Follow Your passion!

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader
vhawkins@glpby.org


This past Saturday, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness, posed two question to approximately 70 Giddings-Lovejoy members. What is your passion?  What are your concerns? The Office of Public Witness is the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Jimmie is the director and also my brother.

The Social Witness Action Team (comprised of social witness team members from across the Synod of Mid-America presbyteries) hosted the Troubling the Waters: For the Healing of the World event. It was a wonderful and relaxing event filled with relevant information, dynamic music, discussions, a nice lunch and fellowship. There were Giddings-Lovejoy members who came from the North and South and East and West in Missouri to learn more about the Office of Public Witness (OPW) and local issues. 

For over 45 minutes, Jimmie gave an overview of the work of his office and reminded us that “people are looking for the presence of the church outside the doors of the church.” He also reminded participants that our Presbyterian forefather John Calvin wrote, “Civil magistery is a calling not only holy and legitimate, but by far the most sacred and honorable in human life… Therefore, we are called to be engaged in the public arena, and ask how God is calling me to act out my faith in the world.” 

What I truly enjoyed about this event was that the Social Witness team provided presenters who embodied a national focus as well as those focusing on local issues. Jimmie discussed national issues (i.e.; sex trafficking, racial injustice, gun violence, and the opioid epidemic, etc.) while the six panelists from local Presbyterian churches and community organizations highlighted their passion and concerns for educational and health equity, community and church relations, elder care, racial justice, payday lending, and the benefits of providing access to community gardens. Each individual presented participants with a wealth of information and resources.

What I loved about this event was that Giddings-Lovejoy folks showed up. The diversity of the participants (age, faith community, race, geography) demonstrated that Presbyterians across this presbytery care deeply about justice. In fact, so deeply that they gave up their Saturday to be a part of this event. Also, people in our communities are passionate not only about engaging social justice issues, but they continue to learn other ways to be a presence of hope and mercy in and for the world. My hope is that this event not only provided new information, but also opened the doors to new friendships and partnerships.

Below are a few links to some of the resources that were mentioned.

Peace,

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

Resources:

  1. Social Witness Office (PCUSA): https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/compassion-peace-justice/acswp/topics/
  2. Office of Public Witness: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/compassion-peace-justice/washington/
  3. Booklet: Holy Discontent:  Grassroots Advocacy and Organizing in the PC(USA): https://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/holy-discontentment-advocacy-resource/

Presbytery Practices: In the Neighborhood

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader
vhawkins@glpby.org


Last week, all five members of the presbytery staff packed up a day’s worth of work, computers, and snacks and traveled down south to Cape Girardeau for a day “In the Neighborhood.” We have traveled and worked together on several occasions with presbytery gatherings and leadership retreats, but this was different, and I could feel the excitement in the air as I drove down Interstate 55.  “In the Neighborhood” was an intentional team effort to be present to presbytery members in a distinct way – to take our hands and feet into the very geographical regions to which normally only one or two of the staff travels. Normally, our members from these regions travel to us and it was only fair that we travel to them also.

Not only did we take our physical selves into the area, but we took our presbytery practices also.  Over the last year and ½, I have come to recognize and appreciate the spiritual practices embodied by the staff as they carry out their work. Although we do not talk about “presbytery practices,” there are certain perspectives and actions that provide a rhythm to our lives as we work together as people called to serve God, presbytery members, our communities, and each other.

Using those practices, we spent Wednesday evening meeting with teaching and ruling elders and commissioned pastors who had particular situations that needed to be discussed. Thursday we rotated between working on office tasks and greeting visitors. We also called others serving in pastoral leadership roles to check-in with them and offered to pray for them as prompted by the Spirit. Since the next presbytery gathering is at First Cape Girardeau, Leigh and Joy toured the church site with the pastor to discuss the gathering checklist and discuss ways to ensure that the gathering goes as smoothly as possible. Our time there was a joy. Taking the office out into the presbytery was a good idea and if we continue to be guided by the same presbytery practices that we embody in the office in Creve Coeur, I believe we will continue the good work of deepening our connectional ties and strengthening our cords of friendship in ways that will move us closer to the ideal of the Beloved Kindom that God has called us to embody.

