From Limping to Leaping

Blog Post by

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


Several years ago, the son of a friend fell off of his bike and somehow broke his ankle. As a result, he had to wear a cast for several weeks. After the cast was removed, a strange thing happened. The little boy still walked with a limp. The ankle was perfectly healed. But the memory of the pain made him resist placing weight on the ankle. Even though he was perfectly healthy, the boy walked with a limp in fear of causing himself pain again.

As a presbytery, we have experienced many difficulties the past several years. There were times when presbytery gatherings were difficult to attend, staff may have been difficult to approach, and finances were short, resulting in promises and trust being broken.

In my first sermon to this presbytery, I apologized for the mistakes and problems caused by the presbytery staff. My hope was to spend 2017 rebuilding trust through transparency and relationships. The staff of the presbytery has attempted to be inclusive, as we have visited every geographic corner, made sure there is racial and theological diversity in leadership, and used the newsletter and other communication to make sure multiple voices are heard.

My hope is that 2018 will be the year we walk without a limp.

The presbytery is now fully staffed, fiscally sound, and ready to dream again. Presbytery Gatherings are energized, creative, and fun! We hope to move into our new space at the end of February. We are planning a farewell worship service for our building, sometime in January. This will mark a change in the way we plan and vision as a presbytery and as Presbyterians.

In 2018, I will continue to preach a future where Presbyterians will own less, control less, and will not have to be the leaders of every event we take part in. It is a future of partnerships. It is a future of collaboration with others, where we leverage the small amounts we have to make a big difference.

This means letting go of buildings, traditional programs, and less emphasis on bringing people into our space, and more emphasis of going into other spaces. The gospel of tomorrow is a gospel that is preached outside of the walls of the church; preached where the people are; preached where God is.

I look forward to fleshing out this missional gospel in 2018.

I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! It is a joy serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. I’ll write to you again in 2018!

Peace,

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Resilient Small Congregations

Blog Post by

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


Serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader has been a multi-dimensional journey. One of eye opening experiences I’ve had is learning about the many ways small church ministry happens in our presbytery.

Earlier this year, I created a graphic that placed each of our congregations in an “ecosphere.” This graphic went from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky. It showed congregations that skim on the waters, fly high like hawks, and soar like eagles. It also showed congregations that are “under water,” with some described as deep-water congregations. These are the smallest of the small congregations, averaging less than 25 in worship.

And yet, these small congregations had something to teach us. They have learned to survive, and some even thrive in deep water.

The past two weeks I have encountered three such faith communities. These are Elm Presbyterian in Alton Illinois, Wurdack Memorial in South St. Louis, and St. Andrews in the Princeton Heights area of St. Louis.

Elm has a beautiful sanctuary and a multi-generational worship with a strong music ministry. During worship, the musician went from Harp, to organ, to piano! It is a church with tremendous potential, but lacks consistent pastoral leadership because of its size.

St. Andrews makes it work by housing a Montessori school. This small congregation is able to maintain consistent pastoral leadership from the use of its building.

Wurdack birthed and nests an Evangelical Free church in its basement. Wurdack sees this growing church as their mission. They often worship and fellowship together. In addition, Wurdack has a steady stream of visitors because it stays connected to its community. Easter brings over 300 children to its Easter egg hunt!

At the ordination service for Joy Ridge on Sunday evening, I was moved by the words of Rev. Vicky Brown, as she gave the charge to Joy. Vicky said, “Reviewing a church’s annual statistical report says nothing about the depth of faith or the maturity of the members.  It says nothing about the ministries and the lives touched in the community.  Small churches deserve to have the same high quality, well-educated leadership that larger congregations enjoy.”

These are challenging words to our presbytery. Sadly, some small congregations may need to end their local ministry. But many others may be served with a slight boost from the presbytery to help them continue fruitful and faithful ministry in their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Advent Readings

Blog Post by

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


Sunday marked Advent, the beginning of the Christian year. Advent is a season of waiting, watching, and as Jesus said in Mark 13:37, a time to be awake. Each Advent and Lent, I take the opportunity to read a book a week. Reading for these two seasons is a discipline I picked up while serving as Executive Director of the presbytery of Milwaukee. Pastor Deborah Block gave me the idea through a sermon she preached.

