The Lens of Disaster

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

choward@glpby.org


My first career out of college was as a claims adjuster. As part of that work I learned how to build a house from the ground up. This lead me to work on a national CAT team, where I would be called to respond to catastrophes anywhere in the United States. While doing CAT duty, I saw the power of hurricanes and tornadoes. I witnessed large scale destruction of communities. I encountered people who had lost everything. To my surprise, these people extended hospitality and kindness toward me and my fellow workers. I was invited to more community pot-lucks, barbeques, and shrimp feast (This was in Galveston Texas) than I could attend.

Oftentimes disaster brings out our generous, compassionate, and supportive nature. Our churches organize mission trips and create disaster kits in the face of calamity. In the book, A Paradise Built In Hell: extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit makes this argument. Solnit challenges us to rethink the worst-case scenario of life, after society and our beloved institutions collapse. She writes, “If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”

The Parkland school shooting is an example of a disaster that is creating a new system and new order. Some argue that the teenagers are using the disaster for political means. I believe the disaster is creating a new way for the students to be citizens, comrades, and members of their learning community. The system broke down and failed them. The walkout planned for March 14th is symbolic of walking away from a failed institution. As a response they are recreating and re-envisioning what society and education can be like, and how they should act toward one another. Solnit writes, “The prevalent human nature in disaster is resilient, resourceful, generous, empathic, and brave.”

I am not trying to get into a gun debate, especially in Missouri! That is not what this article is about. I really think we should look at what these kids are doing, and how it resonates with our human nature, and a positive hope that is made alive through disaster.

The disaster in Parkland is delivering a group of students who are bold, brave, and inspiring. They are appealing to a deeper nature in all of us. A nature that goes beyond constitutional rights, cultural norms, and governance. The students are challenging all of us to rise up and put human life first, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Then all else will fall in line.

For more on the National School Walkout planned for March 14th, go to: https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalSchoolWalkout?src=hash

Rev. Craig M. Howard

8:30 Service

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

choward@glpby.org


 

I knew I was in trouble at the 8:30 worship service at Webster Groves because it began with fellowship and then moved into worship. The service is held in the fellowship hall, and not the sanctuary. The people are able to go back and forth to the food table and bring their muffin and coffee to the worship space. On this Sunday, the chairs are in a semi-circle around an area with a small podium. In back of the speaker’s area, is an elevated stage with a full band, along with spotlights and backlit banners. The dropdown screen displays much of the liturgy, including the music. I still look into the bulletin out of habit, only to see announcements and events that are going on at the church in the upcoming week.

What I loved most about the space is the flexibility. I can imagine different ways of experiencing preaching, communion, baptism, and music. I see different ways in which the chairs are arranged because the sermon is a dramatic expression. I not only envision praise music, but blue grass, jazz, and gospel.

According to Ed Zumwinkle, the pastor at Webster Groves, the 8:30 service developed some 20 years ago while the sanctuary was being renovated. Sunday morning service was moved into the fellowship hall. People became less formal, and the tight space created more intimacy. People began to dress differently; dismissing coats and ties and wearing jeans and fleece. When the renovation was completed, and the people returned to the sanctuary, some desired the informality and intimacy that had been created. The 8:30 service was birthed.

I spoke with a couple as I exited the church who were visitors and have been coming to Webster for over a year. They said they have never been to service in the sanctuary, and that this service fits them just right.

8:30 service is an example of space changing us. We are influenced by our environment. Space gives permission and opportunity to experience God differently. For some, this becomes a connectional space that is less cluttered, and more focused. And time matters too. Some people enjoy worshiping early. Others like the routine of a 10:00 or 11:00 service.

Are there spaces in your building that can be used to usher in a different way of experiencing God? Are you already doing alternative worship experiences, along with a traditional program? I would like to hear how it is going.

Rev. Craig Howard

Lifeline of Hope

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

choward@glpby.org


A couple of weeks ago I received a daily devotional from one of our pastors (a huge thank-you for ideas, notes, and articles you all send me!). The devotional is called The Cottage and is written by Diana Butler Bass. This particular article was writing in the wake of the stock market drop, and Diana compared it to the decline in the mainline church. I know you’ve heard the numbers and seen the statistics for our denomination, and our presbytery. Diana’s point though, is that she is tired of the charts and trend lines. She writes, “People are sick of trends. We are searching for lifelines, not looking for trend lines.”

We need a lifeline in Giddings-Lovejoy. And I believe our Presbytery Gatherings can be the lifeline we are looking for.

