Sneakers

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


 

In the book, Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson tells the story of a group of mice with an abundance of cheese next door. One day, they go to get the cheese, but it’s gone. The book is about their search for a new supply of cheese. The image I remember most from the book is how the mice couldn’t find their running shoes because they’d been complacent so long. The book ends with the mice finding a new supply of cheese, but they keep their sneakers hanging around their necks, just in case they need them again!

Recently, I had an insightful session meeting at Affton Presbyterian Church. This church has spent the past 18 months moving from location to location without a permanent home. Almost two years ago, as their resources dwindled, Affton took the risk of selling their church building and renting space in a middle school. I remember preaching while the church was in the school and being surrounded by small desks and chairs designed for children! They would set up their worship space and then tear it down and put the room back to the way they found it. But they made the best of it. The church then moved from the school to renting space at Calvary Presbyterian Church. The pastor is bi-vocational, using his time wisely for efficient and adaptive ministry.

Going through these changes has created a congregation with character. They shared how they were afraid that they would lose members as they moved like the Israelites in the wilderness from place to place. To their surprise, very few people left. At each step of the way, they shared how they had to make tough decisions and each time God provided, and they stuck together. As a church, they have been through the fire and have come out on the other side. Affton shows a level of grit and is not afraid of what the future may bring.

Affton has had several learnings from this experience. They learned how to communicate with one another; they now take great strides to make sure everyone is aware of decisions that are being made, and that they have the buy-in of the congregation. They also learned that the best decisions are not top down; each committee is empowered to act on the decisions they make without returning to the session table for permission. They emphasized to me that the church is not the building but the people. As long as the people are willing to be together and be the church, they will always have a place to worship.

This is a congregation that wears their sneakers around their necks! They are ready to change when the time comes. I wonder, do you know where your sneakers are?

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Shame

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


“Tell the truth and shame the devil!” I heard these words from my Mother while growing up in Chicago. The strategy was simple. If you want to avoid someone shaming you, beat them to the story! Once truth is exposed, shame is eliminated. The upcoming bus trip to Montgomery, Alabama is to expose the shame of racism and segregation. It is a shame that is deep in our area of the country. It is a shame that prevents our congregations from thriving as we continue to perpetuate the idea that 11:00 Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.

On October 18 – 21 the Dismantling Racism and Privilege team (DRAP) is sponsoring a bus trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. DRAP hopes to gather people of multiple races and generations in constructive conversation, interaction, and activities during the four-day trip. The event is designed to better understand the bloody trail of racism carried in black bodies throughout the history of the nation. Through various forms of media, the museum presents ways people of color have been “disproportionately marginalized, disadvantaged and mistreated.” The trail of blood from lynching and racial violence goes from the deep South into Missouri and southern Illinois. It is not an easy or pretty story. But it is a truth we must face if we will have a chance to overcome the shame.

The event is named, The Road to Reconciliation. DRAP then asks the question on the flyer, “Are you called?” DRAP recognizes that the first step toward racial healing begins in our hearts. I believe we must come to a point of frustration and dissatisfaction with our homogenous congregations and neighborhoods before we are motivated to change. DRAP is challenging the presbytery to look at the “ugly” beneath the surface as a way to take steps toward becoming the beloved community.

If you are interested in going on the trip here is the link. This is the first trip of its kind, and we are starting small with a bus of 50 people. I pray hearts are open to learning and growing together as a presbytery and as God’s people.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Fourth of July

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


On Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed a heartfelt and joyful celebration of the ministry of Mark Thomas. Mark is retiring after 14 years as Head of Staff of Ladue Presbyterian Church. Ladue is the largest congregation in the presbytery and leads the presbytery in several areas, including mission giving, membership, and growth. During his remarks, Mark, in his usual style, refused to take credit for the success of the ministry. He said, “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. I can only hope I’ve done something that others who come after me can stand on the ministry I’ve been a steward of.”

As a nation, the Fourth of July is a reminder that our accomplishments and struggles are a result of those who went before us. The breaking away from Britain, the revolutionary war, the writing of the constitution and subsequent Bill of Rights paved a path for freedom. It is a freedom that didn’t come all at once for all people. It is a freedom that continues to build and develop on the work of those who came before us.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and mentioned Juneteenth, which is the celebration of African-Americans being freed from slavery. I received an email from pastor Mark Wiley in Son Parish that touched me deeply. He wrote:

“First let me thank you for the blog you wrote this week. Since I was not aware of the chronological events that led to freedom for those held in slavery, the article by Gates was very informative. As an FYI, I was raised on a farm that had been worked by slaves and there was a family cemetery on this land. When I thought my parents were being overbearing, I would go there and sit among the grave stones knowing the irregular stones set with no carvings marked those who had worked in the house honorably. It reminded me I had no idea what overbearing was since the field hands had been buried in unmarked graves on a different hillside.”

