Connected Church

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

 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

Shining at GA

COLA Co-Moderators, Rev. Cedric Portis and Rev. Carol DeVaughan

Rev. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader

I’m going to need my Thesaurus to find the proper words to describe the job our Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) is doing at General Assembly. I will need help finding words to thank all of the volunteers who are participating in GA. Let me start with outstanding, and admirable. I have to add fantastic and incredible.

The Friday night Welcome to St. Louis event, which had never been done in the history of GA, was a sensational success. The music, food, and raffle created a spirit of fellowship and family. This was the goal that Carol Devaughn had when she came up with the idea. We believe this will become part of GA going into the future.

Saturday Worship was extraordinary. The theme of water was brilliant. Thank you Susan Niesen. The reading of the scripture was astounding. The choir was angelic. The dance and singing of “Wade in the Water” thrilled the hearts of the worship participants. I have been attending GA since the year 2000. This was one of the best worship services I’ve been a part of.

Allow me to give a shout out to the video! We have a link on the website, but you can view it here. The video helped to put Giddings-Lovejoy in context. It lifted up our diversity, challenges, opportunity, and the way we have come together as a presbytery. Great idea. Great job.

To all of the churches who hosted convention attendees during Sunday morning worship, thank you! The busses arrived back from the congregations with people full of smiles and joy! Thank you all so much!

Did you attend Bible Study? On Monday morning Deborah Krause created the theological template for becoming a 21st century church and presbytery. Tuesday morning Raj Nadella followed her lead on Tuesday morning. Our souls and spirits were fed. Their teaching was a feast in the Holy Spirit!

And then there was the march on Tuesday. Hundreds of Presbyterians marched from the convention center to the Justice Center to bail our kin out of jail! The denomination raised over $47,000 and the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy raised over $2,000 through the giving button on the webpage. Erin Counihan had a crazy dream for a public action. Well, this is what God can do with our dreams.

I wish I could name and thank everyone for your work, help, and efforts. I hope to meet and greet all of the volunteers while you are serving at the convention center. I am so proud of you. I am so proud, happy, and humbled to be your presbytery leader. Giddings-Lovejoy has become a shining light of what a presbytery can do when we all work together.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

From the Middle East to Missouri

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

Next week I will be traveling to Israel. I have the opportunity to lead a group of 15 African American clergy as part of Interfaith Partners For Peace. This 10 day trip will allow me to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, business people, politicians, and educators who are building bridges for peace in this difficult part of the world. I went on a similar trip last year as part of a group of clergy and rabbis. My purpose and rationale is to learn how people with deep disagreements, histories, and narratives, find ways to live together.

As I leave Missouri, I am going at a time the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has issues a travel advisory for people of color who are coming to this state. Even though African Americans have a 75% greater chance than White people of being stopped by the police while driving, the advisory is pointing at a larger issue, SB43. This bill makes it more difficult for an employee to prove racial or gender discrimination. The bill also affects whistleblowers and the amounts they can collect. According to the Governor’s office, the bill is considered business friendly, and reduces the amount of frivolous lawsuits. I have yet to see statistics on the number of discrimination lawsuits being filed in Missouri, and I have not found how many of these lawsuits are deemed “frivolous.” By the way, the representative who submitted the original bill is being suited for racial discrimination in his small business. Business friendly indeed!

Traveling in certain parts of Missouri brings a sickening feeling in my stomach. I am less worried about traveling to the Middle East than I am driving to some of our Presbyterian churches. I have not been stopped by the police, called obscene names, or treated with any disrespect. But I know this reality is present; maybe at the next gas station I’m at, or restaurant I sit down in for coffee. There is fear on Missouri highways for African Americans, and it is palpable.

Tomorrow I will be standing with others at Canfield, in memory of Michael Brown’s shooting. His murder sparked protests and violence. But it also created the Ferguson Commission that has several strategies for approaching racism in our state.

Middle East tensions, NAACP travel advisory, Michael Brown. Could this all be connected? Perhaps it is about how we are different people, and how we can choose to live together in peace, or in bitterness and violence. Maybe the Middle East can teach the Midwest about the struggle for peaceful coexistence, and the consequences when we fail.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Leader




I spent the weekend in California visiting Marilyn. We spent our time enjoying the wonderful weather and the local eateries. One of my favorite haunts is the “In-N-Out” burger joint. This west coast chain opened in 1945 as a drive through only burger restaurant. Today, In-N-Out can be found in California, Texas, Arizona, and Utah. Now, there is indoor seating to enjoy the meal, as well as the drive-through. 