Our Presbytery Gatherings are changing. On Saturday you will notice a distinctive shift in the format of the gathering. We are organized for change, and the key to change in our local congregations lie in the hearts and minds of our ruling elders. This is why we are inviting all ruling elders who serve on session, to this Presbytery Gathering. Brian McLaren will motivate and challenge us. He will help us to ignite the flame of passion for ministry. It is a message all leaders need to hear, especially those who are responsible for the direction of our congregations. The workshop leaders will speak to our hearts and share ideas we can take back to our congregations and make a difference.

Vanessa Hawkins often reminds me that the presbytery is in a season of resurrection, and we get to decide what that will look like. We need to be aware that in the midst of statistical decline, many, many things are going well. We are designing our Presbytery Gatherings to be a lifeline of hope, and a reminder that God is still active in the world. Our gatherings will remind us that we are being invited into the ministry that God is already doing.

If you haven’t registered, there is still time to be part of our Presbytery Gathering on Saturday at Webster Groves. The cost for non-commissioner ruling elders is only $20. I invite you to the learning, fellowship, sharing, and oh yes, we’ll do some business too!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Sowing Seeds of the Spirit

 Blog post by the Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


Lent comes from the old English word “Lenten,” meaning “spring.” Lent is an invitation to a springtime for the soul. It is forty days to remember what it’s like to live by God’s grace alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves. My Lenten practice is not one of giving up something. Instead, it is a practice of nurturing my mind and soul by reading a book each week.

This year I am experiencing a strong yearning for internal change. Perhaps it is because I want to lead a culture of change in our presbytery, and I am learning that the first step of change has to come from within me. I have to ask myself the difficult question of how I must act and be different, in order for the church to be different.

In the book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, Robert E. Quinn writes, “Deep change requires new ways of thinking and behaving; change that is major in scope, discontinuous for the past and generally irreversible. Deep change means surrendering control.”

Unfortunately, we do not have the option of determining when and how the Spirit moves. I know that just because I want to experience deep change, doesn’t mean it will happen.

Richard Foster, in the book Disciplines of the Spirit writes, “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all (the farmer) can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. (The farmer) cultivates the ground, plants the seed, waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain…This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.”

This Lent, let’s sow seeds of the Spirit through prayer, meditation, reflection, writing, walking, or however you get in touch with the divine. May God bless us with a harvest of Spiritual fruit, and bring the needed change in the church and inside each of us.

Craig’s Lenten Reading 2018

  • God Hunger: Discovering the Mystic In All of Us– John Kirvan
  • The Sabbath– Abraham Joshua Herschel
  • Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives– Wayne Muller
  • Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box– The Arbinger Institute
  • A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster– Rebecca Solnit
  • Maximizing the Triple Bottom Line: Through Spiritual Leadership– Louis W. Fry and Melissa Sadler Nisiewicz

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

 

Service From The Soul

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


On Saturday morning it all came together. The presbytery office hosted a celebration of the work and ministry in Tower Grove. After the celebration, we had a called Presbytery Meeting. Close to 60 people came out to fellowship, tour the building, talk about the past, worship, and imagine a new future for the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.

What caught my attention is how well the staff worked together. Vanessa helped Leigh with the kitchen and set-up. Jennifer helped Joy with handouts and operating the PowerPoint presentation. Janice moved up and down the stairs doing copies, photos, and picking up loose ends.

The presbytery has hired good people. Vanessa, Leigh, Janice, Joy, and Jennifer can stand on their own, do the work they were hired to do, and do it well. But good leadership means taking gifted individuals and forming them into a team. This is done by shifting the focus from the individual, to nurturing relationships between individuals, and the organization.

Teamwork goes beyond individual capability. Being in relationship means moving beyond skills and utilitarian function. Relationships must include seeing staff as people; people with hearts, souls, desires, and dreams. Good leadership is able to knit together these deeper parts of the staff, workers, and volunteers, so they work seamlessly together for the mission and vision of the church.

In the book, Leading In a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan writes, “When individual soul is connected to the organization, people become connected to something deeper- the desire to contribute to a larger purpose, to feel they are part of a greater whole, a web of connection.”

Becoming part of a web of connection is one of the reasons people join churches, serve on session, and go on mission projects. This is what the people who were gathered together on Saturday talked about; this is why they volunteered to work at the presbytery center.

When people experience a soul connection with the church; when staff and volunteers are serving from their souls, it moves people beyond their “jobs” and inspires them to do what is best for the presbytery and church.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Take the Long View

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


 At last count I have over 100 relatives. Yet, I am the only Presbyterian in my entire family. This includes my children, siblings, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I have looked into my family history and gone back to 1865. Not one Presbyterian is mentioned. This is why the story my mother would tell about the Presbyterian church is so prominent.

