Paradigm Shift

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


I can’t wait to hear Jennifer Harvey at our next presbytery gathering! I am looking forward to participating in worship and her workshop on February 6th at St. Mark. Jennifer is the author of the book, Dear White Christians. The presbytery will be reading the book throughout the year. Several of you are already into it! Second Presbyterian even had a class on the book (Go Second! Go Second!). Jennifer is challenging the church to shift from a paradigm of reconciliation to a paradigm of repair.

This shift is a challenge for me as well. As I read her book, I felt a shift in my own thinking and expectations. And it troubles me.

My way of understanding anti-racism has been shaped and formed in me since childhood. From kindergarten to fourth grade, I attended all black schools. From fifth grade through college, I only knew white majority integrated schools. My first day in a white school was my first school fight. I was raised to believe that if we can learn, work and live together in the same neighborhoods, and even worship in the same churches, then we can remove the scourge of racism from our society. This model of integration and reconciliation has been my underlying way of thinking.

What Jennifer helps me to see is that racism creates scars and wounds in people of color. These wounds are soothed and healed by other people of color living together in the same community and worshiping in with one another in the same church. This is why 11:00 remains the most segregated hour. Not because Blacks and Whites can’t worship together, but perhaps because Black people choose to worship where they find dignity, agency, and strength.

I still believe that integrated worship is still a sign of God’s power and a strong witness in our racialized society. I do not want the white congregations in our presbytery to give up on attracting Black people to worship. But now I value churches of color that are separated and able to express their culture in worship without justification or judgement. I get it.

If Jennifer Harvey can help change my thinking (being the old dog that I am!), I believe she can help the presbytery take steps toward racial healing and repair.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Continuing Education

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


Happy New Year! The beginning of the year can bring hope and possibility. It is a grace from God to try again, afresh, and anew. I pray that each of you have a vision of improvement for your mind, body, and spirit. I pray that you find ways to connect to your community and make a difference with a focus on hope and justice. May we as a presbytery help fulfill Zachariah’s prayer for the child Jesus when he said, “Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” Luke 1:78 – 79.

One of the gifts each presbytery minister has are funds for continuing education (con-ed). The minister uses these funds to enhance their working knowledge, feed their spirit, and nurture their ministry. For some ministers this means a class or a workshop. Each year I use a portion of my con-ed to meet with a consultant. I, along with a small group of presbytery executives are given personal help and inspired by ideas to lead our presbyteries into the future. I enjoy going to lectures by authors I’ve read as well. In 2018 I attended a lecture on the Trappist monk Thomas Merton presented by Richard Rohr.

Ministers take workshops on music, painting, or other ways to express their creative side. Sometimes churches cannot see the connection between how a minister uses their con-ed, and the work of the church. This is because sometimes the connection is indirect. An inspired minister is a better leader. A relaxed and de-stressed minister is a better leader. A minister who has their creative spirit opened through photography, may find new ways of understanding a text, or solving a problem.

I want to encourage all ministers to take advantage of their con-ed. Be it a biblical class, music workshop, writing seminar, or finger painting, do something that will stretch your soul or build upon the gifts you already have. Sessions and boards should make sure each minister is improving their craft. Quality leadership is one of the keys to a vital congregation, and ministry setting. I encourage all minsters to plan and schedule their con-ed for 2020.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Reshaping and Stretching the Structure

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


Presbyterians are a meeting people. We meet in sessions in our individual congregations. We meet in committees, commissions, and councils in our presbyteries, synods, and General Assembly. Our polity eschews concentrating power in one person or office. Instead, we disperse responsibility across teaching elders and ruling elders. We come together to share information, spark new ideas, plan, and take action. We meet.

We meet in our presbytery too! The structure of the presbytery is designed to facilitate the needs of the presbytery, at least the needs as we understood them in 2015 when we began reimagining the design and structure of the presbytery. The result is the structure we accepted in 2016 and work from today. This year over 170 members participated in the work of the presbytery through 32 teams, sub-teams, and commissions. The presbytery committee on representation and nominations does an excellent job of recruiting volunteers from across the presbytery. I appreciate the work, effort, and time commitment from each of you who volunteered in 2019. Thank you!

However, we are finding it more and more difficult to find volunteers to serve on many of our teams and attend one meeting after another. That’s why as the year 2020 rises upon us, I am asking a question about our current design. It is the question of purpose. What is the reason these teams exist and come together to meet, or do they come together and meet because they exist? Has anything changed since 2015 that makes these teams more or less relevant? Is the problem the people or the structure? Like a church which tries to staff a session designed for the church when it was twice its current size, does the structure of the presbytery fit the reality and needs of the members and congregations we have today?