 What strikes me about In-N-Out is their menu. It only contains three items: burger (single or double), fries, and a drink. Then there are the combinations: single burger with fries and a drink, single cheese burger with fries and a drink, double burger with fries and a drink, double cheeseburger with fries and a drink. 1-2-3 or 4. That’s it. The only question is “Do you want onions?” Furthermore, In-N-Out makes delicious hamburgers! No nuggets, no salad, no wraps. Simple. And they are highly successful. There is always a line inside and cars circle around the building’s drive-through.

 And here is the connection: The primary attraction for millennials to congregations is simplicity and authenticity.  

 In his blog “Reaching Millennials,” Jefferson Bethke writes, “You don’t need the fog and lights to get young people to show up at your church.” He goes on to write about the driving need millennials have for authentic prayer, and theologically sound and biblically based preaching. In the Huffington Post, David Briggs summed it up in the KISS principal: Keep it spiritual, stupid. He writes, “(Millennials) are looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way.” 

As we seek ways to draw younger people to our congregations, perhaps the answer to moving forward is looking backward. The answer may not be more bells and whistles, but more emphases on what we know and do well: an experience with God through preaching, prayer, and theological study. This experience may mean an invitation to study or prayerful reflection. It may mean walking a labyrinth or spiritual exploration through small groups. In-N-Out is a reminder that practicing traditional spirituality may be our best hope for engaging in the future. 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Passion Drives Membership

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Leader

Passion Drives Membership

Since arriving in St. Louis, I’ve heard so much about the Missouri Botanical Garden. Last week I and a group of people volunteering at the office went over for lunch at Sassafras Café. The volunteers talked up the garden on the trip over. The place was filled with people coming and going; talking with one another about the various flowers and plants. I got so excited, I became a member!

Passion drives membership…

As your Transitional Presbytery Leader, I spend a lot of time in numbers (not the book of Numbers in the Bible!). I am constantly massaging our presbytery statistics to figure out our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. At the Vision Team meeting last week, Mike Willock and I shared information about the presbytery trends as seen through our annual statistics. Here are some of the highlights of the highlights!

Membership Totals

We have 79 Congregations with 12,585 members. We lost 13.5% of our membership in 2016. If we remove Bonhomme from the statistics, we lost 4.5% of our members in 2016.

  • 18 Congregations grew.  The total increase was 112.
  • 36 Congregations lost members. Total losses were 708.

Membership Attendance

  • On Average 73 people attend worship each Sunday.
  • 15 congregations had 25 members or less in worship each Sunday.


  • 47% of our members are over age 65.
  • 5 Congregations have 75% or more of their members over 65.

Racial Ethnic

  • 10% of presbytery members are racial ethnic. 90% of these are of African descent.
  • However, 50% of our congregations have zero Racial Ethnic members.

As I visit congregations, I hear the concerns about membership declining, aging congregations, and lack of youth and young adults. These are real concerns indeed.

I’ve been inspired in my Lenten reading by James Baldwin’s book, The Cross of Redemption. Baldwin writes, “We are misled here because we think of numbers. You don’t need numbers; you need passion. And this is proven by the history of the world.”

I believe Baldwin has something here. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the passion. And there is a lot of passion happening in our presbytery! After writing last week’s article about my visit to New Hope Presbyterian church, I received four emails from other congregations expounding on the interesting ways they do worship, and the energy and passion they experience. This week I am now hearing more and more stories about congregations where exciting things are happening.

I believe passion can drive numbers. When the gospel is being preached and the liturgy is being done with creativity, quality, and excellence, people tend to show up. But the passion cannot stop with the choir and the pastor. The members must show passion about their God and their faith as well. I believe when people are excited about something they tend to share their excitement with others.