Every time I read this, my eyes fill with tears. I appreciate that Mark Wiley is aware of the suffering and sacrifices of slaves. In a way, I have the cemetery in my heart. I often think of my ancestors and the sacrifices they endured so that I can have a chance at freedom and choice for my life’s work. To stand on their shoulders means a life dedicated to expanding freedom for others who are bound because of their race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexuality.

My Presbyterian faith reminds me that all people are broken and sinful. As sinful people, we create and support broken and sinful institutions. We can never expect our broken systems to create God’s perfect kingdom on earth. But on this Fourth of July, perhaps we can take the opportunity to advance issues of justice in our nation. We can do it in the name of those who went before us, upon whose shoulders we now stand.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

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/

Gloria

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


Before the St. Louis Blues played the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, I’d watched the Bruins decimated one hot team after another in the Eastern Division playoffs. Brilliant skaters and passers, Boston was the fastest team on ice. They were barreling toward what I thought to be a potential four game sweep of the upstart Blues from the Western Division. To my glorious surprise, the Blues showed resilience, physical strength, and timely stops that would eventually overwhelm the favorite Bruins.

The St. Louis Blues demonstrated that the team with the best talent, most speed, and accurate shooters doesn’t always win in hockey. But playing as a team wins every time! Teamwork characteristics such as encouraging one another, looking out for teammates’ blind spots, stepping up when the pressure is on, not putting one another down when things go wrong but building one another up, moving forward even after a bad game, and unselfish play are a winning combination.

What does teamwork look like in our presbytery? In what ways can we support one another, encourage and lift up one another? One example is ways in which our small town and rural congregations can feel supported by other congregations in the presbytery. For example, on July 28th Boeuff Presbyterian in Gerald will be celebrating its 160th year anniversary. What would it mean if a dozen people showed up from other congregations? Such an appearance would help Boeuff know they are not alone out in Gerald. Old Argo celebrates a Sausage Supper weekend on Saturday October 12th. Wouldn’t it be great if a number of folks from around the presbytery showed up to help them celebrate and raise money for the congregation?

Physically supporting one another is just one way to show teamwork. Another way is by sharing ideas which stretch the congregation’s cultural comfort zone. Tomorrow is Juneteenth, a Missouri holiday that celebrates the liberation of slaves. Why not use Juneteenth liturgies in congregations that do not have African American members?  What an educational moment this could become! I’ve included a couple of liturgies in this newsletter.

So, what else is going on in your church that the entire presbytery could experience? What are some other ways you can imagine us working together as a team? Now if I can just get that darn song out of my head!! Gloria! Gloria!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Innovators and Laggards

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


In 1962 Everett Rogers wondered why people grab hold of certain new ideas while others reject the same idea. He wrote the book, Diffusion of Innovations, which describe how new information spreads. Those who latch on early are called innovators, while those who tend to wait until the end are called laggards. I was first introduced to this theory while studying to be a presbytery executive in a presbytery leadership cohort. The faculty warned us that we might think something is a solid idea, but don’t be surprised if the presbytery warms up to it gently and slowly.

I received a letter last week with a great idea that I want to share. My hope is that you too will see the value, opportunity, and challenge which the letter presents. It is a summation of a survey. In 2018 and 2019, Luther Seminary conducted visits to over 58 congregations and several Lutheran synods. They then compiled a list of seven key themes which church leaders should know. Thanks to Mike Willock who sent me a copy of the letter. The themes are-

  • Deepen Christian identity and practice
  • Cultivate Christian community
  • Innovate faithfully
  • Connect with diverse neighbors
  • Equip the saints for ministry
  • Shift ministry models
  • Improve administrative leadership

Each of these points could take an article! I believe the list is accurate for the congregations in our presbytery as well as for the presbytery itself. As you look at this list, how is each of these items encouraged, nurtured, and utilized in your church? Which of these items are supported by the presbytery through its structure, mission, grants, and ministry? Where are we lacking? Is there something missing from the list you would add?