I grew up in a household of stories. My Mother would tell stories of her childhood, and what life was like in the neighborhood ghetto of Bronzeville, Chicago. This is where the majority of African Americans coming to Chicago during the great migration were forced to live. It was densely packed and desperately poor. But I never knew of the poverty when listening to my mother’s stories.

She talked about her seven brothers and two sisters. She spoke of the crazy antics her cousins would do. She shared stories of my father running the gauntlet through her brothers (physically running!), just to see her.

And she talked about the Presbyterian Church.

Just outside of the cramp spaces of her neighborhood, stood Sixth Presbyterian church (now Sixth Grace Presbyterian). Each summer, Sixth would invite the kids from Bronzeville to learn, play, and have fun in their summer youth program. My mother often spoke of this needed reprieve with great fondness. My childhood memories of Mom sharing stories about Sixth Presbyterian warms my heart even now.

Fast forward to my adulthood. After almost 20 years as a member of the Pentecostal Church which my mother belonged to and loved, I felt called to join the Presbyterians. I went to Mom, hoping for her acceptance and blessing. Once again, she shared her story of Sixth, and how much that meant to her growing up. Then she said, “Craig, I don’t care if you go, just stay with Jesus.”

So many of our congregations serve children and youth with summer programs, Easter events, and Christmas dramas. We are often discouraged by the small return on investment of our time and energy. These children rarely come back as members. I don’t know why my Mother never joined Sixth. I have to believe it had something to do with her being close to her grandmother, who belonging to a Holiness church which Mom attended with her.

But, perhaps we should take the long view. I am a living witness of the value of a long-term investment. What Sixth did for those poor children in Chicago back in the 1930s and 40s have produced a strong Presbyterian adult in 2018. I love the Presbyterian church and am grateful for the warmth in my heart that was created by faithful people; people who had a vision to bring a little joy in the lives of local children.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Two Churches

“The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance. The opposite of scarcity is enough. Dynamic leaders recognize that they have enough to do what God is calling them to do.”
-Rev Craig Howard at FUPC Leadership Summit

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


This weekend I experienced two churches in two different parts of our presbytery.

Imagine asking 40 leaders in your church to come out on a Saturday morning for plenaries and workshops. As they arrive there are quality donuts, good coffee, and fruit. There is lively conversation around tables as people interact with the information and with each other. Plenty of laughter fills the room, people feel free to speak, and recognize they are being heard by the pastor and other leaders. This was Saturday morning at First United Belleville in Belleville Illinois, where Pastor Rob Dyer and I presented workshops.

Something is happening at First United Belleville. There is remarkable energy along with a diversity of age and race. What strikes me is the willingness of people to participate and be involved with the vision of the church. They are making it happen, and the presence of a pastor who is a dynamic leader, makes the difference.

Now, switch to Sunday. I experienced another dynamic and charismatic pastor. Karl Hauser is the new pastor at Southminster Presbyterian. Karl and Jennifer (who is also a minister of Word and Sacrament) arrived here from Northern California. Last week they closed on their home and are settling into the community with their 15 month old toddler, Benny. Karl is already making a difference in the church with his creative ministry style and personal engagement.

I have to say a few words about Benny! He is a curious, active, toddler, who is musically inclined. Benny has a lot to say, but we can’t understand his words yet! As I watched him speak “baby talk,” I began to wonder about all he will teach his parents about life and the world as he sees it.

Southminster (and the presbytery) is like Benny. They are learning a new way of being church, as they articulate God’s dream for them. This future of words-not-yet-completely-formed, will not be a straight line from the present, but it will curl, dip, and dive! It is a future of hope and excitement as seen through a new lens. God is working with and through the congregation, and they have elected the right person to lead them.

Two churches. Two histories. Two futures. The common thread is energy and leadership. It is a great time to be part of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Children

Steelville Presbyterian
2017 Confirmation Class

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


On Sunday I was the keynote speaker for Webster Groves community celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a wonderful and full program. What made the event outstanding were the presentations of the children. A large elementary age children’s choir sang two songs. Later, a group of teenagers sang with tight harmonies and strong emotion.

While the children were getting organized to sing, some were nervous, others laughing, while others were just being obedient. The occasional children’s cough could be heard (it is flu season!). Just seeing them in their bright orange t-shirts and black slacks warmed my heart.

