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

Legacy Investment

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


On this second week of Easter, we are still living in the shadow of the resurrection. This is a time of hope and possibility. Spring is happening with rains, sunshine, flowers, and a greening of the area. In this context the West Administrative Commission (AC) is completing its work. One of the final steps is the Legacy Investment. Simply put, when a congregation in the presbytery comes to the end of its life, up to 50% of the net sale of the property can be reinvested in the community in which the congregation resides. Legacy investment is an opportunity for a congregation to experience resurrection by helping other missions do the work of ministry in the community.

One of the organizations West church is donating a Legacy Investment gift to is the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club summer youth program. This program keeps young people off of the streets while teaching them arts, good healthcare, music, and recreation. The program was struggling financially this year. When I called with the gift from West church, the phone line was filled with exclamations of joy! It was a moment of happiness and resurrection. Mission and ministry in the community will continue for these youth through the gift of West church.

Jerimiah wrote to the people in Babylonian exile to seek the peace of the city where they lived, “For in its peace, you will find your peace (Jer. 29:7).” A church is only as strong as the community that surrounds it. When our congregations are a part of local programs for youth, learning, feeding, etc. (the kinds of things we will be discussing at Saturday’s Presbytery Gathering) they are bringing wholeness and peace to the community. And I believe the community will respond with gratitude, thanks, and support.

For West, this means investing $70,000 in mission and ministry that is happening in the western edge of St. Louis, north of Delmar. The AC identified four programs to receive the funds. The list follows. Each organization is committed to a reciprocal relationship because true ministry is a gift exchange. They are looking forward to meeting members of Giddings-Lovejoy who desire to volunteer in their organizations. They will also attend our presbytery gatherings, keeping us informed and showing gratitude for our gifts. Thanks Be to God!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Organization Purpose Yearly Amount Total Years Total Gift
Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club Summer Youth Camp $5,000 4 $20,000
Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club Youth College Scholarships $5,000  4 $20,000
St. Louis MetroMarket Bus Access to healthy affordable food $5,000 3 $15,000
Monsanto Family YMCA Youth Swimming Classes $5,000 3 $15,000
Total       $70,000

Shattered

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


Easter morning we celebrated resurrection and Christ overcoming death and the grave. We also received the news of church bombings in Sri Lanka. Just two weeks ago I had lunch with Dr. Damayanthi Niles, professor of Constructive Theology and Minister of Word and Sacrament at Eden Theological Seminary. Damayanthi is from Shri Lanka. We were discussing missional ideas that can help shape the future vision of our presbytery. Damayanthi shared her experience of church growing up in Sri Lanka where Christianity is a minority religion (less than 9%). Her experience gives her a particular lens on American Christianity and Presbyterianism as we practice it. Damayanthi is not afraid of the decline we are experiencing in our denomination. She knows what it means not to be the dominant center of faith, but instead experience life as  God’s people in the midst of the people of God (This is an idea created by her father, Dr. D. Preman Niles). Beyond theology and mission, we discussed food, family, and home. When the news of the church bombs hit the airwaves on Easter morning, my heart shattered like the stained glass windows on the news feed video.

I reached out to Damayanthi pastorally, and to ask what the presbytery can do. She ministered to me instead. She shared reflections that help her to get through these difficult times. One is a song by Mark Miller, “I Choose Love.”

In the midst of pain, I choose love.
In the midst of pain, sorrow falling down like rain,
I await the sun again, I choose love.

In the midst of war, I choose peace.
In the midst of war, hate and anger keeping score,
I will seek the good once more, I choose peace.

When my world falls down, I will rise.
When my world falls down, explanations can’t be found,
I will climb to holy ground, I will rise.

In the midst of pain, I choose love.
In the midst of pain, sorrow falling down like rain,
I await the sun again, I choose love.

Let us pray for Shri Lanka, Damayanthi, and those touched by violence throughout the country and the world.

  • Indi Samarajiva, a Sri Lankan Buddhist, whose family was at church on Easter shares his thoughts. Click here.
  • A Lent perspective from Mark Miller, on his song, “I Choose Love” can be found here.
  • If you feel called to give financially to their recovery, that is made possible by the Sri Lankan Red Cross, found here. 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Partners

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



The fire at Notre Dame cathedral in France is dramatic and tragic. The response ranges from sadness to singing. The cathedral has transcended its original purpose and is an embodiment of French culture and history. This is the place where emperors were crowned, and royalty is buried. The cathedral receives over 12 million visitors each year. I visited the cathedral as a teenager. I understood then how a church building can create awe and wonder as it transports the human spirit into the presence of the Almighty. Now the cathedral is faced with a monumental rebuilding effort. French President Emmanuel Macron remarked in his commitment to rebuilding the cathedral, “It’s part of the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years.”

