Sacred Space

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Three weeks ago I sat with another Administrative Commission that has been given the responsibility to dissolve a Presbyterian congregation. This means caring for the members and selling the building. As I proceed with the orientation, I hide my pain around the inevitable decisions that have to be made. These are God’s people. This is sacred space. Now it is a matter of faithful people executing a process that is designed to be caring, compassionate, and conclusive. On December 31, 2018, Elm Street Presbyterian Church will be dissolved.

The building where the church existed for 99 years is now for sale. The church building is a sacred space. It is where children are baptized, adults are married, and all receive the Lord’s supper. In this sacred space, souls have been encouraged, sin has been forgiven, and the love of Jesus has been the answer to a multitude of life challenges. As this sacred space is placed on the market, the presbytery works with reverence and respect for all this building represents.

The buildings our congregations occupy present a challenge for our churches and presbytery. It is not just about churches that close. Think of the resources each congregation puts into its buildings. These resources include heating in the winter and cooling in the summer, not to mention landscaping, roofs, gutters, tuck pointing, painting, and other maintenance. As congregation budgets decrease, maintenance is deferred until a major repair is needed. Even congregations with building endowments struggle. They must balance funds spent on the building verses those spent for ministry and mission.

While our church buildings can be challenging, they also represent a major investment of financial resources, time, and personnel. How can we use this investment to create community space, as well as worship space? How can our congregations become home to other organizations and non-profits in the community we serve. Many of our congregations are already using their buildings in this way. This is not a solution to extend our existence as a church, but to bring impact in our community through our greatest resource.

In 2019 we will host a series of workshops around building use. The Presbyterian Foundation will lead these conversations as part of their Small Member Church Forums. I will be sure to have sessions directed to all of our congregations as well. Together, we can help one another figure out how to use these sacred spaces in our communities.

Blessings This Advent Season.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Movers & Stayers

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


This week, people will be coming and going to various destinations across the country. Marilyn and I will be driving to Chicago to have Thanksgiving at my sister’s home in the south suburbs. I am already getting the traffic reports which determine the days and times to avoid driving, not that it matters! You gotta go when you gotta go!

During the holidays, many people are returning home or visiting relatives and friends in a different part of the country. Pew Research came up with the following data regarding who moves, who stays, and where they go. The data is from 2008, so it is dated, but I’m sure many of the trends are still relevant.

  1. Nearly half of the adult residents in the Midwest say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown. This compares to one-third of those in the Western states.
  2. Cities, suburbs and small towns have more movers than stayers. Rural areas are more evenly split.
  3. Three-quarters of college graduates have moved at least once. College graduates also move longer distances and move more often than Americans with high school diplomas or less.
  4. Employment plays the biggest role in the decision to move. The most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved.
  5. People move less as they get older.
  6. Two career couples move less because it is more difficult to find work for both spouses in a new location.

For some of us these statements ring truer than for others. Let me share one more list of statistics from the same Pew study. They asked the question, “Where do you call home?” For U.S. born adults who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown:

  • 26% say it’s where they were born or raised.
  • 22% say it’s where they live now.
  • 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest.
  • 15% say it’s where their family comes from.
  • 4% say it’s where they went to high school.

How do these numbers help you understand the trends in your church? How can these trends help you to plan for your church’s future?

As you travel or host this Thanksgiving, may you be in the place you call home, or with people you call family and community. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, Love of God, and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you this Thanksgiving season.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Diagnosis

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


I had the greatest physician when I was in Milwaukee! She was from India, a Hindu who did community health clinics in the African American community, and she knew what to say to get my attention! After one of my check-ups, she wanted to make sure I was eating a healthy diet. She sent me to a nutritionist and said in a stern voice, “Don’t you start eating crazy on me, or we’re gonna have a problem!” I hear those words every time I want to gorge on sweets or fried foods. Her diagnosis changed my behavior.

We are coming to the end of the calendar year and it is an excellent time for congregations and sessions to perform a diagnosis. Now would be the time to schedule a planning retreat, review committees, and blow the dust off of the strategic plan to see if the church has been following it. The three questions asked in the book Holy Conversations by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann still apply. They are, “Who are we?”, “What has God called us to do or be?”, and “Who is our neighbor?” I would add a fourth question, “What do we do best?”

Congregations do many things from music, liturgy, day care, feeding ministry, various building uses, etc. Congregations are a bundled institution. They are more like newspapers with several items to attract readers: editorial pages, puzzles, comics, ads, etc. Another example is that congregations are more like Sears with clothing, lawnmowers, and refrigerators. What would happen if we unbundled ministries and committees? What if congregations separated all that they do, and then asked, “What do we do best?”

Perhaps 2019 can be the year of focus for your congregation. What if a congregation focused more on what it does best- worship, music, children’s education, etc. and enhanced that ministry. Perhaps that “thing” which the congregation is known for becomes the ministry focus which other new ideas orbit around. I’m not suggesting what churches should stop doing, but I’m suggesting churches should focus their energy, resources, and imagination. There was a time when congregations had the resources to be all things to all people, but for many that time has passed. Perhaps now is the time when churches need to be more focused and less scattered.

I’m interested to hear what your congregation plans are for the new year. Email me at choward@glpby.org or respond to this blog.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

 

Decent Disorder

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


Have you ever had one of those days where if anything could go wrong, it did? That is what Saturday’s presbytery gathering felt like for me! We started out by forgetting the cash box! This meant we couldn’t provide change for those who wanted to pay cash for lunch. Then there was the need for copies. Ordinarily all of the copies of documents we need are done at the office. We don’t expect the host church to provide a copy machine. There was a last minute replacement of a speaker, errors in the online binder, reports that went too long and presentation time that was too short. My anxiety level was going skyward! Then, Leigh Porter, our office manager who holds everything together, took ill and had to go to the doctor. Yikes!

And the presbytery commissioners and teaching elders handled every foul-up, mix-up, and screw-up with grace, patience, and humor. Instead of taking the opportunity to point fingers or make a case out of each problem, the presbytery just rolled with the punches!

We’ve come a long way!

This spirit of cooperation and compassion is critical as we journey further into a future that is both exciting and fearful. It is a future of ideas, innovation, and risk taking. We will balance faith with reflection. We will seek to take chances, create theories, and take actions that produce observable and measurable results. It is a balance of faith (belief) and science (what is measurable).

I want to thank our science presenters again. They were Dr. Randall Flanery from the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute, Dr. Sara Miles from the Presbytery of Milwaukee, and our own Ellie Stock. Sara and Ellie have provided a copy of their presentations. You can access them here:

I also want to thank the presbytery for electing me as your “permanent” Presbytery Leader. It is an honor to serve you. I have received tons of “congratulations” by email and social media. I believe elections in the church are God’s way of speaking through the body of Christ. I take your vote seriously. There is plenty I could say about the joy, opportunity, and challenge of being in Giddings-Lovejoy, but that would take another article!

I will just leave you with one comment, this presbytery has a tremendous gift that the world needs, hospitality. You know how to express kindness and embrace others. What I’m seeing now is that you (I guess I should say we!) are turning hospitality and kindness, that we’ve always expressed to outsiders, toward one another.

I pray we continue to move from criticism to flexibility; from judgement to embrace. With the right attitude we can achieve anything, in the name of Jesus Christ!

Rev. Craig M. Howard