Having children present in our homes and in our congregations, makes a difference. My youngest daughter turns 25 in April. I do not have grandchildren (I’ve let each of my daughters know that my time is running out- no pressure!). I haven’t had to “kid proof” my home in over 15 years!

In Milwaukee, I met an activist who wanted to connect with the presbytery. She had a four year old boy. I thought I’d try convincing her to attend one of my congregations. She asked if the church was “child friendly.” She said she needs a crying-out-loud-running-in-the-aisles-hiding-under-the-pews child friendly church!

The presence of children changes our worship, the structure of our meetings, the content of our curriculum, and what we find meaningful. Children force us to take seriously the economy and ecology. We are forced to think about the financial safety net they will inherit, the poisons we are dumping into the water and air, and the condition of the earth we are leaving for them.

Children bring energy, and mistakes that demand forgiveness. Children remind us that the things we valued and thought were so important when we were young, can dissolve like sugar in coffee, and God still loves us, and life goes on.

I encourage our congregations to make your church a home for children. By doing ministry for children, we open our hearts for God’s grace in our lives.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Ruling Elders Rule

Ruling Elder Installation Presbytery of Baltimore

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


 

I come from a family of bishops. My great-grandfather was a bishop of several Holiness churches along the east-Texas border with western Louisiana. My father became a bishop of the same Holiness organization. My brother became a bishop of Pentecostal churches in Michigan.

I wanted nothing to do with bishops. This is one reason I became Presbyterian!

Presbyterian polity believes in a shared governance. Congregations are led by pastors and sessions. As moderator of the session, the pastor has great influence, but the Book of Order is clear that ruling elders who serve on the session, are the leaders of the congregation as well. “The session shall have responsibility for governing the congregation . . . so that the congregation is and becomes a community of faith, hope, love, and witness (Book of Order G.3.0201).”

Ruling Elders occupy a unique place in the life of the church. Many of them serve the church while working a secular job: one foot in the world and one foot in the church. Ruling Elders understand theology at a pragmatic level. This means faith in action. Sessions can be a place where people bring skills and gifts that are enhanced by their work experience, and apply them to the challenges of the church.

If we are going to have vibrant congregations in our presbytery, we need strong, knowledgeable, and faithful ruling elders on our sessions. These are the dynamic leaders our mission statement is calling for.

Leadership training, small group ministry, and stewardship training are just some educational opportunities our ruling elders should be a part of, along with our pastors. Creativity and innovative input from ruling elders on session is what will keep a congregation pushing for excellence in ministry, while expanding the work of mission in the world.

As we prepare for 2018, ruling elder training in each congregation is a must. We have resources in the presbytery office, as well as materials on the denomination’s website. Let’s make sure 2018 is the year ruling elders rule!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Presbyterian Family

 

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


Happy New Year!

In 2018 I invite, entreat, encourage, and request that each person in the presbytery step outside of their congregational box and get involved in an event, meeting, gathering, or worship service at the presbytery, synod, or national level. The opportunities are numerous, and the experience will change your thoughts and hearts about the health of our presbytery, and denomination.

GA 223 will be held in St. Louis, June 16 – 23. This is an excellent time to volunteer and be a part of the larger Presbyterian family. I’ve attended every GA in the past 18 years. As a Presbyterian, it is an experience that should not be missed.

In additional to this national event, 2018 will be an exciting and experimental year for our presbytery gatherings. The new Presbytery Planning Team is looking for creative ways for us to learn, fellowship, worship, and conduct cooperative business together. Our February 24 gathering will be held in conjunction with Faith365 at Webster Groves. The format will be different, and will include a nationally known plenary speaker, Brian McLaren. If you are not familiar with Brian, watch him here. In addition, there will be workshops on the topic Moving your passion from your heart to the world. The event is free for all commissioners (except lunch is $10). However, I am encouraging all members of sessions to attend as well. The price for session members will be discounted, and scholarships are available. I want everyone who feels the Spirit calling them to be present for these workshops and plenary, to be able to attend.

Finally, when was the last time you attended worship in our presbytery, outside of your congregations? Well, you will have many opportunities in January and February! There will be several pastor installations in the first two months of the year in Giddings-Lovejoy. The ordination and installation of a pastor is a presbytery event. All members of the presbytery are invited to attend and take part in the worship experience. It is so encouraging to the installed pastor and congregation when people from outside of their church are present, singing, praying, and letting them know we are a connected church. All services are listed on the presbytery calendar.

It is a joy to serve as your Transitional Presbytery Leader, and I look forward to writing, visiting, teaching, preaching, and just being with you in 2018!

Peace,

Rev. Craig M. Howard