Leave the Building

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


When I was executive presbyter in Milwaukee, there was one city whose economy was based on the GM auto plant. During the great recession, the plant closed. This resulted in increased unemployment and under employment. Downtown became a ghost town as stores closed and shops boarded up. The downtown Presbyterian church took a hit too. Membership dropped along with collections. It was a matter of time before the church could no longer afford a full-time pastor.

I fret and worry about congregations in cities and towns where industry is drying up. I am concerned when I visit a church and the people inside of the building look very different than the people walking around on the outside of the church. James Taylor wrote a song about a struggling small town. The song, Letter in the Mail says, “Little by little, light after light, that’s how it died.” And “The church bell still rings on Sunday, old folks still go, the young ones listen on the radio.”

However, I noticed that even in the areas where industry has dried up, there are still thousands of people. These people are finding new ways to live and thrive in the community. They may commute further to a different job that pays less. They may not be able to buy as much as they used to, but they are still there. What does that mean for childcare, food, and social life? What does it mean for the local church?

In the book Holy Conversations, Gil Rendle and Alice Mann believes every congregation should ask three questions: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What has God called us to do?

To learn “who is our neighbor,” our congregations can get out of the building and walk around the neighborhood to see what is going on. Sometimes our congregations become commuter churches as members move further away when the neighborhood declines. But there’s no substitute for heels on concrete, and taking the time to observe the spaces, homes, and buildings of the community. We can sit in a room and guess about the needs and identity of our neighbors, but until we get out and meet them we do not know who they are.

At the August 23 presbytery gathering, we are going to leave the building and go into the community of Edwardsville to conduct a Neighborhood Exegesis. This is a walking survey that is part of the Vital Congregations Toolkit, available here, developed by our denomination. They write, “The goal is to get to know more about the neighborhood and its people. We do this by using all 5 senses. We are not going out to teach anything, to convert anyone, or to change the neighborhood, just to learn from the people who know more about it that we do.”

Wow! My hope is that we will learn about Edwardsville, but also return to our congregations and conduct a Neighborhood Exegesis in our community. The future church is a community connected church. Our neighborhood shapes our community and congregation. Let’s leave the building and learn who they are.

Registration for the Pre-Session and Gathering is now open and can be found here.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

The Necessity of Disconnecting

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


It’s been a long time since Marilyn and I have taken a vacation together. Somewhere between getting kids through college, living apart for two years with very demanding jobs, beginning new work for each of us in 2017, life hasn’t allowed the rhythm for us to just get away together. This year we planned a nice Alaskan land and sea cruise. We spent the past 10 days enjoying scenic Alaska. This included seeing bears, wolves, moose, caribou, whales, and eagles. These were against a landscape of mountains, glaciers, oceans, rivers, and trees. The sea cruise portion was a time to be pampered, served, and simply have fun.

We also took this time to disconnect from our electronic gadgets. No internet, texting, email, or phone calls. I found this to be difficult at first, but then it became another source of relaxation.

I learned a lot by going off the electronic grid. First, my life is filled with noise. I am bombarded by information, whether I ask for it or not. Many times, I go on the internet to look something up. When I open my browser, I am hit with so many stories and advertisements, I often forget what I went on the internet for! I’m to the point of having to first write down what I’m looking for, before browsing (Am I the only one having this problem!). And the news is like hearing one blaring scream after another. It’s as though the only thing that matters is what makes me worry, afraid, or angry.

I also learned that it is important that the office can function in the short term without me (or any particular employee). The presbytery office must be able to do the work of the presbytery for a brief time without my input, suggestions, or direction. The same principle applies to our congregations, chaplaincies, counseling centers, or other areas in which ministers work. They must be able to function for a short period of time without the key employee. We all like feeling important. But it is unhealthy to have a system designed around the work of one person. By occasionally withdrawing from the system, we are able to see how others need to step up, and what areas need to change or be supported.

I’m fully plugged back in now. I am returning to work with a spirit of gratitude for the opportunity to serve as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I am looking forward to a future of great adventures in the life of our presbytery.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Great Job!

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

I’m still receiving thank-you notes. Some are in the form of cards. Some are by email. Others come in envelopes. These are words of thanks and appreciation to Giddings-Lovejoy for hosting General Assembly. The notes are a reminder of the generosity and kindness in the hearts of Presbyterians. The many acts of kindness are directed toward the entire presbytery. We did it, and we did it together!

This issue of the newsletter is focused on the events of General Assembly. Sometimes we forget to stop and inhale after expending a great amount of effort and energy. Sometimes we forget to celebrate a job well done. I have spent the past week meeting with presbytery staff and COLA staff debriefing the event. The debriefing was done with memories, meals, and music. We listened to testimonies, stories, and marveled at the flexibility of all involved. Giddings-Lovejoy showed the entire denomination what hospitality looks like.

Enjoy the photos and videos in this edition of the newsletter, found here. It is all about you. It is all about us. I pray we can ride the energy and connectionism created from our time together at GA into the future of the presbytery.

Rev. Craig M. Howard