Fruit of the Church

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


I spent Sunday afternoon this past Memorial Day weekend at Antioch Presbyterian Church in Cyrene, MO. Antioch celebrated its 200th year as the first Cumberland Presbyterian church west of the Mississippi. Antioch is PC(USA) today and part of Missouri Union Presbytery. Missouri Union sits right above ours and further west into Missouri. Until recently, Antioch was in a yoking relationship with Providence Concord Presbyterian Church in Vera, Missouri. For many years each church had worship with their shared pastor twice a month.  However, for the past 30 or so years their shared pastors have led worship in both churches every week.  They would celebrate special occasions together. My spouse, Marilyn Gamm, was raised in Providence Concord. 

Today, Antioch has 5 to 6 members on a given Sunday. Yet over 80 people showed up for this celebration! The church was packed with people crammed in and standing along the walls. Former pastor, Rev. Ann Collins Wasson, gave an excellent and encouraging sermon. As I absorbed the fellowship, music, sermon, and worship, I kept looking at the board on the wall that announced 5 people in church this morning and 6 people last week. If this church has only 5 members, where did this throng of masses come from?

The 80 plus people who took part in the celebration are the fruit of the church. These are generations of children who have grown up and moved across the country. The evangelism strategy of Antioch and Providence Concord was to baptize, teach, and confirm the next generation of church leaders. The results are leaders spread abroad with three Ministers of Word and Sacrament and countless Ruling Elders serving in churches today.

Through the work of generations of faithful people, Antioch and Providence Concord have a plentiful harvest of leaders who are building the next generation of leaders in the church. Just as these leaders did not end up at either of these congregations, the children and young people we are nurturing in our congregations today will probably leave the nest and not return.

Yet, we should value the on-going work and ministry for this future church. Every Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, confirmation class, and various youth activities are placing the DNA of God’s church into the hearts and minds of leaders who will work and live beyond our location and even our lifetime. There will be a future church. The architects are in our nurseries and youth groups today. We are planting seeds that will develop and grow into a harvest for God’s kingdom.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Blame

Blog Post by

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


As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. John 9:1-4

I once worked for a bad boss in an anxious organization. We were under deadlines and he would take up to a week to return an email. He was often out of the office when I was pressured and needed his permission before I could act. Of course, he didn’t answer his cell phone either! Projects were late, pressure increased, and going to work became a nightmare.

As I blamed him for everything that went wrong, I asked myself, “How am I and the rest of the team contributing to this problem?”

It is easy to blame the one in charge (or the least vulnerable person in the office), but we often fail to ask how we contribute and maintain the anxious dysfunctional system that exists around us. Scapegoating is a sign that a system is anxious.

A leader in an anxious system is tempted to emotionally react and not patiently respond to problems and crises. My boss reacted by hiding and being secretive. In Uproar: Calm Leadership for Anxious Times, Peter Steinke lists other common reactions by leaders in a system with chronic anxiety:

  1. emotional reactivity replaces careful thought
  2. the herding instinct is strong (circle the wagons, strength in numbers, groupthink)
  3. blame displacement (finding a scapegoat)
  4. wanting a quick fix (for the reduction of unpleasant anxiety)
  5. weakened leadership (failure to take a stand and disappoint some segment of the system)
  6. secrecy
  7. invasiveness (boundary violations).

We are living in difficult times for the life of the church. Congregations are bombarded with moral and ethical issues, divided along political lines, struggling to balance budgets, pressured to gain membership, and maintain older buildings. For congregations searching for pastors, they find the pipeline to be dripping and not flowing as fewer and fewer young and geographically mobile people are entering seminary. It is easy to see why congregations and other non-profits would be anxious.

Our presbytery is an anxious system as well. As the presbytery leader, I try to be thoughtful, a patient listener, and clear in my thinking. But there are times I react and take an immature route. I am constantly reminded how being in a web of anxiety causes leaders to take one of the seven choices listed above.

My prayer is that the various ministry contexts in which our pastors and leaders serve develop a mature long-term approach to its challenges, and our pastors and leaders learn to respond with maturity, thoughtfulness, and gravity to the crises they face.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Connected Church

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


 The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love. G-1.0102

At the last Presbytery Gathering, we tried something new. We invited commissioners and participants to come down on Friday and stay overnight for Saturday’s Gathering. On Friday afternoon, the Peace Park of First, Cape Girardeau, was dedicated. The service was open to the public. The audience was filled with church members, Presbyterians who had arrived early for the Saturday gathering, local people who support the church, onlookers, and those just passing by.

It was a beautiful event that included the unveiling of two statues that were created by local artists. Rev. Ellen Gurnon, the new pastor at First, gave a stirring prayer. All hung around to enjoy snacks, music, fellowship, the statutes, and the beautiful garden.

The Peace Park is a testament of First’s commitment to the community that surrounds it. The congregation has created a space where people can just hang out with one another in the shadow of the church. There is a playground where kids can play safely. I can envision people on blankets enjoying one another while the children play. All in the name of peace. All in the name of Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.

What brought gladness and peace to my heart that day was the fellowship of congregations and support of the presbytery for this small congregation in southern Missouri over 2 hours from St. Louis.  It spoke to the core of what it means to be Presbyterian and what it means to be a presbytery.

Being presbytery means being connected to one another, supporting one another, and showing up for one another. Sometimes it may be inconvenient and to do so may even temporarily disrupt our lives. But this is the core of who we are. Being on committees and teams, attending meetings, making time to serve the local congregation and the larger church. These are also ways we live out our Presbyterian ethos.

I dream of a day when larger congregations in St. Louis and Illinois show up for events of smaller congregations in other parts of Missouri and Illinois. In this dream, smaller congregations show up for things at larger congregations as well. They each show up to learn and to have fellowship. It is not about one who is wealthy giving to another who is in need. As we tap into God’s abundance, we realize each has something to give to the other. Distances are crossed in both directions because true ministry is a gift exchange. This is a dream within our grasp. I saw a clear demonstration of this in Cape Girardeau. Perhaps our presbytery can be a garden of peace, where young, old, large, small, and all flavors of Presbyterians and others can fellowship and play. Let’s make this happen all over our presbytery!

Rev. Craig M. Howard