Gone in 30 Seconds

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

Like most of you, I am still spinning from the weekend shootings in which 22 people were killed and 53 wounded. It has happened again. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Orlando night club. Las Vegas festival. Now El Paso. Dayton. Wave after wave. Shock after shock. The weapons seem to get more powerful and can shoot more rounds at a faster speed. These weapons do not wound but destroy limbs and create gaping holes where life can bleed out. In Dayton the shooter was killed in less than 30 seconds. Yet, he was able to kill 9 and wound 27. The shooter still had over 200 rounds of ammunition on him.

As long as these tragedies are happening someplace else, I can still maintain emotional distance. But it is hard. San Bernardino was the closest to me. Marilyn, my wife, was serving as transitional presbytery leader in an office a few miles from where the killing of 14 people occurred. I still tear up reliving the fear of not knowing if she was okay on that tragic day.

The poet Martin Niemöller wrote the following about the holocaust.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And what if it comes to our town? Our school? Our Walmart? Our office? Our church?

Pray for our country. Pray for our world. Pray for our communities. Write to your legislators. Stand up for non-violence. Have your church view the film Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence. We have a copy in the Resource Center. Every church should have a plan. Connect with your local police and talk about an on-sight inspection to determine what to do in an active shooter situation. I am not trying to stoke fear. I am not pushing a path of unbelief. I’m simply saying that just as there is a plan for a fire, there should be one for an active shooter. I pray that we all become apostles of peace in our area of the world.

I end with a portion of the Peace Prayer by St. Frances.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Rear-View Analysis for Budgeting

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

As part of the budgeting process, Finance has charged me with sending out a questionnaire this week to many of our 25 teams. The questionnaire is one step that includes face to face meetings, evaluation by the Finance team and Vision Team, and then the final budget is approved at the November presbytery gathering. This article is a way to explain the thinking and rationale behind the questions.  My hope is that congregations will find the process helpful and use a similar method for preparing their budgets.

The budget process is an opportunity for the teams of the presbytery to dream and plan, to be ambitious and realistic. To look forward requires looking backward over the previous year. This rear-view analysis is an opportunity to articulate achievements. The team can ask, “What was accomplished in the past year?” “What was planned and how did the plans come out?” “What frustrations were experienced as the team attempted to achieve its mission?” For example, Social Witness can reflect on the Troubling the Waters event held at John Knox church. They can closely examine the program, asking if they achieved their goal, what went well, and what was a disappointment.

Based upon the rear-view analysis, each team can then talk about what it wants to achieve in 2020. For example, Leadership Development is putting together a Pastoral Care Cohort to respond to pastors in crises, and to build and maintain relationships with pastors. As they look to the upcoming year they may ask, “What would it take to make the cohort operational and connected?” This may mean lunches, travel, and even training. The cost for these items becomes part of their 2020 fiscal budget.

Budgeting for non-profits like presbyteries and congregations, is different than budgeting for business and for-profit organizations. The main focus for non-profits is mission. Each team should constantly have their mission as their apex of activity. One critical question is, “Has this mission been fulfilled? Does it still need to exist?” These are difficult questions. Often the presbytery simply looks at what was spent the previous year and rolls it forward into the next year. Churches do this as well. But if we take the time, effort, and prayer to ask if the budget item should be continued, then we may find areas to trim back.

After doing the rear-view analysis, asking good questions about the mission and connecting current and past activities, a team may find a fresh and new approach to their mission. For example, UKirk may want to expand its mission to another University. Commissioned Pastor Training may see the need for additional classes. This is the time to expand the budget to meet these new mission imperatives.

Finally, the budgeting tool must be flexible for the different teams. It is difficult to apply the same broad brush to every team. Pastoral Transitions and Care Team cannot be evaluated like Interfaith Partners. One is constitutional and governed by the Book of Order, and the other is a presbytery mission.

I look forward to receiving the responses to the questionnaires. Teams should use this as an opportunity to brag about what they’ve achieved and flashing a light on where they want to go in 2020. Teams working together will continue to make Giddings-Lovejoy a presbytery of Dynamic Leaders and Vibrant Congregations

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Road to Reconciliation

Blog Post by
Rev. John Harrisson
Dismantling Racism and Privilege (DRAP) Team Moderator

When asked why God’s people in the United States are still so divided by race in churches, neighborhoods, schools and regions of the country, a lot of people tend to shrug their shoulders and say that’s just the way it is. We can be tempted to believe our history of racial violence and subjugation ended with the Civil Rights movement, and the separation we have today can therefore seem self-selecting, a matter of comfort level or choice. It is easy to forget that the separation we still experience was built by design and enforced by law (The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein, lays out this argument particularly well).

This information can feel depressing, but I believe learning more about how racial segregation was built by human hands is, at its root, an exercise in hope. If we still live, move and have our being in divided communities because of what has been built, that means the things that divide us can also be dismantled. Something else can be built in their place. That, in short, is the mission of the Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team. We join Jesus Christ in breaking down the dividing walls (Eph. 2:14) in our presbytery piece by piece, with the hope of building something new in its place.

We can be tempted to believe it is enough to dismantle racist laws. The problem is that while the laws may be gone, the walls they built still remain: in our families; in our churches; in the air we breathe and the media we consume. Our purpose in leading a journey to Montgomery, Alabama this October is to lay a new foundation as a Presbytery, and to see together what God is building.

It has been a breath of fresh air to see all the stakeholders who have pledged to join us on the road to reconciliation. Much more than a simple mission trip, we see this journey as a seed, a new beginning we can bring home with us to take root and grow. It is a seed of interracial community and spiritual formation, a seed of acknowledgement and healing and boldness to approach the throne of grace in our time of need. It is an investment in developing new leadership and stronger networks for a broader project of reconciliation and new growth in the years ahead.

We are closing in on our application deadline of August 1, and so we invite you with urgency and zeal to consider joining us on the bus in October and in the community,  we hope to sustain when we return home.

Details of the journey may be found here.

Rev. John Harrison




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


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


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

“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

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

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.


Rev. Vanessa Hawkins


  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/


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

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

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

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.            


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.)