Wouldn’t it be great if those who are interested in each point could talk with one another and share ideas and ways to do the work? I’d love to make that happen! The more innovators and early adapters we have of these seven points, the more robust and healthier our presbytery will become. Let me now if you’re interested!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Organic Systems

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


As many of you know, one of the ways I relax is by going to a movie each week. Friday is my off day (and I try and take it as often as possible). This is when I try and attend a matinee. There is something relaxing about being in the dark theater, focused on the film. All of my electronics are silenced. For two hours I am not responsible to anyone or for anything. My mind escapes into whatever world I am viewing. I allow my emotions to flow with laughter, tears, and sometimes fear! At the end of the film I exit refreshed and ready to complete my sabbath with minimal interruption and work activity.

I saw an excellent film last week entitled, The Biggest Little Farm. This documentary is about a couple who decides to start an organic farm outside of Portland, OR. The film illustrates how everything can work together in a balanced and healthy ecosystem. As a system, when one thing gets out of balance or ignored, it affects other things in ways we often cannot imagine.

This month has activities for pastors, church leaders, social justice advocates, and those in specialized ministries. Later this year we will address honorably retired pastors, as we build cohorts for new pastors, transitional pastors, and pastors of color. Most of these events happen when various ministers, leaders, and members come together on their own initiative, and then invite the presbytery to join them.

The key to making our ecosystem work is knowing that healthy ministry springs up organically. I’ve learned that pushing programs down from the top often doesn’t work. The presbytery does its best work when people come together with a dream. Then, by utilizing the abundant resources of ideas, mission, and vision, they create the soil that is needed. The presbytery can then be invited to sprinkle its resources of technology, leadership, institutional connections, and finances. From this mix of resources, seeds of ministry sprout, and the entire presbytery is blessed! This is when we do our best work!

If you want more information on these activities, please contact Janice McMillen at jmcmillen@glpby.org.            

Blessings,

Craig M. Howard

Boundary Training June 5 St. Mark Presbyterian
All Teaching elders and Pastors are required to take boundary training once every five years.
     
Healthy Pastors/Healthy Congregations June 7/8 Glendale Presbyterian
Presented by the Board of Pensions. Each pastor and leadership team learn strategies for pastor and congregational health. The church then earns a grant to reduce pastoral debt or add to retirement savings.
     
Troubling the Waters: For the Healing of the World June 22 John Knox Presbyterian
An exciting program from the Synod, featuring the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness, Washington D.C. This event will address social justice in Giddings-Lovejoy and beyond. 
     
Taste of Tuscany June 26 St. Luke Hospital Atrium
A fabulous dinner for those in specialized ministry, hosted by St. Luke Hospital.

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Tuscany                             June 26            St. Luke Hospital

(A fabulous dinner for those in

Specialized ministry,

hosted by St. Luke’s hospital.)

 

Fruit of the Church

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


I spent Sunday afternoon this past Memorial Day weekend at Antioch Presbyterian Church in Cyrene, MO. Antioch celebrated its 200th year as the first Cumberland Presbyterian church west of the Mississippi. Antioch is PC(USA) today and part of Missouri Union Presbytery. Missouri Union sits right above ours and further west into Missouri. Until recently, Antioch was in a yoking relationship with Providence Concord Presbyterian Church in Vera, Missouri. For many years each church had worship with their shared pastor twice a month.  However, for the past 30 or so years their shared pastors have led worship in both churches every week.  They would celebrate special occasions together. My spouse, Marilyn Gamm, was raised in Providence Concord. 

Today, Antioch has 5 to 6 members on a given Sunday. Yet over 80 people showed up for this celebration! The church was packed with people crammed in and standing along the walls. Former pastor, Rev. Ann Collins Wasson, gave an excellent and encouraging sermon. As I absorbed the fellowship, music, sermon, and worship, I kept looking at the board on the wall that announced 5 people in church this morning and 6 people last week. If this church has only 5 members, where did this throng of masses come from?

The 80 plus people who took part in the celebration are the fruit of the church. These are generations of children who have grown up and moved across the country. The evangelism strategy of Antioch and Providence Concord was to baptize, teach, and confirm the next generation of church leaders. The results are leaders spread abroad with three Ministers of Word and Sacrament and countless Ruling Elders serving in churches today.

Through the work of generations of faithful people, Antioch and Providence Concord have a plentiful harvest of leaders who are building the next generation of leaders in the church. Just as these leaders did not end up at either of these congregations, the children and young people we are nurturing in our congregations today will probably leave the nest and not return.

Yet, we should value the on-going work and ministry for this future church. Every Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, confirmation class, and various youth activities are placing the DNA of God’s church into the hearts and minds of leaders who will work and live beyond our location and even our lifetime. There will be a future church. The architects are in our nurseries and youth groups today. We are planting seeds that will develop and grow into a harvest for God’s kingdom.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Blame

Blog Post by

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


As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. John 9:1-4

I once worked for a bad boss in an anxious organization. We were under deadlines and he would take up to a week to return an email. He was often out of the office when I was pressured and needed his permission before I could act. Of course, he didn’t answer his cell phone either! Projects were late, pressure increased, and going to work became a nightmare.

As I blamed him for everything that went wrong, I asked myself, “How am I and the rest of the team contributing to this problem?”

It is easy to blame the one in charge (or the least vulnerable person in the office), but we often fail to ask how we contribute and maintain the anxious dysfunctional system that exists around us. Scapegoating is a sign that a system is anxious.

A leader in an anxious system is tempted to emotionally react and not patiently respond to problems and crises. My boss reacted by hiding and being secretive. In Uproar: Calm Leadership for Anxious Times, Peter Steinke lists other common reactions by leaders in a system with chronic anxiety:

  1. emotional reactivity replaces careful thought
  2. the herding instinct is strong (circle the wagons, strength in numbers, groupthink)
  3. blame displacement (finding a scapegoat)
  4. wanting a quick fix (for the reduction of unpleasant anxiety)
  5. weakened leadership (failure to take a stand and disappoint some segment of the system)
  6. secrecy
  7. invasiveness (boundary violations).

We are living in difficult times for the life of the church. Congregations are bombarded with moral and ethical issues, divided along political lines, struggling to balance budgets, pressured to gain membership, and maintain older buildings. For congregations searching for pastors, they find the pipeline to be dripping and not flowing as fewer and fewer young and geographically mobile people are entering seminary. It is easy to see why congregations and other non-profits would be anxious.

Our presbytery is an anxious system as well. As the presbytery leader, I try to be thoughtful, a patient listener, and clear in my thinking. But there are times I react and take an immature route. I am constantly reminded how being in a web of anxiety causes leaders to take one of the seven choices listed above.

My prayer is that the various ministry contexts in which our pastors and leaders serve develop a mature long-term approach to its challenges, and our pastors and leaders learn to respond with maturity, thoughtfulness, and gravity to the crises they face.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Connected Church

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


 The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love. G-1.0102

At the last Presbytery Gathering, we tried something new. We invited commissioners and participants to come down on Friday and stay overnight for Saturday’s Gathering. On Friday afternoon, the Peace Park of First, Cape Girardeau, was dedicated. The service was open to the public. The audience was filled with church members, Presbyterians who had arrived early for the Saturday gathering, local people who support the church, onlookers, and those just passing by.

It was a beautiful event that included the unveiling of two statues that were created by local artists. Rev. Ellen Gurnon, the new pastor at First, gave a stirring prayer. All hung around to enjoy snacks, music, fellowship, the statutes, and the beautiful garden.

The Peace Park is a testament of First’s commitment to the community that surrounds it. The congregation has created a space where people can just hang out with one another in the shadow of the church. There is a playground where kids can play safely. I can envision people on blankets enjoying one another while the children play. All in the name of peace. All in the name of Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.

What brought gladness and peace to my heart that day was the fellowship of congregations and support of the presbytery for this small congregation in southern Missouri over 2 hours from St. Louis.  It spoke to the core of what it means to be Presbyterian and what it means to be a presbytery.

Being presbytery means being connected to one another, supporting one another, and showing up for one another. Sometimes it may be inconvenient and to do so may even temporarily disrupt our lives. But this is the core of who we are. Being on committees and teams, attending meetings, making time to serve the local congregation and the larger church. These are also ways we live out our Presbyterian ethos.

I dream of a day when larger congregations in St. Louis and Illinois show up for events of smaller congregations in other parts of Missouri and Illinois. In this dream, smaller congregations show up for things at larger congregations as well. They each show up to learn and to have fellowship. It is not about one who is wealthy giving to another who is in need. As we tap into God’s abundance, we realize each has something to give to the other. Distances are crossed in both directions because true ministry is a gift exchange. This is a dream within our grasp. I saw a clear demonstration of this in Cape Girardeau. Perhaps our presbytery can be a garden of peace, where young, old, large, small, and all flavors of Presbyterians and others can fellowship and play. Let’s make this happen all over our presbytery!

Rev. Craig M. Howard