Here are the Rules of Life which govern our steps and actions as Giddings-Lovejoy staff:

  • Remembering that we are the Body of Christ called to be a light to the world in tangible and practical ways.
  • Paying attention when others contact us with particular needs, concerns, and questions and responding in an appropriate and caring manner.
  • Praying for others as we learn of their concerns, conflicts, and grief.
  • Listening and learning from others who take the time to share with us and inform our work as staff and colleagues and being appreciative of their wisdom.
  • Breaking bread together as a community of friends and colleagues, thus taking the time to get to know each other beyond the work of the presbytery.
  •  Laughing with and loving all of God’s creation.
  •  Going where God sends us with the right spirit and with an open heart while accepting that things won’t go always as planned, but the experience will give us guidance for next steps.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

 

Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader
vhawkins@glpby.org


We have a long fight and this fight is not mine alone. But you are not free whether you white or whether you black, until I am free.  Because no man is an island to himself…And I’m not just fighting for myself and for the black race, but I’m fighting for the white; I’m fighting for the Indians; I’m fighting for the Mexicans; I’m fighting for the Chinese; I’m fighting for anybody because as long as they are human beings, they need freedom.[1]

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born into poverty to share croppers. Her father was a Baptist preacher. The youngest of 20 children, she knew firsthand the cruelty of poverty. She left school in the sixth grade in order to pick cotton on a Mississippi plantation. For over 18 years, she worked as a sharecropper and timekeeper on the Marlow plantation. In 1962, After attending a meeting in Ruleville, Mississippi, Hamer decided to register to vote. It took her months to pass the literacy test and become a registered voter. Although her education was shorted due to sharecropping; although she was shot at and beaten half to death for registering to vote, and although she was unable to have children due to an unauthorized hysterectomy—Hamer’s resilience was formidable. In 1962, she became a SNCC organizer in Sunflower County, Mississippi. In 1964, she became the vice chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as they attempted to gain seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4NhURBrtI8). Hamer’s social activist legacy continued as she later established a cooperative, collaborated on the building of a low-income daycare center, and the construction of two hundred units of low-income housing for her Mississippi community. Hamer is the essence of what we celebrate during Black History Month.

On July 13, 2003, The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy voted to adopt and implement Strategic Directions, one of which is “Dismantling Racism and White Privilege.”  As staff to our current Dismantling Racism and Privilege Action Team (DRAP), I can say that the work of addressing systemic racism continues. DRAP continues to grow and the team members are full of enthusiasm. This year, they are continuing to broaden the work of dismantling racism. This year, they are providing a scholarship to Gary Naylor to attend the White Privilege Conference in Cedar Falls, Iowa (https://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com). DRAP continues to learn ways to articulate the positive value of a racially inclusive space and community. Just yesterday, they participated in a webinar with Kikanza Nuri-Robins to explore how to be more culturally proficient in our efforts to shift the culture of the presbytery and within our congregations   (http://www.kikanzanurirobins.com).

Join us if you are interested in developing a deeper understanding of racism and in helping us to uproot this systemic problem embedded in our culture and within individuals. DRAP meets the fourth Monday of each month at Ladue Chapel at 1:00 p.m. Remember: “Racism is fundamentally a spiritual problem because it denies our true identity as children of God. In Jesus Christ, God frees us to love and teaches us how to live as a family.[2] If you want to learn more about what’s DRAP is doing, please contact the moderator, John Harrison, at afftonpastor@gmail.com.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

 

[1] “The Only Thing We Can Do is Work Together,” in The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer. This speech was delivered by Mrs. Hamer at a Chapter Meeting of the National Council of Negro Women in Mississippi in 1967.  See https://www.amazon.com/Speeches-Fannie-Lou-Hamer-Alexander-ebook/dp/B004YZJINC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1551204768&sr=1-1&keywords=9781604738230.

 

[2] Facing Racism:  A Vision of the Beloved Community.  Approved by the 211th General Assembly (1999) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

New Movements in the Journey

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
vhawkins@glpby.org


This past Sunday as I sat in First Church Edwardsville, Illinois, as they dedicated their new building, I was in awe at this new stage of their journey. Entering the building I was engulfed by the sound of excited voices and the smell of newly painted walls, new carpet, chairs, and windows.  My feet sank into the firmness of the mixed grey carpet as I made my way to the pastor’s office with a picture window displaying a winter scene of rural America. New chairs, still wrapped in plastic wrap, were stacked to my right and as I toured the sanctuary I was greeted by the rich colors of the stained-glass windows. The new stained-glass windows complimented the old ones.