This Advent season, I have chosen four books on a topic which has been front and center since my time as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. The topic is race. It is a topic that will not disappear if we look the other way. It will not just go away if we ignore it. It is relevant to every area of Giddings-Lovejoy, including all of St. Louis County, eastern Illinois, small city, rural and country areas of southern Missouri, and the city of St. Louis itself.

Racism is especially present where people of color are absent.

It is important that we continue to have conversations that lead to actions to dismantle systemic racism and white privilege. My work is to prepare Giddings-Lovejoy for a prosperous future; a future that will involve more people of color in leadership, and as members of our congregations. Getting to that future means learning and growing together.

Recently, Susan Andrews connected me with Elizabeth Zwoyer-McDonald, a member at Second Presbyterian church. Second has done several adult studies around race. Elizabeth pulled together an amazing collection of books. As a result, the Resource Center of the presbytery purchased over 60 books which we are now cataloging, and will be available to borrow soon.

Next year we will have a presbytery wide anti-racism training. It will be an exciting time of learning and growing together. The training is only a start. What is needed is a commitment from each leader and member of Giddings-Lovejoy to continue to read, attend seminars and workshops on race, and commit to ongoing conversations with people who are different that we are. Only through ongoing activity we will honor the words of Jesus and stay awake.

Here are my four books for Advent with Elizabeth Zwoyer-McDonald’s reviews:

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race–Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us by Benjamin Watson

An NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints and a widely read and followed commentator on social media, Watson has taken the Internet by storm with his remarkable insights about some of the most sensitive and charged topics of our day. Now, in Under Our Skin, Watson draws from his own life, his family legacy, and his role as a husband and father to sensitively and honestly examine both sides of the race debate and appeal to the power and possibility of faith as a step toward healing.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown

In the 1880s, after the U. S. Army’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the government continues to push Sioux Indians off their land. In Washington, D.C., Senator Henry Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in the United States in 1970. This account of how Native Americans were treated and how they were pushed off their land is based on eyewitness accounts and official records-with a focus on the thirty-year span from 1860 to 1890 The book is the first account told from the Native-American point of view.

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis & Jim Wallis

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, reignited a long-smoldering movement for justice, with many St. Louis-area clergy stepping up to support the emerging young leaders of today’s Civil Rights Movement. Seminary professor Leah Gunning Francis was among the activists, and her interviews with more than two dozen faith leaders and with the new movement’s organizers take us behind the scenes of the continuing protests. Ferguson and Faith demonstrates that being called to lead a faithful life can take us to places we never expected to go, with people who never expected us to join hands with them.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Bronzeville

Blog Post by

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


This week I went home to Chicago to visit with my family. While there, I toured the new church my home Pentecostal congregation just built. They are having their first service in the new facility on Sunday, which will seat 3500. They currently have 12,000 members. When I first came to the church in 1977 there were less than 200 members.

It is difficult to compare the growth of this mega-church with the decline of the Presbyterian denomination. But there are several differences that must be taken into consideration. This Pentecostal church is located in a community called Bronzeville. In 1910 when African Americans left the oppression of the South by railroad, Chicago was one of the Northern destinations. Unfortunately, they were forced to live in this one area of Chicago. Government redlining, city laws, and community contracts where whites agreed not to sell to blacks, created a huge ghetto. This area of about 1.5 square miles, reached its peak of over 75,000 African Americans in 1950. My Grandparents (who arrived around 1920) lived there. My mother was born there in 1933, and her youngest child (me) was born there in 1958.

As the city opened up and people scattered to different areas and communities, Bronzeville was always home. There are at least three mega-churches in Bronzeville. My Dad and brother who currently attend this Pentecostal church, live over 30 minutes away in the South Suburbs. Like other members of the church, they pass hundreds of congregations, as they drive through the streets of Chicago to worship in Bronzeville.