So, where is your passion? What makes you get up in the morning and want to live the day? Where is the passion in your congregation? I’d like to hear about it, and share your story with others.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Blended Church

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


Blended Church

Imagine a congregation holding worship in a multi-use space instead of a traditional sanctuary. The ceiling shows steel cross beams and large round lighting. The walls are concrete block with sound proofing to offset the tile floor. Instead of pews bolted to the ground, the movable chairs can change and conform to whatever activity the congregation needs. And yet, the windows are inspiring stain glass. Symbols of faith are throughout the space, including a beautiful oval shaped baptismal font on a rise in the center of the space. The preacher moves from pulpit to font; from a message of hope to a prayer of discipleship.

The sanctuary I’m describing is New Hope Presbyterian church in St. Charles. On the outside it looks like a typical church. On the inside, however, it looks like a post-modern space with traditional trappings. The space attracts young people and young adults while holding on to older more traditional worshipers. The space is what the Fresh Expressions movement calls mixed economy. Mixed economy is the “vision of new and existing expressions of church working together in mutual encouragement and support.” It is a vision where new ways and old traditions work side by side. One type of church doesn’t replace the other. But both work together to bring about something new.

Space is important, but even more important is the ministry happening in the space. And there is a lot of ministry going on at New Hope!

Between the two worship services, I sat in a class called A Parent’s Journey. This group of young adult parents are preparing to present their children for baptism on Easter. The class meets from January until Pentecost and is led by members, and not the pastor! Any and all questions are on the table. Pastor Chris James adds, “They will begin talking about the challenges of raising children in faith, including how they might support one another in intentionally living out the promises of baptism for them and their children.”

According to the book, The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones writes that only 35% of mainline young people who go through confirmation return to the church. That’s 3-4 out of 10. I believe New Hope has found a way to increase those odds!

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Building A Team

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader Rev. Dr. Craig Howard



In the book, Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal writes about building the teams that had great success in the Iraqi war. McChrystal writes that a strong team has certain characteristics including trust, communication, cohesiveness, and purpose. He writes, “(a team) is about individuals who have critical roles to play in achieving a goal and need to be motivated and rewarded. If you ask a team member what their vision is, it’s not: ‘Hey, I’m here cutting this stone.’ It’s: I’m part of a team building a cathedral.”

I am putting together a team that is modeling ministry for the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. Together with the presbytery leadership, we are building vibrant congregations and dynamic leaders.

The following is an update on where we are.

Our new Office Manager will be Leigh Porter. Leigh describes herself as a versatile professional, adept at managing multiple projects, providing customer support and streamlining office operations. Leigh brings excellent communications skills, knowledge of office equipment and software, and strong organizational skills. Leigh currently serves as an administrative assistant to the president at Botanical Gardens. Leigh is looking forward to joining our team, beginning on Monday, March 13. She will be serving the presbytery full time, in the presbytery office. She can be reached by phone at (314) 772-2395 or by email at

Janice McMillen is well known throughout the presbytery. She currently keeps our webpage up to date. Now Janice will serve as our Communications Associate effective March 1. She will be responsible for telling the stories of our congregations and members. Her assignment is to find those stories that are hidden under a bushel and bring them to light. She will continue to update the webpage and produce the newsletter. Janice is also skilled in technology and will help us with our computer and telephone needs. Janice will work part-time and be deployed. You can reach her by text or by calling (573) 578-3960 or by email at


The active stated clerk is appointed by the moderator of the presbytery. Rev. Joy Meyer will serve as Stated Clerk until the presbytery elects the permanent person. Joy has replaced Gary Ferbet, who served us well. Joy has served the church in many area. She has been moderator of Blackhawk presbytery, served as commissioner to the synod and GA, served on COM, taught CRE classes, and served on administrative and investigative commissions. Joy is part time and will be in the office one to two days a week. She can be reached by phone at (314) 772-2395 ext. 123 or by email at

We have been using the accounting firm of Clifton Larson Allen for our business management and accounting needs since November 2016. We plan to use them for one year. Mary Ann Nold serves as the accountant, balancing our books and producing reports. She is in the office twice per month. Amy Jo Houston serves and the processor and comes in once per week to process checks, vouchers, invoices, and payments.

We are refining the job description for the Associate Presbytery Leader. My hope is to widely circulate the job description beginning in April. This full-time position will be the final staffing position for the office.

