Another Hidden Jewel

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


The first indicator that I’m visiting a rural church is when the pastor says not to trust my GPS but follow his instructions instead! After exiting I-44 I turn, weave, go up and down hills, and after a few more hair pin turns, I’m on a black top. The church suddenly appears on my right. I know I’m visiting a rural church when the only sound I hear are the cows singing a melody of moos! I’m met at the front door by a little dog, which I find out later doesn’t belong to anyone but refuses to leave. This is Old Argo. This is a shining jewel of a congregation located in Bourbon, Missouri off the Sullivan exit.

As worship begins, about 35 people fill the sanctuary. The age range is a perfect bell curve from babies in arm to seniors on canes. There is energy, excitement, and a bit of exhaustion. The night before is the annual Fall Festival which the church hosts. They cook up two pigs (donated by a church member), add in tons of homemade goodies, a musical group, a silent auction, games and fun. This congregation of less than 40 serves 335 dinners and raises over $5,200! The festival is a total volunteer effort. As I hear the stories of the night before, I long for a jar of homemade apple butter!

Old Argo is led by pastor Rob Caldwell, a commissioned pastor (CP). Giddings Lovejoy has a robust CP program. We take ruling elders who feel God’s call to a pastoral ministry and put them through a three-year program. A new cohort is already underway with 11 elders in training. These leaders often end up in small congregations.

Rural and small church ministry in a reality in our presbytery. Out of 79 congregations, we currently have 27 with 50 members or less. In Giddings Lovejoy, once a congregation has 40 members or less, they can no longer afford a traditional called and installed pastor. Our challenge is to prepare people like Rob, who have a genuine love for small church ministry, and support them in their call. With the right pastoral leadership, even small congregations can thrive and be vibrant where they are.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Rules and Policy

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


Today I took part in Boundary Training for ministers in the presbytery. The training is required every three years for all Teaching Elders and Commissioned Pastors. We covered several topics including dating, touching, friendship, and intimacy between pastor and parishioner. We also talked about social media, and the challenges of pastoral identity on the internet. Around the question of friendship, we talked about the difference between being friendly and being a friend. We shared stories of accepting and rejecting gifts and discussed the separation policy regarding once a pastor leaves a congregation.

A big takeaway from the meeting is that boundaries can be fluid, elusive, and highly contextual. While one church may have a brief passing of the peace where no one barely moves or touches, another church walks around hugging everyone for an extended time.

This is why creating policy for congregations and ministers is difficult. We often write policy as a response to a negative activity. For example, we have a stringent separation policy after a pastor leaves a congregation because in the past a pastor abused the relationship with former parishioners. The temptation is to use the worst case as the norm. In Boundary Training, the pastors and leaders reflected on a more nuanced approach. They desired a policy that is sensitive to context. We should think less about absolutes and more about ways to be flexible and have boundaries more fluid and permeable. The church should be less about “thou shalt not” and more about “I bring to you a new commandment, love one another.”

Of course, it is difficult to live in a more flexible community. I imagine people will want to be firm or fluid depending upon their need and advantage. As humans we may want the strictest application for others, and the more open interpretation for ourselves. As your leader, It is easy to apply stiff policy from above. But reality is that we are all doing the best we can as we stumble through our life of faith together.

The Bible says that God loves us. But God’s love is unique to each of us, and the Triune God loves us as we each need to be loved, and not all in the same way. Perhaps this is a way to get at the question of rules and policy. Create the framework but recognize the application may not be the same in every situation.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Fun

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

Q: What is the chief end of (humanity)?
A: (Humanity’s) chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy (God) forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism

. . . For the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

After graduating seminary, my first call was as an associate to a small Pentecostal new church development (300 members) on a rough side of town in Chicago. It was a difficult context and a difficult call for me. I had not been exposed to a community of drugs, violence, and crime since my youth in the projects. But this is where God chose to plant a church, and where I learned to connect with the most vulnerable in our society. Each week the pastor, Dr. Leon Finney, would meet with the staff, and in the midst of heart wrenching ministry, Dr. Finney taught us to have fun. He helped us to see the lighter side of life and ministry. We would share hilarious stories of growing up, get a laugh at lyrics from songs and aphorisms our parents taught us. Dr. Finney taught us that no matter how difficult life is, there is always space for joy.

I was reminded of this while in worship Sunday at First Belleville. During the children’s sermon, pastor Rob Dyer dressed as Disco Bob! It was hilarious! And it worked. The children were engaged, answered questions about how to care for one another, and had a great time in the process.