Are there ways Presbyterians can work with an African American mega-church to provide services for a community that Presbyterians are struggling to reach? I believe it is possible.

As Presbyterians, our future will be different than our past. It will be a future of partnerships and collaborations. I see a future where Presbyterians work with other denominations and other faith traditions to reach the mission field we are called to serve.

Some of our partners are already defined. We currently have a Formula of Agreement with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), UCC (United Church of Christ) and the Reformed Church of America. This means that any ordained pastor from these denominations can be installed to serve Presbyterian churches, and vice-versa.

I see a future where we will broaden our connections to include denominations and congregations outside of our reformed tradition, especially racial-ethnic churches. Working together, we can align the best of our faith traditions, and reach a more diverse population during this time of racial ethnic change in our society. Working with churches that are majority racial-ethnic, as well as non-profits, we can connect with people outside of our tradition, but inside of our mission field. We can share our grace-filled-gospel to new ears, and lead to a fresh way of being church that keeps us vibrant and relevant into the future.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Being Thankful

Blog Post by

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


I have almost completed my first year as your Transitional Presbytery Leader, and I just want to say, “Thank You.” There are so many things I can give thanks for, but I’ve limited myself to 10. Then, the Vanessa, Leigh, Janice, and Joy decided to jump in with their testimonies as well!

Ten Things Craig Gives Thanks For (In no particular order)

For my wife joining me in St. Louis after being apart for two years
For a roof over my head; being warm in the winter and cool in the summer
For the challenges and opportunities of this time in the life of the church
For a staff I respect and work well together with
For the hospitality and generosity of our congregations
For the many meals, laughs, and stories I’ve been a part of here in Giddings-Lovejoy
For readers who are honest, encouraging, and challenging
For colleagues in ministry whom I respect and admire
For the chance to pour my life into ministry
For the many sessions and congregations honestly struggling with their future
(Plus one for bonus!)
For the “yes” of God that leads to trust, and love of others

Vanessa Adds

For the joy of new beginnings
For the love of family and friends
For God’s abundant grace

Leigh Adds

For family
For a Christian workplace
For abundance

Janice Adds

For the beauty of the sun as it rises every morning, giving light to the hope of each day
For the enveloping strength of a hug from Thanksgiving reunion with friends and family
For the compassion and kindness reawakened in holiday spirit from strangers, in every walk of life

Joy Adds

For the gift of time to explore the wonders God puts before us
For the beauty of family and friends
For the positive future before the Presbytery

How about you? What are some things you would like to give thanks for?
Happy Thanksgiving from the Staff of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Truth

Blog Post by

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


I spent Sunday afternoon at St. Mark. It was the installation of their new pastor, Dr. David Burgess. The service was smooth, efficient, and worshipful. Mike Willock, our new presbytery moderator, led Dave in the installation questions without a hitch. What impacted me the most was the sermon by Dr. Jared Witt. He talked about the latest survey showing the continued erosion of White Christians in American. It is a decline we are experiencing in presbyteries across the country. Our presbytery exists in several cultural bubbles (we still have several churches located in neighborhoods and communities that are over 90% white) that are delaying the change, but it is coming our way. The surprise is that Jared didn’t come up with solutions, strategies, or plans. He stated these truths matter of fact, and challenged the tall steeple church to envision a smaller more faithful church future. This was a strong dose of truth.

On Saturday at the presbytery gathering, Dr. Deborah Krause taught an excellent Bible class, and then preached a powerful sermon from Mark 12:41ff on the widows offering. Deb showed how Jesus didn’t come to support the religious structure of his day. Instead he came to disrupt the religious system and challenge assumptions of what it means to be faithful, and what it means when the kingdom of God collides with the values of the empire. When the church is intertwined with the American culture, and supports it without reflection or without criticism; including the cultures of white privilege and racism, then the church is guilty. Deb summed it up using the slogan chanted by the St. Louis street protestors, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” This was a strong dose of truth.

