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

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





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

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




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

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


Visiting the Country

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

The old phrase, “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is especially true when it comes to people! I’m learning that it is difficult to tell much about a person just from looking at them on the outside. As you know, I was born and raised in Chicago. But what you do not know is I also have country and rural connections from my childhood on my grandmother’s farm in Port Arthur, Texas. My earliest memory of being on the farm is the smell of milk as it hits the bucket under a cow’s udder. I remember the smell and connect it the taste of Corn Flakes I eat for breakfast. Grandma had more of a house with farm animals than a farm! She had a few cows and chickens on her 5 acres. There may have even been a pig waddling around somewhere. Granddad (Who was really my step-grandfather. My real grandfather died when my father was a teenager) always wore coveralls and smelled of sweat from the Texas heat.

When I married Marilyn, I learned another level of country and farm living. My first time going to my father-in-law’s farm in Bowling Green, Missouri became a deep dive into the country. We arrived at night and the darkness was overwhelming. I’d never seen so many stars in the sky. I called it “dark dark!” I came to understand the self-sufficiency of farming. Anything my father-in-law needed could be made on the 1500 acre farm. I listened as this independent minded man in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt shared his in-depth knowledge of land, animals, and weather. He would then just as easily talk about insurance, the economy, and social events. The notion of the dumb farmer is quickly dismissed in conversations with my father-in-law.

As a person raised in Chicago, I have country and rural roots. As a farmer in Bowling Green, my father-in-law is current on what is happening in metro St. Louis. He and I have come to know and appreciate one another because we have conversations.

As I do the work of the presbytery in rural communities, I experience a lot of assumptions regarding values and understanding of different cultures. There are several dichotomies including country versus city and fancy versus simple. These assumptions play into our politics (liberal versus conservative) and our values (Biblical versus biblical). Not to mention assumptions about race and ignorance regarding the capacity and potential of people because of the color of their skin.

But these dichotomies are often proven false when we sit and talk with one another. While talking and listening to one another (preferably over a meal!) we may learn that we have more in common than we assume. Ask Dardenne Presbyterian and Third Presbyterian Church’s men’s groups. Through conversations they learned to appreciate and respect one another. Even though many come from different racial and economic backgrounds.

I find that people usually love their families, want what is best for their children, want work that is meaningful and significant, honor their heritage, and really do care about the environment. Most people have experienced hardship either personally or with a family member, and they want a better life for their grandchildren. If we can listen to one another and find points of connection with common values and suffering, we may find that we are not so different after all.

Rev. Craig Howard

Intentional Love

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

On Saturday I drove back from a synod meeting in Kansas City along with a synod commissioner. We talked about retirement. He shared how he is learning that retirement is about having a routine. He then named 5 daily habits he practices which cover physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being. I asked for examples of each of these. Of course, he talked about daily Bible reading and prayer, physical exercise and journaling. He then surprised me by saying that each day, he does something to show his wife that he loves her. I thought, “Do I show Marilyn that I love her on a daily basis?” (Please don’t ask her!!) Sometimes love means acting in intentional and consistent ways.

As your presbytery leader I want the entire presbytery to feel like they are important, cared and prayed for. The staff continues to come up with creative ways to demonstrate the significance of every church, pastor, and member. The In Your Neighborhood program comes from our heart of compassion as a way to show how important everyone in the presbytery is.

This past Wednesday and Thursday the presbytery office set up camp in Sullivan, Missouri. Over the next two days we met with over 35 people in meals, fellowship, and business. It was great to see people from different churches fellowshipping with one another at meals. Pastors and leaders felt welcomed as the restaurants filled with laughter and conversation. They were attentive as we shared dates for upcoming presbytery events and appreciation for their presence. They also shared with the presbytery and with one another upcoming significant events in each church, and a commitment to support one another. I also met with leadership from Mound Ridge. Our honest and difficult conversation was followed with pizza and well- wishes.

