drivers. Mound Ridge and their work with the youth. Directors to the various classrooms throughout the campus. General information providers. Stage manager. Food providers. The entire staff of the presbytery who volunteered and filled in gaps where needed. We did it all, and we did it well!

Let me share just one example. For the first time in the history of Big Tent, the participants were invited to attend a local congregation. We opened the doors to five of our congregations: Second, Third, Oak Hill, Cote Brilliante, and Ferguson. Big Tent sent a bus full of participants to each congregation. The congregation served food, provided a program with an opportunity to respond from the Big Tent participants. The energy and enthusiasm of these programs created a spiritual awakening throughout the Big Tent event. The effects could be felt on Saturday in Bible classes, workshops, and worship.(read more here)

Furthermore, On Sunday morning, I preached at Cote Brillante. The congregation was still abuzz about Friday night! The patterns and habits of hospitality they displayed for Big Tent, were still present, as a new visitor came forward to join the church. This spiritual electricity continued through each of these congregations, as they rode the Big Tent wave of faith, mission, and purpose.

This is how it works. When we put our faith into action, we realize we are better than we thought we were, and we can do far more than we even imagine.

During the economic downturn of 2008, Rham Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago famously said, “Let’s not waste a good recession!” Friends, let’s not waste a good Big Tent! Let’s use the energy, creativity, imagination, and plain old hard work we just displayed to continue bringing our presbytery together. It is amazing what we can do, when we turn faith into action and work together.

Craig M. Howard

A Potosi Story

 

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

 


 

On Sunday I retraced the Dan Anderson-Little route and preached at Hillside church at 8:30 a.m., followed by Potosi at 11:30 a.m. Before leaving for Texas, Dan preached at both congregations almost every Sunday! When I arrived at Potosi, I was informed of the history of the church and its work in the community. The church was established in 1832 and the current building was commissioned in 1907 and built in 1909. The architect of the church is John A. Lankford (1847 – 1946). Lankford would become the first African American Architect in the state of Virginia and Washington DC. He was known as the “dean of black architecture,” and would design buildings and churches throughout Virginia and DC.

Why would Potosi choose an African American architect from Virginia to design their church?

Actually, Lankford chose Potosi, and the design of the building was a gift! As a boy, Lankford was raised in the farmland of Potosi. The early members of the church contributed to his higher education. As a show of thanks and appreciation, this famous Architect designed the Potosi church in 1907.

The story of a farm boy becoming a leading architect is wonderful. But in addition, Lankford is the son of slaves, living in a moment of our nation’s history when laws were being formed to reinforce racist ideas. These ideas included the belief that African Americans are less than equal and not capable of learning the sciences or architecture.

Within this atmosphere of racist assumptions, the Potosi church made a significant contribution to the education of this black man.

Somehow, they looked beyond cultural norms and political influence. Instead they saw a young man with potential. The church helped him to realize his goals through the tool Presbyterians use well, education.

As we come closer to Big Tent and the theme of Race, Reconciliation, Reformation, my hope is that Giddings-Lovejoy learn and reflect upon the many stories and history of race in our presbytery. A few of these include the 100-year anniversary of the East St. Louis Massacre, the Civil War in Missouri, the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy, Sundown Towns and white segregation in suburbia, and the Ferguson riots. These are stories of disappointment and hope; set-backs and progress; life, death, and resurrection.

My prayer is that we are informed by our past and demonstrate actions of love for one another: actions that cross lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Praying

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

 


A good friend, my best friend, found himself and his family in a bit of trouble. He asked if I would pray for him. I was so touched by the circumstance I prayed and prayed hard. I’m not talking about him being “in my thoughts and prayers,” I’m talking about old fashioned get-down-on-my-knees, petition the throne of God, and resist the devil praying! I went back to my Pentecostal roots and called upon the name of the Lord like I haven’t done in a while.

I received a call yesterday from my friend. The worst has come upon him and his family. My prayers did not stop the calamity.

I feel heartbroken and sad. I’ve been tearful since I received the news. And I am still prayerful.

It seems my excellent theological education and my role as Transitional Presbytery leader does not make me immune to the struggles of being a Christian; struggles of learning what it means to walk with God.

I believe the core purpose of each congregation is to make disciples. This means making sure the Word of God is truly preached and heard, and sacraments are properly administered and received. It also means living in community and sharing our joys and concerns. Becoming a disciple means constantly letting go of the simple notion of God as the provider of our wishes and dreams, and instead, embracing the Christ who suffered and died while doing God’s will.

This is a lesson I learn repeatedly. It is learning to trust God, while not tempting God. It is being a co-creator with Christ, working and serving to change the world. It means listening for the move of the Holy Spirit, and being willing to stop when the Spirit says stop, and go when the Spirit says go.

May the God of all consolation, comfort those in time of tribulation, even my best friend. Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Kampsville’s Questions

 

 

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

 

 


On Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach at First Kampsville. I’m sure we’ve never held presbytery gathering on this Illinois peninsula. Kampsville is a town of 302. The drive to our furthest north congregation meant taking a ferry across the Mississippi river and another ferry across the Illinois river, then driving on winding roads through beautiful bluffs and woods. The drive alone was inspiring.

The amazing thing about First Kampsville is the attendance. They have a membership of 12, but over 20 in attendance! This is because of the “12 faithful visitors” who attend along with the members. These visitors belong to other congregations, but enjoy worshiping at Kampsville as well. The church is only open one day per week, and for one hour of worship and any meetings thereafter. They use an Honorably Retired pastor to preach and serve communion on the first Sunday of the month, and then use a lay pastor the remainder of the month for preaching and pastoral care.

