Homework

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

 


This past weekend the presbytery had a visioning retreat with the team and sub-team leaders. It was a time of stimulating ideas, great conversation, and rich fellowship. As we met with one another, we realized what a blessing we have when we come together in fellowship. Saturday will be another opportunity for us to meet face to face and get to know one another a little better at our stated Presbytery Gathering.

But first things first! We will be voting on eight amendments to the Book of Order. These include:

  • Bringing clarity to the constitution of a nominating committee.
  • How to handle Ministers of Word and Sacrament who renounce jurisdiction while in the midst of a disciplinary proceedings, and then want to return to the denomination.
  • Preventing congregations from supporting a political candidate.
  • Clarity on rules regarding a minister laboring beyond the bounds of a presbytery.
  • Clarifying wording for pastors and commissioned pastors.
  • Clarifying when children should receive the Lord’s supper.
  • Adding sexual abuse as misconduct.
  • Eliminating the time limit sexual abuse can be reported.

Some see the Book of Order as a manual of archaic rules that impose limitations on the activities of congregations and ministers. These amendments remind us that the Book of Order is a living document, responding to the challenges of our time. It is an attempt to guide the life of the church. The amendment process keeps the Book of Order updated. When presbyteries and sessions around the country experience a problem that the Book of Order does not address, is fuzzy on interpretation, or outdated, the amendment process addresses these needs.

The challenge for Saturday is that the commissioners will need to read the amendments, rationales, and recommendations. This is real homework! But it is a way to be informed when we vote on Saturday.

In other parts of business, we will hear about some exciting congregational initiatives for 2019 as we lay out the budget. I’m looking forward to our panel discussion on Creation and Science with Ellie Stock and Sara Miles. Sara will be our preacher for the afternoon, and we will serve communion.

Most of all I’m looking forward to seeing the commissioners, Teaching Elders, and visitors. As I travel throughout our presbytery, I’m enjoying the worship and fellowship. We have some really good people in our presbytery, and I am blessed to serve as in Giddings Lovejoy.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Hope

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


 

“There is a quality I feel in the room right now—a generosity of spirit—a drawing one another out— that gives me the feeling we can do things we didn’t know we could do and say things we didn’t know we knew.”

We need churches that feel like this. Our future depends on it.

The above quote is from a monogram called “December Gathering: Notes from the Field.” The monogram is part of a series by two young Harvard Divinity students, Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile.  These young adults have remapped a path for the future church. All five monograms can be found here https://www.howwegather.org/.

I find the work that Angie, Casper, and Sue are doing fascinating. The phrase I quoted reminds me that what really works for our congregations and ministries has less to do with buildings, budgets, and resources. We have to try new things. This takes risk, and with risk comes the possibility of failure. Angie and Casper have brought together others who are trying to figure out a way forward. They have discovered that when people who believe in what is possible come together, they are able to achieve more than anyone thought doable.

I call this hope.

I believe what is needed in our presbytery is a confidence grounded in hope. Perhaps we need a spirit that believes we can try and do things we did not know we could do. As a church we are led by the Holy Spirit and guided by the scriptures. Both place value on reaching out to our community, being hospitable, and sharing God’s story of transformation and change with our neighbors.

On Friday and Saturday, the presbytery team and sub team leaders will gather for our retreat. My goal is to infuse them with a spirit of possibility and hope. At the end of our retreat I want our leaders to believe that together we can do things we did not know we could. This is the spirit I want to carry into 2019 and beyond. I pray that it radiates from this group of leaders into every corner of our presbytery.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Another Hidden Jewel

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


The first indicator that I’m visiting a rural church is when the pastor says not to trust my GPS but follow his instructions instead! After exiting I-44 I turn, weave, go up and down hills, and after a few more hair pin turns, I’m on a black top. The church suddenly appears on my right. I know I’m visiting a rural church when the only sound I hear are the cows singing a melody of moos! I’m met at the front door by a little dog, which I find out later doesn’t belong to anyone but refuses to leave. This is Old Argo. This is a shining jewel of a congregation located in Bourbon, Missouri off the Sullivan exit.

As worship begins, about 35 people fill the sanctuary. The age range is a perfect bell curve from babies in arm to seniors on canes. There is energy, excitement, and a bit of exhaustion. The night before is the annual Fall Festival which the church hosts. They cook up two pigs (donated by a church member), add in tons of homemade goodies, a musical group, a silent auction, games and fun. This congregation of less than 40 serves 335 dinners and raises over $5,200! The festival is a total volunteer effort. As I hear the stories of the night before, I long for a jar of homemade apple butter!

Old Argo is led by pastor Rob Caldwell, a commissioned pastor (CP). Giddings Lovejoy has a robust CP program. We take ruling elders who feel God’s call to a pastoral ministry and put them through a three-year program. A new cohort is already underway with 11 elders in training. These leaders often end up in small congregations.

Rural and small church ministry in a reality in our presbytery. Out of 79 congregations, we currently have 27 with 50 members or less. In Giddings Lovejoy, once a congregation has 40 members or less, they can no longer afford a traditional called and installed pastor. Our challenge is to prepare people like Rob, who have a genuine love for small church ministry, and support them in their call. With the right pastoral leadership, even small congregations can thrive and be vibrant where they are.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Rules and Policy

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


Today I took part in Boundary Training for ministers in the presbytery. The training is required every three years for all Teaching Elders and Commissioned Pastors. We covered several topics including dating, touching, friendship, and intimacy between pastor and parishioner. We also talked about social media, and the challenges of pastoral identity on the internet. Around the question of friendship, we talked about the difference between being friendly and being a friend. We shared stories of accepting and rejecting gifts and discussed the separation policy regarding once a pastor leaves a congregation.

A big takeaway from the meeting is that boundaries can be fluid, elusive, and highly contextual. While one church may have a brief passing of the peace where no one barely moves or touches, another church walks around hugging everyone for an extended time.

This is why creating policy for congregations and ministers is difficult. We often write policy as a response to a negative activity. For example, we have a stringent separation policy after a pastor leaves a congregation because in the past a pastor abused the relationship with former parishioners. The temptation is to use the worst case as the norm. In Boundary Training, the pastors and leaders reflected on a more nuanced approach. They desired a policy that is sensitive to context. We should think less about absolutes and more about ways to be flexible and have boundaries more fluid and permeable. The church should be less about “thou shalt not” and more about “I bring to you a new commandment, love one another.”

Of course, it is difficult to live in a more flexible community. I imagine people will want to be firm or fluid depending upon their need and advantage. As humans we may want the strictest application for others, and the more open interpretation for ourselves. As your leader, It is easy to apply stiff policy from above. But reality is that we are all doing the best we can as we stumble through our life of faith together.

The Bible says that God loves us. But God’s love is unique to each of us, and the Triune God loves us as we each need to be loved, and not all in the same way. Perhaps this is a way to get at the question of rules and policy. Create the framework but recognize the application may not be the same in every situation.

Rev. Craig M. Howard