In seminary I learned that the best theology lives between the tension of two truths. In this case, our best design lives between the need for permanence and surety, and the reality of rapid change. We need permission to push against those structure that no longer work or fit and allow what God is bringing forth to emerge. The structure must be able to reflect the rapidly changing constituents, needs, and fiscal realities of the organization. This flexibility applies to the Book of Order, presbytery policy, and congregation’s manuals operation.

So, if we’re a truly flexible presbytery, what would our structure look like? How do we make sure honorably retired pastors, and those participating in specialized ministry get hardwired into the structure? How do we lift up climate change and global missions, while keeping dismantling racism front and center? Pray along with me and our leadership as we meet together and discuss these important questions.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Deciding Versus Discerning

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


I am a youngest child. There are basically two types of youngest children: One says, “Help, I can’t do it!” The other says, “I don’t need your help, I can do it myself.” I’m the second type! My drive for competence and control is what led me to take Home Economics (so I can wash, iron, and cook without anyone’s help!) and obtain a doctorate degree (I’m smart enough to do it without anyone’s help!). Sometimes I think the Presbyterian church is filled with oldest and second type of youngest born children. These are the take control, independent thinking, highly competent, decision making type. Our polity is designed for order and efficiency; it is a polity that works hand-in-hand with a “we can handle this” personality.

Yet God calls us to silence. God calls us to stillness. God wants us to let go of the controls. God speaks to us in prayer and meditation through a still small voice. At a time when meeting to make decisions is the norm, perhaps God is calling us to ancient practice of discernment. In her book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Susan Beaumont quotes Ruth Haley Barton in defining discernment as, “. . .an ever increasing capacity to ‘see’ the work of God in the midst of the human situation, so that we can align ourselves with whatever God is doing.”

Discernment can be done individually or as a committee, team, or group. In either context, discernment means letting go of what we want- what we desire to happen. We then open ourselves up to what God wants as we seek God’s will for the situation or problem. This process is called shedding or letting go. Beaumont writes, “Shedding invites personal indifference. Discerners suspend personal preferences because they don’t value anything as much as they value honoring the soul of the institution and knowing God’s will.”

There are many more elements to discernment in Beaumont’s book including framing the question, grounding in principles, listening, exploring, weighing, choosing, and testing. Discerning is a lot of work! It is not practical to use this process for every decision. But it could be used for individual critical decisions (like when I sought God’s will for becoming your presbytery leader) and group decisions (such as “Should we lease our space? Change our worship? Reorganize our department?”). 

Advent invites us to a reflective pause as we ponder the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. This is a good time to reconnect our spiritual disciplines which are the foundation for discernment. Advent reminds us that no matter how talented or gifted we are, we cannot do it by ourselves. We do God’s best work when we are not in control. And that we need the hope, peace, joy, and love we find in Jesus Christ and in one another.  Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Self-Empathy

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


The work of leadership, pastors, teachers, and chaplains is the work of making decisions. Pastors and other leaders often feel as though they are on an island and often work alone. While there are still a few large congregations with full-time staff, for the most part, the days of multi-staff congregations and full-time staff are behind us. Many pastors find themselves preparing bulletins and vacuuming carpets! Seminary faculty must do their own copying while handling a large teaching load. Hospital chaplains are stretched over several hospitals and have little administrative help with their work. Religious leaderships in various forms are faced with expanded roles with extended time without matching compensation. They face complex problems with varying and contextual answers with even more severe consequences. The demands of religious leaders to have an answer quickly and correctly is matched by the requirement to be relvant, approachable, and “without all that spooky spiritual stuff” in their replies.

As my colleague and Executive Presbyter of Pittsburgh, Sheldon Sorge, likes to say, “Lord give me a tough skin and a tender heart in this work that creates a thin skin and tough heart.”

I’m writing to leaders who may judge themselves harshly for not keeping up or when they make a mistake. I’m addressing those who experience internal guilt when they fall short of their high internal standards and to those who blame themselves when things don’t go as planned. I’m writing to myself.

I have been helped this Advent season by the book Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action by Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini. They spend a bit of time on the subject of self-empathy. Self-empathy is needed when we hear a negative comment, fail at a task, or things don’t go as we would like. It is needed when we respond internally with words like, “I should have known better,” or “What an idiot I am; I can’t believe I did that,” or “I’ll never learn.” They write, “With this kind of response to criticism, we set ourselves up for chronic stress, guilt and shame. If it becomes a deeply entrenched pattern, it can lead to depression.”

Empathy is the ability to listen, connect, and relate to others. Self-empathy demands the same attention and compassion that we share with others to be applied to ourselves. Through self-empathy we hear things differently and respond in healthier ways. It is a way to lighten the burden of leadership by emphasizing our acceptance by God and valuing our feelings and needs in our relationships and lives. As we practice self-empathy, we will learn to love ourselves as we love others.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Advent

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


Advent is the season of waiting. During advent, we light candles on the advent wreath with each candle representing an element of our faith. These elements are hope, faith, joy, and peace. The fifth candle, Christ’s candle, represents light and purity.