Flash back one week ago Saturday. I was at Dardenne Presbytery church for a men’s gathering. Pastors Larry Maley, Cedric Portis, and myself led the group in conversations. About 80 men from Third Presbyterian church (100% Black) and Dardenne (99% white) came together to discuss the connection between the reformation 500 years ago, and the protest in St. Louis today. These were straight forward and difficult conversations. They discussed questions like, “If you woke up Black (or White if you’re Black) what would change in your life?” “Why don’t Black people talk about Black on Black crime instead of what the police are doing in Black communities?” One of the participant said, “White people have to stop painting the whole black community with one brush. We’re not all good, but we’re not all bad either.” These two communities coming together challenges our cultural norms of separation by race and class. Meeting together allowed truth to be shared.

Truth sharing is difficult. It removes the veneer we work so hard to maintain (wealth, class, prestige). But the truth is our tall steeples are strongly affected by the erosion of White Christian America and won’t be so tall in the future, our presbytery system is designed to let the “right” ones in and reward those who follow the rules, and people of color have a harder time being connected in our connected church.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell.

I will continue to support bringing people before the presbytery who are speaking truth. I will continue to support pastors and members who live out their truth on the streets and in the pulpits. I am committed to searching my own heart for courage to stand with the gospel, and grow into discipleship. Hopefully, as we share truth together, we will strengthen the ties that bind us as God’s children.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Moving of the Presbytery

On Thursday, October 19 the Vision Team voted to move the presbytery office from its current location in the Tower Grove area of St. Louis to Creve Coeur, Missouri. This is a shift away from a presbytery center in a historic building in St. Louis, to a presbytery office in West St. Louis County. Any move involves change, and change is often a mixed blessing. For some it will mean a closer location, easier access, and a better meeting environment. For others, it may mean loss of history, familiarity, and presence in St. Louis. As we move forward, I pray we demonstrate sensitivity to all areas of concern, as we take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

My hope is that this move will help us to become a more decentralized presbytery. Although there is plenty of meeting space in our new location, congregations can take this as an opportunity to host team and sub-team meetings. Furthermore, meeting in the office will be both in person and by tele-conference. This opens the way for members in the southern part of the presbytery, Illinois, and those much further away from St. Louis metro area to have more participation in the life and work of the presbytery. The selling of our building and moving to Creve Coeur is also an act of stewardship. It frees up resources we have been spending on building maintenance and upkeep.

If you have further questions please contact me choward@glpby.org. We are hoping to move into our new location in February 2018.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Power of One

Blog Post by:

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


Today we celebrate the 500th year of the reformation. On October 31 in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door. Luther’s work was the result of personal struggle with what it means to be righteous with God, and struggle with the Catholic church over the sale of indulgences. These indulgences were a way to purchase grace. The more a person paid, the more grace they received. Luther had enough of this corrupt practice, along with others, and the 95 thesis is the result.

What is amazing is that one person was able to break open the most powerful institutions of that time. Luther’s actions ushered in a protest movement, that became the protest-ant church. I recognize that Luther wasn’t the first person to push back against the Catholic church (Joan of Arc, John Huss and John Wycliffe are some examples), nor was he the only strong reformer (Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin come to mind). But Martin Luther exercised power. This one person lit the fires of the reformation. He is an example of what one person can do with imagination, organization, and a willingness to act.

Power is often shunned by ministers and faithful Christians because it is seen as negative or destructive. In reality, power is neutral. It can be used for good and used by those with honest and righteous purpose. In the challenging book, You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, Eric Liu believes we are again living in an age when one person can make a huge difference. However, this person must learn to utilize citizen power; They must learn to imagine, organize, and take action. He writes, “Citizen power is about identify and action in the collective: how we make change happen together.” He writes the book “for people who want to be change agents, not defenders of the status quo.”

Some believe another reformation is needed to shake the church out of its rut, and put it back on course to be God’s deliverer of the gospel. Perhaps the next Martin (or Marsha) Luther is among us now. If so, they would be wise to become literate in the use of power; including the power of the Holy Spirit as well as how to organize people for action. May we all sing the hymn, “Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?”