I am excited about the team we have assembled. The common traits of all team members are empathy, compassion, professionalism, and service. Their contact information is in their introduction, so please stop by and say hi, or send a note of encouragement and welcome. We’re looking forward to meeting and serving you.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Responding to Anxiety

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


Responding to Anxiety

One of the many joys of my work is meeting with pastors of the presbytery. Once a month a group of pastors who serve congregations in Illinois gather for lunch, fellowship, and a little bit of business. The Eastside Pastor fellowship are men and women, young and old, serving primarily small or rural congregations. However, they are not immune to the challenges of urbanization, declining oil prices, and farms struggling to hold their own.

These are anxious times for small and rural congregations. These are anxious times for all of us.

David Marshall, a retired pastor shared the following document with the Eastside Pastors. It is a list of how to handle anxiety. David created the document for one of his children, who is having a difficult time during this anxious political climate. When I read the document, I knew it was something to be shared with the entire presbytery! I hope you find it enjoyable as well.

Craig M. Howard

Living Well in Today’s World

                                                                          Expressing anger physically 

NAILING BLOCK:   The standard version is a cedar block 4”x4”x1’, a sturdy hammer, a bag of nails, and safety glasses.  Tap the nail in about a half inch, avoid knots, put on the glasses, now drive the nail with your particular anger cause in mind.  Repeat as necessary, but be cautious not to just rehearse your anger.  See more positive expressions.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE:  Physical exercise is a constructive outlet for anger.  It is clearly established that physical exercise is good for your health and emotional life.  Pick what you like and do it.

YELLING:  Yelling may also help if it does not disturb others.

                                                                                      Positive Action

CHOOSING YOUR RESPONSE:  When a crisis happens the future is determined by how we choose to respond.  If we choose to hide and nurse our anger, we will become depressed and sick.  If we choose a constructive action, we will heal more quickly and make the world a better place.

THE GOOD DEED:  Pick something to do every day for someone else that will put a smile on their face and make their life better.  Repeat as often as the opportunity presents itself. You will feel better.

MUSIC:  Music is healing and comforting. Select a justice song you love. Listen to it. Sing it to yourself.  If you are sharing with a group, make copies and have everyone join in singing it.

YOUR GROUP:  If you are fortunate enough to have a group of like-minded friends, help the group create a safe space where ideas and opinions can be shared without judgment.  In the group seek to understand and be understood.  Name calling is off limits.  Respect is key to a safe group.

VALUES:  Take time to identify your core values.  This is important when you are in conversations with other people.  When you have a conversation where the individuals own their values it will be easier to build a bridge rather than a wall.

FOR PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THERE IS A HIGHER POWER:  The simplest thing to do is have a one-way conversation with your God.  Talk it all out.  Dump your load.  Forgive and ask for forgiveness.  Think about how loving and forgiving your God is.

If you think of yourself as a follower of Jesus, read Matthew 5:38-48.  Think of “perfect” as being complete and whole.

HUMOR:  Laugh, but be kind.




Lenten Feast

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard

Lenten Feast

I spent my Christian development in the Pentecostal church. Lent was a time of fasting and prayer. The pastor would challenge us to fast for 40 days (one meal a day, not including weekends). The church would be open each day for prayer. It was a time to seek God’s face regarding God’s will for us. Lent was a time of fellowship, Bible reading, stomach cramps and headaches!

Different faith traditions have different ways of understanding the scripture, and living a life that reflects that claims Jesus is Lord.

As a Presbyterian, I have adopted a less physically rigorous Lenten ritual. After going through years of “giving up” something pleasurable like chocolate, wine, or movies, I have recently taken another route. A couple of years ago, Deborah Block, pastor of Immanuel Church in Milwaukee, gave me an idea. She challenged me to use Lent (and Advent) as a time to feed my mind and spirit. As a response, I now read a book a week for Lent.

My Lenten reading is designed to stir my imagination, light the coals of justice in my heart, and challenge me to ask the bigger questions about my place in the world, appreciate the value of life, and what is God calling me to do as an African American man in St. Louis.

It is always exciting to choose the six books I will read. As you view my list (they’re not in any particular order), I invite you to join me. You don’t have to read my books. But if you see one that peaks your interest, let me know and we can schedule a conversation about the book.

I’m leaving my list one book short this year. It is a book I would like for you to recommend to me. I already read my Bible, so you don’t have to suggest that one!! If you’ve read a good book recently and want to share it, send me the title. In the meantime, have a fulfilling Lenten feast this year!