Advent is a time to stop and reflect on our calling in Christ. As Presbyterians, we believe everyone is called to a particular vocation. This calling asks each of us to serve our society and the world. In her book, The Spirit of Advent: The Meaning is in the Waiting, Paula Gooder reflects on the calling of Abraham and Sarah and how their lives can guide us in our sense of call and vocation. She writes, “With God the command is both to go and to come. The ‘go’ element involves leaving behind many things; the command to ‘come’ involves knowing that God will accompany us on the journey.” What is God calling you to leave behind this Advent season?  How do you experience God on your journey of faith?

Advent is a time to believe that the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ is the God who calls us to wait. We are called to wait for the seeds of faith that have been planted in our spirit to sprout into new life. For me, I wait in anxious anticipation for fruitful congregations, chaplains, teachers, new worshiping communities, and other specialized ministries to bud, blossom, and bloom, all in God’s time. What do you find yourself waiting for during this Advent season?

Advent is a time for change. God’s change in God’s time. Change may mean letting go. It often means loss and grief. Gooder writes, “God’s call to us remains a call to change: to leaving and accompanying, to moving and changing, to growing and flourishing. It is part of human nature to yearn for stability, to put down roots, and to stay put; but it is also a rule of nature that things that do not move do not live.” What changes are you welcoming into your life this Advent? 

Advent is a call to life. As we embrace the core elements of our life in Christ – hope, faith, joy, and peace–we enjoy the happiness of God through the fruit of the Spirit. Blessings to all during this Advent season as we engage the Triune God and find new life together. Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Wow

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


Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. On Saturday at the presbytery gathering, Janice McMillen and I were presenting certificates to the congregations that qualified for Hunger Action. Earlier, Rosemary Mitchell and Bill McConnell from the Presbyterian Mission Agency presented certificates to the 28 congregations that qualified for 4 by 4 special offerings. We had many people coming onto the stage for Hunger Action, and Janice asked them to stay up on the stage so that we could applaud them all together at the end. There were 45 congregations that qualified for Hunger Action. After reading the last name and handing the framed certificate and check to the last congregation, I turned to see rows of smiling faces proudly holding their certificates spread across the length of the stage. For a moment, I was overwhelmed. All I could say was, “Wow!!”

I want to thank all of the congregations that participated and all the commissioners and members that witnessed the celebration and awards on Saturday. I hope each one shares the award with their members at their home church, and make sure they receive applause for their great work. I know this isn’t a stopping point for any of you; it’s just a moment to pause and celebrate. For example, take a look at First Kirkwood’s Rise Against Hunger which they did on Sunday, seen here.

Also on Saturday, Diane Moffett gave an inspiring message promoting the Matthew 25 initiative. For the first time, we live streamed the worship service. So far, we’ve had 173 views! You can view it here. 

As we come to a close of calendar year 2019 and enter the season of Advent, I am anticipating Giddings-Lovejoy doing great things together in 2020. We will flesh out the Matthew 25 program and make significant progress against poverty and racism as we learn ways to become a presbytery of vital congregations. Thank you all, again, for a wonderful presbytery gathering.  Along with the staff, I thank you for your support and an exciting and full 2019! God bless you all!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Introducing Matthew 25

Matthew 25 will be introduced at the Saturday Presbytery Gathering. The three pillars of the program are vital congregations, poverty, and anti-racism. The following reflection from Julie Nicolai is about her experience on the recent Dismantling Racism and White Privilege bus trip to the Montgomery Alabama.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


 

A Journey Never to be Forgotten

I recently had the pleasure of going on the bus tour to Montgomery, Alabama to visit civil rights sites sponsored by the Presbytery’s Team on Dismantling Racism and Privilege.  The trip included attendees from varied backgrounds and a number of churches within the Presbytery.  We visited two museums and attended Sunday morning worship service at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

The service at Dexter Avenue was amazing, with Grammy award caliber singers, dancing, shouting and clapping, plus a sermon that made me want to get up and take action.  I must say we blew the roof off the place. 

We visited The Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Incarceration on Saturday.  It was a sobering experience.  It took us on a journey from the horrors of slavery, through the terrorism of the Jim Crow era, and on to the contemporary injustices of our criminal justice system.  Along the way, we were brought to tears by powerful period images, quotes and interactive displays.  I will not soon forget the absolute and inescapable brutality of systematic rape forced upon female slaves (and some male slaves) by the white plantation system.  I will forever remember the photograph showing a hanged man’s feet above a crowd of leering men, some of them laughing.