When do you find joy in your work and ministry? Do you make time to have fun?

What does it mean to be a presbytery of vibrant congregations and dynamic leaders that have fun in fellowship, and joy in ministry? In what ways do we give permission to our members to enjoy worship, music, ministry, and service? In what ways do we demonstrate such joy?

I have an idea. How about sending us pictures of fun and joy in ministry? I would like to create a collage in next week’s newsletter of Presbyterians having fun! Just attach the photo to an email and send it to communication@glpby.org and how about telling us some ways you break the standard routine of meetings, worship, and other ministry context to inject a bit of fun.  I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing from you!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Listening

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


It’s time I doubled back and shared more material from our August Presbytery Gathering at Edwardsville, First. After each Presbytery Gathering we send out a survey to determine what went well and what did not. The surveys are reviewed by the Presbytery Gathering Planning Team. Our last gathering from September returned a record number of responses. Thank you! Many of you requested we provide the documents from the pre-sessions.

The theme of the gathering was Missional Church. In addition to our presenter Dr. Bonnie Sue Lewis from Dubuque Seminary, we had two pre-sessions. In one pre-session we focused on the work of the personnel committee in our congregations. It was led by Laura Arnold. She shared material that would be helpful for all personnel committees. These materials can be found here. The other pre-session involved an exploration of the surrounding communities of Edwardsville. Members went into the neighborhood, visiting stores and shops, speaking with neighbors, and observing the life of the community. The documents used to perform our community exegesis can be found here

There were so many good ideas on this survey. You encourage us to continue tweaking the order of day’s events. You want us to bring in the best speakers on the specific topic, yet don’t forget our local talented leaders. You desire us to be considerate of your time, while making sure there is time for us to get to know one another.

Thank you again for your input, suggestions, and critiques. We are listening! You are being heard! Together we will shape and craft our Presbytery Gatherings and our time together into a form that is beneficial to everyone.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Laboring in God’s Vineyard

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


When I became a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I was not ordained to a congregation. At the time I was working at McCormick as the Chief Development Officer. I really enjoyed fund raising, and I had spent my time since graduating seminary doing pastoral work, and institutional ministry.

Instead of being ordained to congregational ministry, I was ordained to specialized ministry (or validated ministry) as a fundraiser for McCormick Seminary. To make matters more complicated, I was a member of the presbytery of Chicago while living in Madison Wisconsin! I commuted to Chicago from Madison (3 – 5 hours, depending upon the weather and traffic) and lived in Chicago during the week. Those were crazy times for Marilyn and me!

The Presbyterian church recognizes specialized ministries by validating different forms of ministries beyond the traditional congregation. In Giddings Lovejoy we have a diversity of validated ministries. We have chaplains serving in hospitals, senior living facilities, the Army, Seminary professors, an Executive Director of a food pantry, and a Regional Liaison in East Central Africa!

Our Teaching Elders serve as Pastors and Head of Staff, Associate Pastors, Parish Associates, Stated Supply, Interim and Transitional Pastors, and Designated Pastors. I can’t forget the 79 Honorably Retired ministers in our presbytery.

For many, the call to specialized ministry is a different calling than to that of a congregation. My vision for the church is a large tent where a diversity of people, congregations, and even religious traditions can dwell together. I enjoyed congregational ministry when I served as a pastor. I enjoy the work of validated ministry even more as I am able to serve a geographically larger and theologically and racially diverse population.

On this post Labor Day, I want to lift up those who labor in God’s vineyard. I spend 90% of my time with congregational issues. I find myself neglecting those in validated ministries, even though that is how I entered ordained ministry and how I serve. The next time you meet one of our chaplains, professors, executives, or others in validated ministry, let them know you appreciate all they do. I appreciate them as well.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Civility and Kindness

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


“I will know that the presbytery has been transformed when we show kindness toward one another.” I made this statement in a Vision Team meeting in the middle of 2017. It was my first attempt to grasp what was occurring in the life of our presbytery, and what needed to change. Kindness can be experienced as civility. By actually listening to one another, and not just waiting to interrupt, is a show of respect. Kindness means feeling the frustration we share as we work within the rules of a system that often seems daunting, irrelevant, indifferent, and unreasonable. Kindness is the grace we extend to one another, especially in times of brokenness, insecurity, and vulnerability.

I am experiencing kindness at our presbytery gatherings. I am watching people show patience and flexibility when things are not perfect. I observe people listening to one another, even when we do not agree. I see people supporting ideas and decisions that rub against their personal interest but in the name of the greater good, they say “Yes!”