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Blowing Leaves of Culture

Blog Post by

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


This past weekend I took care of the leaves that had fallen in my yard. I did a wonderful job of raking and bagging. My yard was the cleanest on the block, at least for one day! The problem is my neighbor has a big tree that dumps leaves in his yard and into the street. He hasn’t raked anything so far. So, when the wind blows, all of his leaves end up in my yard! I have come to the conclusion that if I am to win the war on leaves, I must get in rhythm with my neighbor and the timing of his raking.

This incident helped me to better understand the church and culture.

Sometimes we believe that if we just get the right leaders, governance, have the finances and location, our congregations will prosper. But we must always consider the culture in which we live. Our culture influences us, and everyone that comes through our doors. This means the issues that affect our culture, are inside of our churches as well. They cannot be prayed away or theologized out of existence. No matter how much we read our Bibles (and we should read our Bibles!), our culture will also have a great influence on our values, thinking, and beliefs. Culture is like my neighbor’s leaves blowing into my yard. I will never have a clean yard if I only focus on my grass. I must take into consideration which way my neighbor’s leaves are blowing as well.

In the book, Transitional Ministry Today: Successful Strategies for Churches and Pastors, edited by Norman B. Bend Roth, there is a chapter entitled The Changing Landscape of the American Church by Cameron Trimble. Trimble believes the future of the church can be seen through the lens of culture, and how the American culture influences the church. He argues that in order to understand the future of the church, we should look at four forces in our culture and how they influence the church. These forces are resources, technology, demographics, and governance.

We have resources we have inherited from our fore-parents. This includes buildings, but also includes liturgy, denominational systems, seminaries, and finances. There are at least two ways to look at resources. We can believe our role is to conserve and preserve resources as a way of honoring those who gave them, built them, or developed them. This is using resources to focus on our past. Another way to use resources is to believe God is not static, but is also involved in change. We then use our resources to build our future, replacing rigid liturgy and polity with flexible structures that allow creative and innovative ideas to move forward. “The role of transitional ministers must be to rid congregations (and presbyteries) of needless administration, freeing them for permission-giving, innovative ministry.” What does a permission-giving ministry look like in your church? What does it look like in our presbytery?

God is living, present, and in the future. Let us prepare our congregations to join what God is doing in the world, as we become the future church.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

A Week in the Life of the Presbytery

 

 

 

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


This week the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is hosting a gathering of over 400 Presbytery Mid Council Leaders. This event, which will be held at the Hyatt by the Arch, will bring all of the executive presbyters, associate presbyters, Stated Clerks, presbytery moderators and vice moderators to St. Louis. As a presbytery, we will be very active in hosting and presenting. Our presbytery moderator, Erin Counihan will preach at worship on Saturday afternoon. She will be joined by the Cote Brillante Community Men’s Choral. Erin will also moderate a panel discussion entitled Faith in Action: Being Church in Times of Social Unrest. Our Designated Associate Leader, Vanessa Hawkins, will present a workshop entitled Building Community within Mid Council. Her workshop is the most attended workshop at the event! I will present a workshop on Models of Ministries for Mid Councils.

Hosting the Mid Council leaders is another opportunity for Giddings-Lovejoy to showcase hospitality, service, and ministry. The attendees will be able to talk with the leaders of our presbytery and better understand what is going on in St. Louis, as they prepare to bring their commissioners next year to General Assembly.

This event is happening as we plan the open Vision Team meeting to discuss the relocation of the presbytery office (see following notice). We are also learning what it means to support those who protest (see Vanessa’s article), while planning the details of moving the office.

Hosting national events on top of all of the normal activity of the office is a learning experience. I am blessed to have great staff and volunteers to help carry the load. It is a reminder that ministry can be an exciting and evolving activity. There are no two days the same.

Please continue to lift up the staff, presbytery, and our denomination in prayer. We cannot do this important work without your support.

Rev. Craig M. Howard