This is what it means to be Presbyterian and a presbytery: sharing our joys and concerns while seeking and discovering ways to show that we love one another. It takes an intentional effort to be a connected church. Love with intention can cover a multitude of faults and create an atmosphere of grace.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Did you know…what our Session Clerks are doing???

Blog Post by
Rev. Joy Myers
Stated Clerk


G-3.0104  Officers

            …Each council shall elect a clerk who shall record the transactions of the council, keep its rolls of membership and attendance, maintain any required registers, preserve its records, and furnish extracts from them when required by another council of the church.  Such extracts, verified by the clerk, shall be evidence in any council of the church.  The clerk of the session shall be a ruling elder elected by the session for such a term as it may determine.

           I KNOW!  That can sound intimidating…but the wonderful part is that we have so many amazing session clerks in this presbytery who support one another and share ideas of how to keep the myriad of details that are required in the minutes, registers and rolls of each congregation.  You always know you have support.

            We have held three peer review gatherings for session clerks:  August 10 at New Hope Presbyterian Church in St Charles; September 14 at Sullivan Presbyterian Church in Sullivan and September 21 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St Louis.  There were 46 different congregations represented out of the 76 congregations of the presbytery.  I really want to see 100% of the congregations participate in this review.  We currently have over 60% participation.

            There were some areas where we found that we do not always follow the guidelines set forth in the Book of Order or we were unfamiliar with them.

  • First: G-3.0201b, W-2.4012, W-3.3616e – ask that we provide for distribution of the sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper (at least quarterly)] to members isolated from the community’s worship.
  • Second: G-3.0202a – states that commissioners are elected to presbytery and report after each presbytery meeting. Many said they rotate or that the pastor attends.  We really need the voices of ruling elders as well as teaching elders.  Now that the presbytery is incorporating educational aspects to the gathering times, you never know what idea or information you will take away with you.
  • Third: G-3.0201c – The training, examination, ordination and installation of newly-elected ruling elders and deacons is recorded. Most sessions do a portion of these tasks but the Book of Order asks that sessions do all of them…that it is not up to the pastor but to the session to decide the leadership of the congregation.
  • Fourth: G-3.0113 – There was a financial review or audit. These should be conducted annually even if your session reviews the finances monthly at your meetings.

            We are keeping a copy of the insurance declaration page for property, liability, and officer insurance in the files of the congregations of the presbytery that are kept in the office.

            Three resources available from the Board of Pensions, which you can request directly from them, are:

  • Understanding Effective Salary
  • Living by the Gospel: A Guide to Structuring Ministers’ Terms of Call
  • Federal Reporting Requirements for Churches: What you need to know for 2019

       These are especially helpful as you approach the end of the current budget year and are looking at the compensation for all your church staff but especially the pastor’s terms of call.         

Rev Joy Myers, Stated Clerk

Porous Boundaries


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

I received a call from a presbytery executive in Illinois. He was looking for a pastor in a small town and realized the church was across the bridge from a church in Giddings-Lovejoy that was also seeking a pastor. We talked about how difficult it has been to find pastors willing to go to rural areas. It is not just because of the location. We have to consider the lifestyle and family of the pastor too. As we talked, we realized that if we could find someone willing to serve several congregations, we would have a better chance of paying them well, giving them a choice of places to live, and increase the probability of finding good schools and places where a spouse could work. And here is the twist: In order to make this happen, we would have to cross presbytery boundaries. Suddenly the boundaries we drew back in 1983 to define Giddings-Lovejoy and Southeast Illinois would have to become porous in order for us to attract the best leadership.

I also received an email from someone who is writing an article on the future of Presbyterian ministry in 2020. The writer wanted to know what vision I have for Giddings-Lovejoy as we head into the new year. My immediate thought was that I have a vision for us to become one Presbytery.

This vision of one presbytery has not changed since I first arrived in St. Louis. What is changing, however, are the boundaries I envision for ministry. I want Giddings-Lovejoy to realize the gifts we have in our presbytery and the wonderful things we can accomplish together. But I also want us to see other presbyteries touching our borders and the possibilities we have working together across boundaries.