We will still disagree. We will still hold values that conflict. The Presbyterian church is a large tent, and Giddings-Lovejoy is a microcosm of the entire denomination. But we are disagreeing with a tone of kindness. We are having public discussions with respect for one another.

As a little boy I would occasionally get into a fight with one of my brothers. I am the youngest and they were bigger and stronger than I, so it was always a losing battle, except that one time I sprayed Keith with a water hose and ran, and he couldn’t catch me! That’s when I learned I was fast. But I digress! During these times my Mother would yell from the back of the house, “Stop hitting other people’s children!” As we show kindness to one another, perhaps we see one another as God’s children, and who are we to strike or hit God’s child?

Thanks to all of you who participated in the presbytery gathering. Thank you for the energy, humor, attention, seriousness, prayerfulness, and love that you bring. Thank you for sharing in the work of the ministry. This includes the neighborhood exegesis, personnel training, Missional Church workshop, business meeting, and worship. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! (Psalm 133)” Thank you all for making the presbytery gathering a place to show kindness, civility, and respect for one another.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

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


Earlier this year, I purged the files in my office as part of our move. As I began to go through the hundreds of folders, binders, and files, I was amazed at the good and thorough work the volunteers and staff of the presbytery had done. In many cases, I was able to trace back the origins of a decision or policy, which we now take for granted. I found answers to many questions and used some of the documents to begin plotting a course for the future of the presbytery.

I am not challenging you to go through all of your stuff (although purging old books and papers is not a bad idea)! However, I learned that there are so many questions we have already answered. The answers are often hidden in plain sight, and they can be found if we would just take the time to stop and read.

In a recent Vision Team meeting, concern was raised about the clergy misconduct that has come to light in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. During our discussion, we discovered an excellent Sexual Misconduct Policy on our website. The policy was put together by our own members, and it was hiding in plain sight! I encourage every congregation to access and download the policy here.

Our website is loaded with resources to help our sessions, congregations, and ministry teams. It all comes down to a commitment to search out and read what is already produced. This means taking the time to download the papers for the presbytery gathering on your computer, tablet, or phone, and then reading them; highlighting questions; and talking with team leaders at presbytery about questions you would like clarity on. On Thursday, we will not have candidates read their statement of faith publicly, since the statements are in the papers. This provides more time for questions and affirmations.

Perhaps this can be our new norm: a commitment to read what is sent to us in order to prepare for our meetings and time together. We can also commit to scanning the website for answers and reading the policies that already exist. I know the process is imperfect. You may struggle to find something, find something that is badly written, or not find something where you think it should be. When this happens, talk to us. Let Janice or Leigh know when things are not working as they should. They can be reached by calling (314) 772-2395, by emailing jmcmillen@glpby.org or lporter@glpby.org. Let’s work together to have an informed and knowledgeable presbytery!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Why Commissioned Pastors

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


At our next Presbytery Gathering on August 23rd at First Edwardsville, we will be examining two commissioned pastors (CP). Commissioned pastors are formerly known as commissioned ruling elders-(CRE). Our presbytery currently has 14 commissioned pastors serving 13 congregations. The average size congregation being served by a commissioned pastor is 41. Often, the commissioned pastor is the only choice a congregation has for pastoral leadership. As the membership size of a congregation decreases, so does the capacity to afford called and installed pastors. Decreasing congregations are on the increase. The overall presbytery picture shows an increase in the number of congregations with 50 members or less.

The Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy has taken an aggressive and intelligent action to create the best commissioned pastors possible. Rev. Stephanie Knopf and Deborah Tracy have led the design of a two-year program to train ruling elders who want to become commissioned pastors. The program will include course work on bible, pastoral care, reformed traditions, and reformed theology. It will also include work as an intern. The program is designed for ruling elders who work at a job other than ministry. Therefore, the courses are available on weekends and online. At the end of the program, the ruling elder will be commissioned to a particular congregation or ministry, after examination by the presbytery. There are currently 11 ruling elders admitted to the commissioned pastors training program.

The two ruling elders coming before the presbytery, Alonzo Williams and Richard Hadley each have the M.Div. For a variety of reasons, they are not pursuing ordination in the traditional Minister of Word and Sacrament track. Alonzo serves as pastor of Beria in St. Louis, and Richard serves as a chaplain in Crystal City. They will be available in the sanctuary at noon to meet and greet people who want to learn more about their history and story. The actual examination will only focus on their statement of faith.