Craig Howard Lenten Reading 2017

Tomorrow Is Now: It Is Today That We Must Create the World of the Future, Eleanor Roosevelt
(“This book is Eleanor Roosevelt’s manifesto and her final effort to move America toward the community she hoped it would become.”)

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, James Baldwin
(Baldwin inspires me to think broadly as he writes from the perspective of an African American male living in the 1960’s)

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin
(“This is a splendid book that I recommend to anyone with an interest in how science works and in the power of human imagination and ability.” —John Gribbin, The Wall Street Journal)

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irvine
(The moderators of the PC(USA) recommend this book for the entire denomination. I’m reading it to find the language to discuss White Privilege in a non-offensive way)

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
(My Grandparents migrated to Chicago from South Carolina around 1925. This story will help me relive their journey)

Rebuilding Foundations

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


First Lesson: Mathew 7:24 – 27
Second Lesson: Hebrews 11:1 – 3

Rebuilding Foundations

Our lessons today are concerned with building upon foundations. In the gospels, Jesus is saying that if we build a house without a foundation, when the rains come and flood rises, and the wind blows, the house will be destroyed. But if we dig deep and build the house on a solid foundation, when the rains come, and the flood rises, and the winds blow, the house will stand.

But our Hebrew text from Psalm 11 paints a different picture. In verse 3 the psalmist asks the question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

It is not just the home that is destroyed in the psalms. It is not just a cosmetic exterior. But the very foundation that the building sits on is destroyed. In my prior life, I was in insurance. I have seen all manner of destruction; fires, tornadoes, even hurricanes. But I have never seen a foundation destroyed.

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

I believe we are living in the times of destroyed foundations. It is a time when the way we have been taught and raised to do church, no longer has meaning to the wider culture. The way we use to believe, isn’t as important. The institutions we thought were solid, are now crumbling.

We see the statistics of decline. In 2016 our presbytery took a huge hit. Ordinarily a decline in membership of 3 – 4 percent is normal. Our membership declined around 14 percent. This is because one of our largest congregations left. But the echoes of the loss are still being felt, numerically, financially, and spiritually.

In any given year 20% of our congregations will grow. We’ve maintained that number in 2016.

What we are experiencing is not only relevant to Giddings-Lovejoy. Out of 171 presbyteries in our denomination, zero grew in 2016. In fact, the only numerical growth in any presbytery in our denomination in the past 5 years has occurred when two presbyteries merged.

The problem is not that our gospel is weak or our churches aren’t doing the job. We are challenged by the age in which we live.

We are living in an age of non-members. We are not losing members to the Baptist or the Catholics, the truth is people don’t join anything. More young people are joining the “nones,” meaning they do not call anyplace their religious home.

And on the other side, our long-term members are getting tired of the same old same old. They are what is called the “dones.” They are done coming to church sitting in the pews, hearing the preacher, and passing the plate. They are done participating in committees just to do the same thing as before and get the same results. They are skilled, gifted, and are ready for change.

This is why the foundation is crumbling and being destroyed. It is the social foundation; it is the political foundation; it is the religious foundation. We know about it because we are living it. The question is, how will we respond.

There are three ways to read our Hebrew text. And each different parsing demands a different response.[1]

First, the text can be seen as a very dark apocalyptic vision: When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Or in other words, when things have gotten bad, and they will only get worse. Our churches will not grow. The future of the presbytery is filled with lawsuits, congregations leaving, and people murmuring and complaining. This reading says we are in darkness and it won’t get any better. The light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming right at us!

One way to respond to this dark vision of our future is to do nothing different. Instead, we can hold on tight to what we have. We can make sure our resources stay in our church, in our building, in our presbytery. We can hold on and hope that the church lasts long enough to bury me. Then I don’t care what they do.

What can the righteous do? What can we do?

Another way to hear the text is with a defeated attitude and spirit, “When the foundations have been destroyed, what has the righteous accomplished?” This reading says that everything is such a mess. Why should we continue to work? What is the point? Why should we continue to do ministry? What is the point? Why should I come to presbytery gatherings? What is the point? Things aren’t getting better. Things aren’t turning around. We are just like Sisyphus pushing that bolder up the hill. Just to watch it roll down again.

What has the righteous accomplished?

A third reading of the text shifts the image of the righteous from us, to the Righteous One being God. When the foundations are destroyed, what has the Righteous One done?