I listened as the pastor and members talked about the features of the church and how the past had not been shunted aside, but artfully blended into the new. With this new building in this new location, this discerning congregation made the decision to following the promptings of the Spirit and move onto an unknown path trusting that God walks with them. The dedication service was wonderful.

As I sat in the pews, I thought about the presbytery office building. The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy has made some significant decisions over the last couple of years—ne major decision was to sell the presbytery office building and to rent office space. Each day I walk into the office and I see the evidence of that decision. We are in the midst of moving and there are fewer items in the building to move because our history team has found new homes for some items, presbytery members have claimed a piece of the rich history that has filled this building, and the Presbyterian Historical Society has claimed journals and minutes which they will digitize and store. Boxes are still in offices, along the hallway walls, and tucked away in corners. As staff, we have moved from a distant understanding of the move to a restlessness to once again be settled in one place without the disruptions of packing, purging, and second-guessing ourselves as we discern the best way forward.

I look forward to the next step of our journey in a new location as we discern how to best use that sacred space in creative and life-giving ways that witness to our neighbors that we are a community of faith, willing to walk an unknown path for we trust that God walks it with us.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamer of Dreams

Blog Post by

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Designated Associate Leader
vhawkins@glpby.org


May 2006, I participated in a guided tour through several neighborhoods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had swept through the city. Starting in the Garden District, our guide systematically led us, a group of nine, through neighborhoods bustling with joggers, commuters, and restaurant employees preparing for the dinner crowds. There was little noticeable damage in this area.  Bit by bit, we meandered through neighborhoods and we witnessed the damage suffered by those living in the lower areas. In the Ninth Ward, it felt as if we were driving into a desolate place – a place of death and destruction and silence. Unlike the Garden District, there was little to no evidence of life—no birds, no commuters, no movement, no sounds, no smells, no people laughing, loving, or moving about.  Katrina had left her mark.

As we began to return to higher ground, we encountered one young woman from the Ninth Ward.  She and her husband were reclaiming their lives, their home, and their neighborhood. Standing alone on a deserted street, the wife turned and pointed from one demolished home to another, she called out the names of her absent neighbors and shared her dreams of a revived neighborhood.  She stated, “If we build, then our neighbors can see that they can come home.  It just takes a little work.”  One by one, through the power of naming and memory of what was- she (re)claimed the future—a neighborhood once again thriving as a community. In reclaiming her past, she was birthing not only her future, but also the future of those left behind.  Vision, faith, memory, and tradition were her tools of resistance to trauma, loss, and disruption. One group member commented, “New Orleans will be rebuilt by people like her. People who can dream dreams and envision a future even when there are no visible signs of renewal.  People with the drive and dedication to do the work even when doing the work seems hopeless.  She is what New Orleans needs because it will be people like her who will create the new New Orleans.”

In many ways, their story is our story.  Over the last 7 weeks, I have meandered Northside, Westside, Southside, and center of the city.  I have listened to narratives of loss and disruption.  I have felt the grief of some as they recounted the challenging decisions made to reclaim a flourishing future for this presbytery. I have heard the sighs of resignation and sensed the fears that the recent undertakings may only lead to failure. But, I have also witnessed the fierce dedication of many seeking to move us towards a more loving, sustainable and just future. I challenge us to be like the young woman from New Orleans and to continue to (re)claim our sense of community and reform our vision of what it means to be a vibrant life-giving presence in the world and in St. Louis.  For this presbytery to be the vision of the Kindom that God holds for us – we all must participate in the reclaiming and rebuilding.  Giddings Lovejoy is not just on the path of claiming a new future, but is also trailblazing a new model of ministry.  Remember, we belong to God and it is God who has extended to us and through us – a call to new life. We are walking an unknown path with God who is very present in our new unfolding drama of discovery. We are the bearers of God’s dreams for this presbytery today.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins