Porous Boundaries

 

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


I received a call from a presbytery executive in Illinois. He was looking for a pastor in a small town and realized the church was across the bridge from a church in Giddings-Lovejoy that was also seeking a pastor. We talked about how difficult it has been to find pastors willing to go to rural areas. It is not just because of the location. We have to consider the lifestyle and family of the pastor too. As we talked, we realized that if we could find someone willing to serve several congregations, we would have a better chance of paying them well, giving them a choice of places to live, and increase the probability of finding good schools and places where a spouse could work. And here is the twist: In order to make this happen, we would have to cross presbytery boundaries. Suddenly the boundaries we drew back in 1983 to define Giddings-Lovejoy and Southeast Illinois would have to become porous in order for us to attract the best leadership.

I also received an email from someone who is writing an article on the future of Presbyterian ministry in 2020. The writer wanted to know what vision I have for Giddings-Lovejoy as we head into the new year. My immediate thought was that I have a vision for us to become one Presbytery.

This vision of one presbytery has not changed since I first arrived in St. Louis. What is changing, however, are the boundaries I envision for ministry. I want Giddings-Lovejoy to realize the gifts we have in our presbytery and the wonderful things we can accomplish together. But I also want us to see other presbyteries touching our borders and the possibilities we have working together across boundaries.

Perhaps we need to also look at other boundaries we have created. As I seek leadership on the geographic edges of the presbytery, I am looking at other denominations that we are in communion with as well. Perhaps the solution to our Presbyterian problem can be found in ELCA Lutheran, United Church of Christ, or Reformed Church. Part of the challenge of our church may be a result of limited thinking and the silos and compartments in which we place ourselves. It may be time to bust out of these boxes and experience the abundance that is already in our midst.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Liminality

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


September 4th was our anniversary. Marilyn and I celebrated 15 years by purchasing a house in Ellisville. It is a great idea, very romantic, and a whole lot of work! These past two weeks I have been moving from my house in Ballwin, into our home in Ellisville. The distance is only 10 minutes, which makes it worse! This is because we figured it would be easy to go back and forth between houses: bringing and cleaning, lifting up and putting down, boxing and arranging. Each day things get better. I can find my belt now!

We have been living between two homes, and it feels like living between two worlds. It is a familiar feeling because I and the leaders in the presbytery, feel as though we are living in this way every day. During a conversation with some pastors from my generation, we talked about the many things seminary didn’t teach us! Boilers, roofs, and septic tanks came to mind. I didn’t know I would have to know so much about real estate, taxes and finance! The list could go on.

The preparation we needed was not to equip us for all of the details of the ministry, but for liminality. Liminality describes the in-between spaces we live into as we lead and serve the people of God. Liminality means learning to be comfortable with uncertainty, pushing ahead without knowing the results, and risking different approaches to problems. Experiencing liminality is feeling off balance and unsure where the next step is on the foggy path we are taking. But sometimes the path appears as we take the step.

Liminality not only applies to pastors, chaplains, teachers, and other leaders, but it applies to those in the pews, the hospital, and school room. We are all living in changing times, and we are all affected by them.

Now is when we also feel the grace and presence of the God who said, “I am who I am” (or I will be who I will be). God is a God of change, and at the very nature of this changing God is love and grace. We need both of those arms of God to embrace us as we move forward in the path the Spirit is calling us to take.

Look! I just found my socks! I get the feeling things will turn out alright on this move!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Are you Qualified for Matthew 25?

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


I was a track athlete in high school and college. I remember my first attempt to go down state. I was on a relay team, and we didn’t do well. I was feeling discouraged and my coach reminded me that I’d already qualified for state in the 440 yard dash (now it’s the 400 meter dash! I’m dating myself). I was elated! I was headed down state for the first time!

At our last Presbytery Gathering we were introduced to Vital Congregations. This program was created by Katherine Threadgill, our speaker and worship leader for the gathering. Creating vital congregations is one of the three pillars of the Matthew 25 initiative which the presbytery is implementing for 2020. The three pillars are systematic poverty, structural racism, and congregational vitality. And chances are, many of our churches already qualify!

When PC(USA) announced this initiative, it felt as though they’d been listening in on what we are already doing in Giddings-Lovejoy! We have several congregations committed to the elimination of hunger (systemic poverty). Our Dismantling Racism and Privilege team is challenging congregations and individuals to identify white privilege and combat racism in our churches and communities (structural racism). We have congregations signed up for Ministry Architect, Partners for Sacred Places, and several participated in the Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations initiative (congregational vitality). When it comes to poverty, racism, and congregational vitality, our presbytery is all over these!

The goal for 2020 is to improve upon what we are already doing. Let’s move beyond feeding people, for example, and build relationships and friendships with the people who come to eat at our churches. Let them know they are as welcome to Sunday service as they are to Wednesday night supper. Racism is present throughout the cities and towns our presbytery serves. How do we stretch beyond conversations in our buildings around race to influencing public policy and positions our communities hold? Perhaps being a vital congregation will mean doing mission and evangelism; reaching out and inviting in.

As your session plans for ministry in 2020, think seriously about being a Matthew 25 congregation. Chances are, you already qualify!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Competition about Compassion

Blog Post by
Janice McMillen
Communications Associate
jmcmillen@glpby.org


I am a competitive person and was raised to be so, but only in team sports. In my everyday life I compete against myself, and I get that from my dad. He challenged us daily by asking, “what did you do to help someone today?” and if we couldn’t immediately answer, he would continue with, “I am disappointed – you had the opportunity to help someone today and you didn’t.”  That was how my dad disciplined. He used his voice. Those words, in addition to my competitive drive, made me work harder to address my need to be a better person.

That is what I love about the 2019 Presbytery wide challenge of addressing Hunger Action as a body of faith. It is a competition of and in compassion. Our churches are mostly filled with die hard sports fans, but we also have equally competitive, yet compassionate ministries.   Win – Win!

Recently we announced that we have 34 of our 76 congregations addressing hunger in their communities in some manner. Not quite 50% – but a huge jump from the 7 that we had at the beginning of the year.

Our congregations were challenged and being the competitive compassionate people that they are, they stepped up to share with our denomination what they were already doing for the most part. We didn’t ask that they do more, rather we asked them to report what they are already doing…from hosting or volunteering at food pantries to community gardens, from backpack programs to meal nights, from Christmas food boxes to writing politicians, and more.   

Is your church a Hunger Action Congregation yet? There are still 42 that are not accounted for on the list.  If you aren’t sure, the list can be found here.

If you are not listed, please reach out to your church leadership and see what you can do to make our denomination aware of your work. Continue that competitive compassionate drive until all our congregations announce hunger has no place in their communities. You see, when we address what we already know about our congregations, our communities, and our world, we can improve the world around us.

If you have questions about the process, you can find the information about Hunger Action here, or email or call me and I will help! I am competitive enough that I would love to lead our entire denomination in combatting hunger, right here in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, with ALL our congregations as a part of the team.

Peace,

Janice McMillen