The goal of the meet and greet, and examination, is for the presbytery to get to know those commissioned pastors serving in ministry context that are unfamiliar or distant. It is a way for us to be a connectional church as we get to know all of those serving in the presbytery. I look forward to seeing you August 23rd as we continue to risk and experiment with ways to do ministry in the 21st Century.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Missional Church Primmer

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


I am excited about the keynote speaker and worship leader at our upcoming presbytery gathering. Dr. Bonnie Sue Lewis is the Professor of Mission and World Christianity at Dubuque Seminary. She is speaking to us about being a missional church. I thought it would be a good idea to do a short blog on what missional church means, and why we are learning about it in Giddings-Lovejoy.

Missional church means believing that God is active and involved in the world, and our job as church is to find out what God is doing and join God. This does not mean that God is not present in the local church. Missional church is just another way to do church. Alan J. Roxburgh an M. Scott Boren explain missional church in their book, Introducing the Missional Church. They define our current model of church as the Attractional Model. They write:

“The assumption of the attractional imagination is that average people outside the church are looking for a church and know they should belong to one, and therefore, church leaders should create the most attractive attractional church possible. The mission, then, is to get people to attend.”

I believe our congregations function in the attractional model. We try to make our churches welcoming, and our programing inviting. We have contemporary worship, PowerPoint, and jazz bands. And there is nothing wrong with any of these. Missional church is not a criticism of the attractional model. Unfortunately, the attractional model only works in 20% of our congregations. These congregations are growing. The other 80% of our congregations using the attractional model are somewhere between staying even and a drastic, unsustainable reduction in membership. Since the attractional model isn’t working for the majority of our congregations, the missional church is another possible idea.

Roxburgh and Boren explain missional church this way:

 “God is at work in the world to redeem creation, and God invites us to participate in this mission. . . This imagination turns most of our church practices on their head. It invites us to turn toward our neighborhoods and communities, listening first to what is happening among people and learning to ask different question about what God is up to in the neighborhood. . . What are the ways we need to change in order to engage the people in our community who no longer consider church a part of their lives?”

Come out and learn about missional church. I invite you to participate in the neighborhood canvas as well and begin looking for what God is doing in our neighborhoods.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Leave the Building

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


When I was executive presbyter in Milwaukee, there was one city whose economy was based on the GM auto plant. During the great recession, the plant closed. This resulted in increased unemployment and under employment. Downtown became a ghost town as stores closed and shops boarded up. The downtown Presbyterian church took a hit too. Membership dropped along with collections. It was a matter of time before the church could no longer afford a full-time pastor.

I fret and worry about congregations in cities and towns where industry is drying up. I am concerned when I visit a church and the people inside of the building look very different than the people walking around on the outside of the church. James Taylor wrote a song about a struggling small town. The song, Letter in the Mail says, “Little by little, light after light, that’s how it died.” And “The church bell still rings on Sunday, old folks still go, the young ones listen on the radio.”

However, I noticed that even in the areas where industry has dried up, there are still thousands of people. These people are finding new ways to live and thrive in the community. They may commute further to a different job that pays less. They may not be able to buy as much as they used to, but they are still there. What does that mean for childcare, food, and social life? What does it mean for the local church?

In the book Holy Conversations, Gil Rendle and Alice Mann believes every congregation should ask three questions: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What has God called us to do?

To learn “who is our neighbor,” our congregations can get out of the building and walk around the neighborhood to see what is going on. Sometimes our congregations become commuter churches as members move further away when the neighborhood declines. But there’s no substitute for heels on concrete, and taking the time to observe the spaces, homes, and buildings of the community. We can sit in a room and guess about the needs and identity of our neighbors, but until we get out and meet them we do not know who they are.

At the August 23 presbytery gathering, we are going to leave the building and go into the community of Edwardsville to conduct a Neighborhood Exegesis. This is a walking survey that is part of the Vital Congregations Toolkit, available here, developed by our denomination. They write, “The goal is to get to know more about the neighborhood and its people. We do this by using all 5 senses. We are not going out to teach anything, to convert anyone, or to change the neighborhood, just to learn from the people who know more about it that we do.”

Wow! My hope is that we will learn about Edwardsville, but also return to our congregations and conduct a Neighborhood Exegesis in our community. The future church is a community connected church. Our neighborhood shapes our community and congregation. Let’s leave the building and learn who they are.

Registration for the Pre-Session and Gathering is now open and can be found here.

Rev. Craig M. Howard