Perhaps we need to also look at other boundaries we have created. As I seek leadership on the geographic edges of the presbytery, I am looking at other denominations that we are in communion with as well. Perhaps the solution to our Presbyterian problem can be found in ELCA Lutheran, United Church of Christ, or Reformed Church. Part of the challenge of our church may be a result of limited thinking and the silos and compartments in which we place ourselves. It may be time to bust out of these boxes and experience the abundance that is already in our midst.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


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

September 4th was our anniversary. Marilyn and I celebrated 15 years by purchasing a house in Ellisville. It is a great idea, very romantic, and a whole lot of work! These past two weeks I have been moving from my house in Ballwin, into our home in Ellisville. The distance is only 10 minutes, which makes it worse! This is because we figured it would be easy to go back and forth between houses: bringing and cleaning, lifting up and putting down, boxing and arranging. Each day things get better. I can find my belt now!

We have been living between two homes, and it feels like living between two worlds. It is a familiar feeling because I and the leaders in the presbytery, feel as though we are living in this way every day. During a conversation with some pastors from my generation, we talked about the many things seminary didn’t teach us! Boilers, roofs, and septic tanks came to mind. I didn’t know I would have to know so much about real estate, taxes and finance! The list could go on.

The preparation we needed was not to equip us for all of the details of the ministry, but for liminality. Liminality describes the in-between spaces we live into as we lead and serve the people of God. Liminality means learning to be comfortable with uncertainty, pushing ahead without knowing the results, and risking different approaches to problems. Experiencing liminality is feeling off balance and unsure where the next step is on the foggy path we are taking. But sometimes the path appears as we take the step.

Liminality not only applies to pastors, chaplains, teachers, and other leaders, but it applies to those in the pews, the hospital, and school room. We are all living in changing times, and we are all affected by them.

Now is when we also feel the grace and presence of the God who said, “I am who I am” (or I will be who I will be). God is a God of change, and at the very nature of this changing God is love and grace. We need both of those arms of God to embrace us as we move forward in the path the Spirit is calling us to take.

Look! I just found my socks! I get the feeling things will turn out alright on this move!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Are you Qualified for Matthew 25?

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

I was a track athlete in high school and college. I remember my first attempt to go down state. I was on a relay team, and we didn’t do well. I was feeling discouraged and my coach reminded me that I’d already qualified for state in the 440 yard dash (now it’s the 400 meter dash! I’m dating myself). I was elated! I was headed down state for the first time!

At our last Presbytery Gathering we were introduced to Vital Congregations. This program was created by Katherine Threadgill, our speaker and worship leader for the gathering. Creating vital congregations is one of the three pillars of the Matthew 25 initiative which the presbytery is implementing for 2020. The three pillars are systematic poverty, structural racism, and congregational vitality. And chances are, many of our churches already qualify!

When PC(USA) announced this initiative, it felt as though they’d been listening in on what we are already doing in Giddings-Lovejoy! We have several congregations committed to the elimination of hunger (systemic poverty). Our Dismantling Racism and Privilege team is challenging congregations and individuals to identify white privilege and combat racism in our churches and communities (structural racism). We have congregations signed up for Ministry Architect, Partners for Sacred Places, and several participated in the Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations initiative (congregational vitality). When it comes to poverty, racism, and congregational vitality, our presbytery is all over these!

The goal for 2020 is to improve upon what we are already doing. Let’s move beyond feeding people, for example, and build relationships and friendships with the people who come to eat at our churches. Let them know they are as welcome to Sunday service as they are to Wednesday night supper. Racism is present throughout the cities and towns our presbytery serves. How do we stretch beyond conversations in our buildings around race to influencing public policy and positions our communities hold? Perhaps being a vital congregation will mean doing mission and evangelism; reaching out and inviting in.

As your session plans for ministry in 2020, think seriously about being a Matthew 25 congregation. Chances are, you already qualify!

Rev. Craig M. Howard