And here is where we find hope. Because if God is with us, (and God is with us!) then God is present even when the foundations are being destroyed. If God is with us, then God is the God of hope, and God has a plan for us, even in the midst of decline, and devastation.

Perhaps we are at the end of something. Perhaps the way we have done church for the past 200 years has run its course and we are winding it down. This does not mean God has left us or is leaving us. Remember, all the churches Paul founded have closed. All of them! But God did not close. Jesus did not shut his doors. The Holy Spirit did not leave the building. Their way of doing church came to an end and another way formed.

Sometimes to move forward, we have to clear the ground, we have move everything out before a new thing can come in.

Sometimes to move forward, we have to let go of what we have. In order for God to do a new thing, sometimes the old has to be let go.

And this is hard. This is very difficult. It is not easy. We become attached to the old way of being and of being seen. In the book, “Transitions” William Bridges describes the letting go as Disidentification, Disenchantment, and Disorientation[2]. During disorientation, we keep wanting to try and do the same thing over and over, even though we know it doesn’t work. He writes about the disorientation phase this way,

“We resist change. Instead our inner voice says, ‘Do it again, don’t change now, live up to your image, keep on being the old you[3].’” Does this sound familiar?

“We’re the Presbyterian church. We are one of the founders of this nation. We’re the bedrock of this community. We are rich, powerful, and educated. Our church must be in this community. Our programs must keep going.”

Even if it doesn’t work.

We say this while fewer and fewer people attend, fewer and fewer people listen, and fewer and fewer people care.

The attitude to keep doing it the same old way, is the very attitude that aborts new life and new possibility.

If God is with us, then we have hope. If God is with us, then we are being challenged and stretched to find the new life and the new way that is ahead of us.

But we have to let the past go. We have to move into our ending, mourn our losses, experience the grief, and move on.

Sometimes I believe we are like Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put humpty together again.

There is no rebuilding Humpty Dumpty. Instead we are broken and fragmented dreaming about who we use to be, instead of imaging what we can be.

This is where the presbytery office has to also take blame. In my first month on the job, I’ve heard the disturbing stories about the divisions and separations within the staff itself. And I want to say I’m sorry. I apologize for the pain, frustration, and dysfunction that it caused the body and the presbytery. My vision of the presbytery office is that we are a model of ministry for our congregations. We demonstrate hospitality, efficiency, and faithfulness. This has not been our story in recent history. And for that I am sorry.

Now I ask you to give us a chance. I ask that you begin to let go of the hurt and pain, and memories. That you allow the balm of Gilead to heal the spirit of the presbytery, and make the wounded whole again.

Can I tell you about my dream for the presbytery? Can I tell you about my vision?

I dream of all of these fragments moving together in the same direction. No more silos; no more separation by ideologies, geography, theology, or personalities.  but we all move in the same direction, together. I have a dream that as we move together we begin to come together; letting go of hurts and anger; opening ourselves up to trust one another. I have a dream of this presbytery reaching through the walls and silos that have been built up and thickening since reunion; joining hands with other Presbyterians and other faith traditions, and moving into a prosperous future that benefits the whole community. This is my dream.

As I said, in the insurance business I saw homes destroyed by fire, ripped apart by tornadoes. But one thing I have never seen. I’ve never seen a family rebuild their home the same way it was before. When given the opportunity, they change it. They don’t want the kitchen they had. That kitchen was 15 years old. They want a modern kitchen. When given the chance, people rebuild from their dreams and imagination, not from their past, not from their history.

We have the unique opportunity to rebuild and dream again. All of these broken pieces, and fragments can come together and be something new, fresh, and alive.

But I must warn you. New beginnings are always a little messy. The start is a little bumpy. But if we stick with it we can work out the knots and kinks. We have to listen to that new song that is playing in our hearts and walk to that rhythm.

God is doing a new thing in Giddings-Lovejoy presbytery. Don’t you want to join us? Don’t you want to come along and be part of God’s new creation for the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy? Amen.

[1] Segal, Benjamin J., A New Psalm, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2013 p51

[2] Bridges, William, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes- Strategies for coping with the difficult, painful, and confusing times in your life., Perseus Books, Massachusetts, 1980 pp 92-104.

[3] Ibid, p102.