Kampsville is a rural congregation that survives because it uses minimal effort. It only does worship, but it does worship well. Each member knows how to step up and lead. Financially, the church can afford to pay its bills, but their saving reduces a little each year. They are an ageing congregation, yet have a healthy view of their limited future.  

Kampsville raises many questions including the life cycle of a congregation, survival of rural communities, efficient use of buildings and space, the role of pastoral leadership, and the value of membership. As we become a denomination of small congregations (100 or less in worship) we will continue to wrestle with these questions. Kampsville’s questions are the presbytery’s questions.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Stepping Up in Steelville

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

 

 

 


On Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at our church in Steelville, Missouri. The city is known as the floating capital of Missouri. Considering the number of boats being pulled by trailers, and canoes on roof racks I saw while driving down I-44, I can see why! The worship service went well and included communion. The parishioners were kind and treated me well as their visiting preacher.

What got my attention is what I observed happening along the edges of the sanctuary. For example, when I arrived, the person preparing the candles in the basement didn’t just tell me how to get to the pastor’s office, she stopped what she was doing to show me the way (we often don’t realize how confusing our church buildings are to visitors).  Before worship, I saw members helping older members who were coming off the lift to their seats. I don’t believe there were ushers either. Another person made sure bulletins were in place, while others took care of the communion elements. After worship, another group cleared the communion table, while others changed the paraments from red to green, as next week we move to ordinary time.

In Steelville there is a spirit of doing what is necessary, and not caring who gets the credit.

Perhaps Rev. Wendy Downing, the pastor of Steelville, is super organized and has the church running like a top. I’m all for people having titles and job descriptions, and being efficient. But what I experienced in Steelville was not the usual 80/20 Pareto Principal- 80 percent of the work being done by 20 percent of the people. There were many more hands making light work.

My hope is that people will step up and volunteer in the presbytery like the members of Steelville. Nominating has several openings. Big Tent is still looking for volunteers as well. Prayerfully consider if this is a time for you to do a little more in your church, and in your presbytery as well.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Driving from California

 

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

 


 

This past week I flew out to California and drove back to St. Louis with Marilyn. We took our time traversing the 1800 miles. We even stopped in Santa Fe to renew our wedding vows! It was an amazing day, and the drive from California was an amazing route through a diverse terrain.

While driving, I can experience the breath of our country from the west coast to the Midwest. We begin with the mountains of California and drive through the deserts of Arizona. The further we drive east, the dryer the climate becomes and the sparser the landscape. By the time we leave New Mexico headed toward Texas, the heat has reached close to 100 and there are patches of wild grass, bone-dry land, with very few trees. Things begin to improve in Oklahoma as the rain falls and the topography turns greener. By the time we reach Missouri, the landscape is lush with rolling hills covered by flourishing trees. The beauty of the Ozarks is something to behold.

And I’m thinking about churches.

There was a time when the denomination planted churches, they grew like trees in Missouri. The climate was right. the weather had moisture and the soil was rich. It took work to grow a church. But society also encouraged people to attend church, there were blue laws, and pastors were respected leaders in the community.

In the monograph Courage, Gil Rendle writes, “It was in the mid 20th century time that the mainline church, like so many other institutions and organizations, aggressively pursued growth, bureaucratic structure and strength, as well as resource and property development. We became large, strong, and institutional in a cultural moment that favored large, strong and institutional.”

Today is a much dryer climate. It not only takes work, but skill to plant, nurture, and grow a church. Instead of support, society competes with the church from soccer matches to Cardinal games. Pastors are still respected, but their voice and opinions are not sought after, and their leadership is often not requested.

And this is the environment God has called us to. This is our time, and location; our climate and soil. I believe God has equipped us and given us the tools and skills to prosper. We are surrounded by other supporting leaders who surround us and care for us. We may not look like the church of the 1950s, but we are the church the world needs in this day and time.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Nostalgia

 

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

 


In the midst of reading several books a month, I’ve been reading the same book for over a year! I’m simply taking my time reading The Fifties, by David Halberstam. I’m somewhere on page 800 or so. It is such a good read!

I began reading the book because many experts believe the 1950s was the golden age of the church. The decline we are experiencing today did not begin until in 1965. Halberstam provides the cultural context that became the seedbed for the denominational expansion of the Presbyterian church. The 1950s was an expansive time for our country, fueled by soldiers who came home from the war in 1945. These soldiers had a global vision of what was possible and what they wanted out of life. They were not constrained by their depression era parents, and instead saw possibility and opportunity in the new wealth and world leadership of the nation.

However, this period of prosperity was limited. Gil Rendle calls this time in our country an aberration: “a confluence of conditions that prompted growth and strength that later could not be sustained, not only by the church but by a myriad of other organizations and institutions.”

When the church of today tries to be the church of yesterday, Rendle calls that practice “Nostalgia.” Nostalgia means looking backward instead of looking forward. It means trying to become what we were, instead of determining what we can be. Rendle write, “(The church) is still dependent on our memories of size and strength, and still constrained by the polity, policies and practices once effective in a large institution.” He goes on to say, “Nostalgia carries the temptation to work harder at what we already know how to do in order to recapture a time and strength that no longer exists. Nostalgia does not ask us how to be different for the future.”

The call for leadership today is a call to reach toward an undefined future, while resisting the temptation to create an obsolete past. The presbytery, along with each pastor and session must address the question of direction and purpose. In what ways are we seeking to recreate and replicate the church of 1950? Or, how are we re-imagining ways that make us the church for now, and the future? I look forward to having these conversations as we walk together into the unknown future.

Rev. Craig M. Howard