Our visit to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was powerful, eerie, angering and sad, yet left us with hope for redemption and salvation.  Hundreds of large, metal rectangular blocks hang from the ceiling of the memorial.  Each one has the name of a county and the names of the people that were lynched there.  Some were lynched for simply looking at a white person the wrong way, or just being in the vicinity when a barn happened to burn down.  The most amazing thing about it is that exact replicas of each block are laid on the ground outside the Memorial, with each county being challenged to come and claim their respective block, thus assuming accountability for its actions, and initiating the healing process.  So far, 40 counties are in the process of claiming blocks. 

There are 4,000 documented lynching’s in the United States.  They are not confined to the South.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, more that are undocumented.  There were 60 documented lynching’s in Missouri and one in St. Louis County.  Here are the names of the victims of lynching’s that occurred within the Presbytery of Giddings – Lovejoy’s boundaries:

  • John Buckner, 1894, St. Louis County          
  • Erastus Brown, 1897, Franklin County
  • Ray Hammonds, 1921, Pike County             
  • Henry Caldwell, 1882, Iron County
  • William McDonald, 1883, Pike County        
  • Curtis Young, 1898, Pike County
  • Sam Young, 1898, Pike County                    
  • Love Redd, 1915, Pike County
  • William Henderson, 1895, Cape Girardeau County

Julie Nikolai, History Team of the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy

 

 

 

Participation

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


Our next presbytery gathering is one week from Saturday at The Washington Presbyterian church in Washington, Missouri. It will be a time of learning, celebration, and efficient business. I am so happy that we will celebrate the ministry of 51 of our congregations. There are currently 42 congregations who have said yes to participating in the hunger action program. Additionally, 28 of the 51 also participated in four of the special offerings over the past 4 years. Wow!

I often say that there are two words which seem to never go together: all and presbytery. We cannot get all of the presbytery to do anything! But I am pleased that 2/3 participated in these programs. Kudos to each church, pastor, and session that will receive certificates and financial gifts at the presbytery gathering.

According to our mission statement, we are presbytery of dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations. In 2020, I want to focus on us becoming vibrant congregations. This is part of being a Matthew 25 presbytery as well. Although Mathew 25 uses the word “vital congregation,” the idea is the same. Both vital and vibrant speak to life, energy, creativity, and relationships. Both define a congregation as building community, dismantling racism, and pushing back against poverty.

The presbytery does not create vibrant congregations. There is no magic formula or five step program to become a vibrant congregation. But the presbytery can create an environment where vibrant congregations can exist and flourish. For this to happen we must be a connectional church with the presbytery office serving as a hub in multiple ways–creating, enhancing, resourcing, and steering connections. 

Not all of our congregations are vibrant. There are many reasons why. Some have very limited resources, and others are limited in vision. Some choose to be disconnected because of past hurts and disappointments (these congregations may even grow but are not connected to the presbytery). Some have been without leadership for so long they can’t see a way out of their entrenchment, and others are slowly winding down as they come to the end of a rich life and fulfilling ministry. The presbytery is willing to meet each congregation where they are and help them to determine their future, whatever it may be.

The November gathering closes out 2019 and kicks off 2020! It is about celebrating the past while looking forward with newly elected officers and living into Matthew 25. I urge all of our congregations to come off the sidelines and get into the action of doing connectional, vibrant ministry in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

Co-Creators

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


Yesterday I received an email from our communications associate, Janice McMillen, informing me that we had 40 congregations signed as either “certified” or “covenant” Hunger Action congregations with the PC(USA). These congregations completed a simple online form to explain what they are doing. They received the appropriate recognition from the denomination, and we will be recognizing their efforts at the November 9th presbytery gathering in Washington, Missouri.

For these 40 churches, being a Hunger Action congregation was not their goal. These congregations saw a need in their community and decided to do something about it. Their responses range from food pantries to community gardens. Some have community dinners while others do education programs to combat hunger. Their response to hunger was not out of a desire for recognition but an expression of their vision, mission, and core identity.

In her book, Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley writes about the connection between environment, vision, and identity. She believes successful organizations are connected to their environment and actually play a part in creating the community in which they exist. This comes about because of the organization’s sense of purpose and vision, which springs from its identity. She writes, “When an organization knows who it is, what its strengths are, and what it is trying to accomplish, it can respond intelligently to changes from its environment. . . The presence of a clear identity makes the organization less vulnerable to its environment; it develops greater freedom to decide how it will respond.”

The vision of a congregation should include the needs and opportunities of its community. The mission of a congregation should be in partnership with its surrounding community. This is why I’ve encouraged each congregation to do a neighborhood exegesis. As a church becomes aware of the needs and opportunities around its space, it will know where and how to connect: it will know how to become a co-creator of the future of that community.

Here is a list of the 40 Hunger Action congregations. Congratulations!

Here is a link to a nice story about First Alton and the great work they are doing with their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard