Shining at GA

COLA Co-Moderators, Rev. Cedric Portis and Rev. Carol DeVaughan

Rev. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader

I’m going to need my Thesaurus to find the proper words to describe the job our Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) is doing at General Assembly. I will need help finding words to thank all of the volunteers who are participating in GA. Let me start with outstanding, and admirable. I have to add fantastic and incredible.

The Friday night Welcome to St. Louis event, which had never been done in the history of GA, was a sensational success. The music, food, and raffle created a spirit of fellowship and family. This was the goal that Carol Devaughn had when she came up with the idea. We believe this will become part of GA going into the future.

Saturday Worship was extraordinary. The theme of water was brilliant. Thank you Susan Niesen. The reading of the scripture was astounding. The choir was angelic. The dance and singing of “Wade in the Water” thrilled the hearts of the worship participants. I have been attending GA since the year 2000. This was one of the best worship services I’ve been a part of.

Allow me to give a shout out to the video! We have a link on the website, but you can view it here. The video helped to put Giddings-Lovejoy in context. It lifted up our diversity, challenges, opportunity, and the way we have come together as a presbytery. Great idea. Great job.

To all of the churches who hosted convention attendees during Sunday morning worship, thank you! The busses arrived back from the congregations with people full of smiles and joy! Thank you all so much!

Did you attend Bible Study? On Monday morning Deborah Krause created the theological template for becoming a 21st century church and presbytery. Tuesday morning Raj Nadella followed her lead on Tuesday morning. Our souls and spirits were fed. Their teaching was a feast in the Holy Spirit!

And then there was the march on Tuesday. Hundreds of Presbyterians marched from the convention center to the Justice Center to bail our kin out of jail! The denomination raised over $47,000 and the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy raised over $2,000 through the giving button on the webpage. Erin Counihan had a crazy dream for a public action. Well, this is what God can do with our dreams.

I wish I could name and thank everyone for your work, help, and efforts. I hope to meet and greet all of the volunteers while you are serving at the convention center. I am so proud of you. I am so proud, happy, and humbled to be your presbytery leader. Giddings-Lovejoy has become a shining light of what a presbytery can do when we all work together.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

A Brief GA Reflection and Revelation

Blog Post by
Rev. Cedric Portis
Co-Moderator of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA)

The 223 General Assembly is upon us. I’m confident that our preparation and planning will pay off this week as we welcome and host Presbyterians from all over the world.

These past two years I’ve had the privilege of serving as co-moderator of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA). As I continued my work as pastor of Third Presbyterian, there were times the work seemed overwhelming. It was then, in the middle of an already overloaded schedule, God gave me a revelation.

This is how it happened.

When I normally plan my day, I come up with a list of what I HAVE to do.  My revelation is very simple. I change HAVE to GET!!!  This may seem insignificant, but it is revelatory for me. This answer to prayer changes my focus and motivation.

I want to share this testimony with you so that we may all realize the gift we have.  As the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy, we can look at this week and say collectively we GET the opportunity to interact, impact, and transform the church, as we do the work of GA.

Perhaps this small change in perspective will continue to excite and motivate us this upcoming week. We have asked the PC(USA) to meet us in St. Louis, and now they are arriving by the thousands! I’m looking forward to seeing you there as well.

Rev. Cedric Portis
Pastor, Third Presbyterian Church

GA#223 – 10 Days Away

Blog Post by
Rev. Carol DeVaughan
Co-Moderator of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA)

In case you aren’t aware – the General Assembly of PCUSA meets in St. Louis in about 10 days. I really hope this is not news to any of you, because you, as members of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy are part of the hosts for this gathering. For more than two years those of us who are part of the planning team have been working on the myriad details of our hosting responsibilities.

We have planned for welcoming folks from around the world, at the airport and hotels, and the corridors of the Convention Center. We have planned tours to various points of interest in our region. We have asked local congregations to welcome and feed Assembly attendees at their congregational worship on June 17. We have designed apparel for volunteers to wear, and gifts to be given to visitors. So many people wanted to be part of the choir for the opening worship, we had to start a waiting list. There are new web and Facebook pages; social media entries, a video and other publicity materials. We’ve planned a “hands-on mission” project and area for everyone to feel they are contributing to helping the STL region. So much! So many people already involved! And we still need more volunteers.

Why should you care, or offer your time and talents and treasure to support the meeting of the General Assembly? Well, the short answer is because we are GA. Just as I often said during my year as Presbytery Moderator, “We are the Presbytery.” We Presbyterians are connectional. We believe that through Christ we are all part of one another. And this concept is the theme of this Assembly “Kindom Building.” You and I are “kin;” all God’s children are “kin.” As kin we care about and for one another, especially those for whom life is a struggle, those for whom injustice is a daily fact of life, those who cry out to God and therefore to us for help.

Being part of our larger church is both a privilege and a part of who we already are. So I hope to see all of you during this General Assembly. It is a joy to witness the church at work in such a special way, an opportunity that will not be closer or easier for years to come.

Rev. Carol DeVaughan, HR
Co-Moderator, Committee on Local Arrangements

Spinning 45s

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

I spent a lot of my childhood in the Chicago projects visiting my cousins. My one cousin, Opal, loved to dance! She was older and would take all of us little ones, put on a stack of 45s, and line us up to teach us the latest dance steps. Wait, I guess I have to tell some of you what a 45 is! When a hit song would play on the radio, I could go to the record store and purchase the song on small wax disk with a big hole in the middle. The disk went on a record player and played at 45 rotations per minute (rpm)- a 45! Radio hit, record store, record player, and 45s are ideas that defined my youth, but are hard to find today.

There was a time when the only way to hear music was on a limited number of radio stations. These stations were responsible for what we listened to, and what little kids in the projects danced to. In a way, it was a centralized system that created a national consciousness about what was a hit and defined the music of a particular generation. Today, I don’t buy 45s or listen to music on AM radio. Instead I listen to Spotify and create playlists of songs that are provided by an alga rhythm that listens to what I’ve liked in the past and feeds me what it believes will appeal to me. It is individualized music that doesn’t depend upon greatest hits.

Music is just one of the many centralized concepts that has been decentralized in the past 30 – 40 years. In his excellent book, Age of Fracture, Daniel T. Rodgers argues that after World War II American culture experienced a period of centralization. This centralization fell apart beginning in the 1960s and since the 1980s we have been living in a time of fracture. He writes, “. . . in the last quarter of the (20th) century, through more and more domains of social thought and argument, the terms that had dominated post-World War II intellectual life began to fracture. One heard less about society, history, and power and more about individuals, contingency, and choice. . . In political and institutional fact and in social imagination, the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s had been an era of consolidation. In the last quarter of the century, the dominant tendency of the age was toward disaggregation.”

The disaggregation of society has been felt in the life of the church as well. I believe our denomination has shifted from a broad brush centralized authority that is represented in our center in Louisville, and authority has shifted to our individual presbyteries. Now, even the presbytery is challenged to be sensitive to the geographical issues within its bounds. These issues are further fractured into regional differences. Giddings-Lovejoy is not defined by the issues of St. Louis. It is responsible for understanding Southern Missouri, the areas of Illinois over the river, the Metro St. Louis suburbs, and all of the towns and rural areas in-between.

In an age of fracture, it is more difficult for us to agree on issues. Concepts of centralization and connectional church must be redefined during an age where the individual congregation matters more.

I am writing this reflection in the shadow of General Assembly that is coming to St. Louis. Our denomination needs prayer as we continue to figure out what it means to be a centralized and connected church during an age of disaggregation and fracture. I believe God is with us, and God will lead us into the change that is needed for the times in which we live.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Pappy’s Revelation: From Burnt Ends to the Great Ends of the Church!

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard

Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Every other month I meet with the large church pastors in our presbytery over lunch. This month it was decided to eat at Pappy’s, the popular barbeque restaurant near St. Louis University campus. I will admit that St. Louis has some of the best barbeque in the country. Yes, even better than Chicago and Kansas City!

Over burnt ends and hot sausage, we had an open discussion around church growth. We talked about streaming media, projectors and screens, messaging and signage. But the entire conversation was reduced to a simple question, “What is the purpose of the church?” One pastor shared how a parishioner wept because the pastor said their name while serving communion. “Sally, this is the body of Christ broken for you.” She said how that made it personal and how she felt seen, known, and loved. The other pastors chimed in emphasizing that our faith is all about relationships.

They talked about the challenge of getting members to invite others to church.

The more we talked, the fog of the future church became clearer. As we discussed our Presbyterian niche or market, we realized that the best thing we have to offer is the grace of God. “We are a unique people. We are different from the Methodist or Baptist because God has called us and loved us from the foundations of the world. This is the message we need to express with our congregations and have our members share with their friends. They need to hear they are loved by a gracious God who welcomes them.”

Sometimes it’s so simple. All of our buildings, organs, choir robes, and stained glass are beautiful. These things are good. But what people want is to know there is a God who sees them and loves them and that they are welcome to experience that God through the people in our churches. Welcome the visitor. Share our names. Tell the story of the living God in our lives. And just like the church on Pentecost, day by day God will add to our numbers those who are being saved.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Last Sunday at Webster Groves was Youth Sunday. The entire program was given over to the young people under the age of 18. Part of the presentation was the videos which the young people had produced. The videos were filled with questions the young people answered: What is the greatest problem in the world today? What is the challenge of your generation? How will you make a difference in the world?

Watching these young people in worship raised several questions for me. First, where are the voices of our young people and young adults in the presbytery? How does the presbytery hear the voices of our young people and young adults? When and how do they have input in the way we do presbytery, the issues we focus on, and the direction we should be going?

The service also speaks to the role of questions and questioning in ministry. In the book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger writes that questions enable us to think and act in times of uncertainty. Berger believes the type of questions we ask and even the way we ask questions can lead us forward to solutions or inhibit us from seeking a creative way out.

Berger lifts up a method of questioning called HMW- How Might We? “‘How might we’ is different from ‘How can we?’ or ‘How should we?’ Can or should implies judgment.” Regarding How Might We, Berger writes:

How– The solutions are out there. How inspires creative confidence.

Might– We can try ideas out there that might work and might not. Either way it’s ok.

We– We’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.”

At our presbytery gathering, Crossroads shared a chart showing a scale called a Continuum of Becoming an Anti-racist Multicultural Institution. The categories moved from left to right, and started with 1 as the most exclusive institution and ended with 6 as the most inclusive and multicultural institution. Most participants put our presbytery in category 2 or 3.

So, how might we move Giddings-Lovejoy from a category 2 or 3 to a category 6? What are the questions we need to ask ourselves that will encourage creativity and risk-taking? Who must we “fearlessly become” to make this journey possible?

It appears we will have to put on our explorers’ caps and be willing to feel the winds of the Spirit as we move across the waters into the future to where God is calling us.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Reported But Not Real


Last week I wrote a blog about Southminster Presbyterian Church based on an article from the Washington Post. I was unaware that the article had significant factual errors. Repeating errors do not make them true, and I unintendedly did so.

The main correction is that the prayer vigil that was held at Southminster was not for any police officer. In fact, it was a prayer for peace; peace for Ferguson. The congregation was not siding with Darren Wilson. The concern about a riot was not because of the prayer vigil, but because the police officer’s home is across from the church, and the media and others were using the church’s parking lot for access. This put Southminster in the cross hairs of unwanted attention, and not because of the prayer for peace that was happening inside of Southminster.

Hopefully this correction can make it into the history of this event, and at least set this story straight.

The Washington Post article was written August 17, 2014 and you can read it here:



Courageous Space

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Crossroads defines themselves as an organization that is committed to dismantling systemic racism. This weekend they shared many ideas with our presbytery. One particular concept stood out for me, the concept of Courageous Space.

Courageous space differs from safe space. Safe space was originally created so that marginalized people could find a place to go and not experience hate speech, or violent rhetoric. It was a place on university campuses and in other institutions where it was alright to talk about being LGBT, without experiencing push back. While serving at McCormick, I remember making my office a safe space, and putting a sticker on the door to let the student body and staff know. Students and staff felt comfortable “coming out” to me in my office.

The idea of safe space has been extended beyond members of the LGBTQ community, to include anyone who wants to express their opinion and not feel pushed back upon. Mostly this is good. But there are some conversations that require rebuttal in order to move the conversation forward.

Race and racism is one of those conversations.

When we talk about race, there is often emotion involved. There is also an unwillingness to talk about it. Crossroads taught us that it takes courage for people of color to stay in a white institution and talk about race. It also takes courage for white people to stay in conversations on race and not back out. These conversations are often infused with anger, guilt, and discomfort. This is why I really appreciate everyone who came out and engaged in these difficult conversations on Friday and Saturday.

The challenge is for the presbytery to create space where courageous conversations can happen. These are conversations where people share respect, listen to understand, make room for diverse voices, and trust ambiguity.

Courageous conversations allow emotions, but also create space to check in with one another, in order to keep one another talking and sharing. Checking in is huge! It shows commitment and care for one another. It shows sensitivity about what is said, and how it is being perceived. Checking in means we are all in this together.

Our presbytery is 91% white. Over 50% of our congregations do not have any people of color in their pews on Sunday. This is not a criticism, just a fact. Crossroads taught us that majority white congregations do not have to talk about race. The topic just doesn’t have to come up. Even still, if the members have TV, or drive outside of their neighborhoods, they are being racialized, forming opinions, and have questions. Perhaps the presbytery can be a place where these members can step out of their local congregation and enter a courageous space on race. Let’s try it and see what happens!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Ferguson and Southminster

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. This horrific incident created a line of separation in our community and nation. The city of St. Louis is now viewed through the racialized lens created when a white policeman killed a black man. Sides have been taken.

During the riots that followed after Michael Brown’s shooting, Southminster Presbyterian church took a bold step and held a prayer vigil for their neighbor who happened to be Darren Wilson, the policeman who killed Brown. The national media seized on this division of North side Ferguson churches praying for Michael Brown while white suburban Southminster prayed for Darren Wilson. It was an ugly and dishonest comparison creating a false dichotomy: Ferguson versus Southminster.

Earlier this year, Dr. Mark Laberton, president of Fuller Seminary, gave a powerful and moving presentation to a meeting of evangelical leader at Wheaton College in Chicago. I encourage you to read the entire speech. You can read it here. If you substitute the word “Presbyterianism” for “evangelicalism” the text rings familiar.

Laberton said, “Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves.”

Are we as Presbyterians guilty of this same alignment and complicity with power and the dominant culture?

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is attempting to push back against the dominant culture and the unjust emphasis that create racialized realities. This is why we are having anti-racism training. We are determined not to be defined by a cultural lens that pits us against one another because of the color of our skin. As a presbytery and as Christians, we are committed to a faith that goes deeper than the nightly news, neighborhoods, high school of origin, or any other form of racialization we are exposed to.

These first steps will happen at Ferguson and Southminster.

On Friday night, the presbytery will meet in Ferguson. Crossroads will provide training for leaders who want to be in front of our presbytery wide conversations on race. On Saturday Crossroads will provide training during our Presbytery Gathering at Southminster. This is for everyone who desires to confront, acknowledge, and take steps to move beyond the racial chasm in our city and communities.

I applaud First Ferguson and Southminster for stepping forward to host these conversations. They are symbolic places that have decided to be part of the solution, and not continue to widen the wound in St. Louis, and our Presbytery.

Now it is your turn. Change starts with each of us. Change starts when we come together to pray, fellowship, worship, and have communion as God’s people. Here is where you register. I look forward to seeing you this weekend.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Privilege? Nah. Not me.

Guest Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Chris Keating
Pastor of Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church

                I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with words like “privilege” or “bias.” There was little about my childhood that could be described as privileged—at least not in the way some might use the term.  Middle class, certainly, but hardly privileged. And while I’m far from perfect, I tend to think my biases are primarily focused positively in favor of certain baseball teams and warmer climates and negatively against a particular chain of restaurants.

That’s not unlike a lot of people I’ve encountered. Few persons I’ve known in ministry feel comfortable defining themselves as privileged. They are the first to tell you they have worked hard to overcome obstacles in achieving success. They point to ways that others had advantages they never had. Their lives reflect grit and determination and the can-do spirit of many middle-class families.

Privileged? Nope. Nah. Not me.

But then I remember the time as a teenager that I spent an afternoon wandering through one of Los Angeles’ finest department stores. The store clerks didn’t watch my every move; they handed me a credit card application. Likewise, unlike some of my friends who are black, I have never been questioned by the police when I was parked outside a west St. Louis county grocery store or at a church. I’ve sat unnoticed in coffee shops for hours.

Got privilege? It’s time to realize how these invisible systems and structures are present everywhere, and they disrupt life in the kindom of God.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 19th annual White Privilege Conference, a large national gathering of students, educators, school employees, social workers, activists and others. The conference is an intentional gathering of diverse perspectives and voices and is dedicated to exploring solutions to achieving a more equitable world. In a very broad sense, it’s a chance to check your privilege.

I’m immensely grateful to both the Presbytery’s Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team and my congregation for offering me the opportunity to attend. While WPC is a secular conference, faith groups were represented. At a time when divisions in our world seem to be growing, I was amazed at the way organizers worked to be truly inclusive—much more inclusive, in fact, than most church gatherings.

It didn’t escape the attention of leaders and attendees that this year’s gathering was held in a Grand Rapids, MI convention center that bears the family name of our current Secretary of Education.  Likewise, the convention’s main hotel was the prestigious Amway Grand Hotel, which is also owned by that same family. I joked that I couldn’t afford to stay there because I was unable to recruit at least three other potential business partners.  Privilege drips from the walls of those buildings.

But the conveners reminded us that this is perhaps the point. Privilege is an everyday reality that benefits white people and creates disadvantages for persons of color. It’s the silent part of structural racism which many white people either don’t see or choose to ignore. Either way, it is antithetical to the sort of world God envisions.

Yet, as we well know, these are not the sort of conversations that happen enough within our congregations.  We may feel overwhelmed by the topic, unsure of where to begin. Additionally, we’re nice Presbyterians whose stomachs get queasy thinking about potentially controversial topics. Given the divisions in our world, sometimes we’re just not willing to broach topics like racism and privilege.

What I’ve learned—both through our own congregation’s efforts and through conversations at the conference—is that reaching beyond our silos of isolation results in unimaginable blessings.

Rev. Steve Miller, an African-American graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, offered reflections about the racial reconciliation ministry he leads in East Texas.  In his words, Miller works nearly exclusively with “groups of white, conservative Trump-loving Republicans” to create dialogue and lasting change. He has learned what we have learned at Woodlawn Chapel: the best conversations begin by focusing on building relationships. By hearing and honoring each other’s stories, trust emerges. Focusing on love brings people together.

This work is not about making white people feel guilty. It’s not about bashing each other. It’s about creating community. That theme was reiterated in workshops that brought together film makers and world-renowned educators.  Researchers and activists mingled with high school students and middle-aged white guys like me. Keynote speakers connected racism to environmental justice, awareness of differing abilities, and sexuality and gender issues.

I was moved beyond words by the witness of the 125 or so high school youth from across the country. They came from every sector of society and offered a witness for change through storytelling, hip-hop poetry slams, spontaneous laughter and heart-felt tears. Their experiences and commitment are reasons for hope.

Listening to the youth is also where I heard the greatest challenge. Often conversations about racism in the church exclude youth.  Yet the organizers of WPC have found success in empowering youth, motivating them to undertake change. It’s astonishing. Their voices are valued, their presence is encouraged.

I wondered if these same passionate and committed youth would feel welcomed in our churches? Would we see them as leaders?  Would we listen to their stories? Or would we instead ask them why they don’t show up to Sunday school more often? Any effective strategy for racial reconciliation must include youth.

I left Grand Rapids with a suitcase full of resources and plenty to think about. I left more aware of my privilege, and less hesitant to examine it.  I have begun assessing my own automatic responses, and unchallenged assumptions.  I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But there are plenty of ways I have benefitted from being white—even when I did not know it.

Privilege is as wild and pernicious as brush honeysuckle. It’s time to name it, own it, and begin to understand just how damaging it is to our environment.

Privilege? Me? Yes, Lord, yes.

Rev. Dr. Chris Keating