How does a church building become part of the fabric of a community? When does sacred space become public space: a place of intersection between insiders and outsiders where all feel ownership and community?

At the May 4 Presbytery Gathering, we will have a workshop from Robert Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Spaces. Robert will invite congregations to envision themselves as space that is both holy and part of the community. Their website says “Partners for Sacred Places lives at the intersection of heritage, faith, and community. Partners’ staff brings a wide variety of skills and backgrounds, grounded in a passion for the value of historic sacred places as valuable community assets (https://sacredplaces.org).” Partners will help the presbytery look for congregations that are seeking ways to use their building as community space. Their goal is for 80% of weekly traffic and activity in a church building be non-membership related.

Partners is not for everyone. But the concept introduces a conversation in the presbytery about the meaning of evangelism, and how a congregation perceives those outside of their doors. Are those outside resources seen as people a church can use to increase its membership and help with financial support? Or, are they outsiders in need of what the church can provide? Is the role of the church to turn these outsiders into insiders? Or are they also people who seek God in a variety of different ways, and we should seek to partner with them to do God’s will in the world? What happens when those on the inside go out, and the church is translated into God’s kingdom in the world?

We will wrestle with the idea of church buildings, evangelism, and justice for the remainder of the year. This will include conversations, workshops, Presbytery Gatherings and events around poverty, race, hunger, and congregational vibrancy. We will see how all of these factors inform evangelism.

2019 is shaping up to be an exciting time in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy! I am so glad you are a part of this work and ministry of God through your thoughts, prayers, and actions.

Blessings this Holy Week and Easter season.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Between the Towers

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


After the last Vision Team meeting, Rev. Rob Dyer, Pastor of Bellville United, sent me a suggestion to have a “Church 2060 event.” Rob challenged me to think about what the church would look like in 2060, 40 years from now. The next week, I was in Philadelphia meeting with a group of presbytery executives. We convened at a downtown Presbyterian church in City Center. This church sat between the headquarters of Comcast. These two glass buildings- each will be over 56 stories when completed—have cutting edge design and technology. We went in one building and watched the 2000 square foot, high-definition LED presentation on the history of communication. It was so realistic I thought the people were present! We had lunch in the other tower. I saw people connecting their phones and devices to jacks located on tables, walls, and other furniture. For lunch in the café, I had a salad where the romaine lettuce heart was grilled, then cheese was melted with a blow torch, before the figs were added! In addition, my fellow EPs and I were the oldest people in the room!

The church in the middle is struggling. They do not have a Presbyterian pastor, but rather, a pastor who has an excellent spirit of hospitality. The worship attendance has gotten to be 60 in a sanctuary that seats several hundred. It is a huge structure with many needed repairs. For example, there is a beautiful antique oven in the kitchen, but it doesn’t work.

So, what is the future of the church between the two towers? Where will it be in 40 or 50 years? Perhaps the church I saw in Philly is symbolic of the Presbyterian denomination in our society. On one side we have the tower of racial ethnic change with the browning of America. On the other side we have the tower of irrelevance: a disconnect with the values of post-modernity including gender, sexuality, and environmentalism. The future of the church must take these towering issues into consideration.

More importantly, the future is one of a blended reality without heavy lines drawn to determine who is in and who is out.

In Philadelphia, on one side of the church (an obvious new addition) is completely glass to match the tower. It is hard to tell where the church ends and the tower begins. This is a good sign. The church of the future will need to have boundaries that are porous and less rigid. Perhaps it should be made of more transparent glass and less stone and brick. It may be that people will then feel as much a part of the church in the center, as they do to their office in the tower.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Presbytery Practices: In the Neighborhood

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader
vhawkins@glpby.org


Last week, all five members of the presbytery staff packed up a day’s worth of work, computers, and snacks and traveled down south to Cape Girardeau for a day “In the Neighborhood.” We have traveled and worked together on several occasions with presbytery gatherings and leadership retreats, but this was different, and I could feel the excitement in the air as I drove down Interstate 55.  “In the Neighborhood” was an intentional team effort to be present to presbytery members in a distinct way – to take our hands and feet into the very geographical regions to which normally only one or two of the staff travels. Normally, our members from these regions travel to us and it was only fair that we travel to them also.

Not only did we take our physical selves into the area, but we took our presbytery practices also.  Over the last year and ½, I have come to recognize and appreciate the spiritual practices embodied by the staff as they carry out their work. Although we do not talk about “presbytery practices,” there are certain perspectives and actions that provide a rhythm to our lives as we work together as people called to serve God, presbytery members, our communities, and each other.

Using those practices, we spent Wednesday evening meeting with teaching and ruling elders and commissioned pastors who had particular situations that needed to be discussed. Thursday we rotated between working on office tasks and greeting visitors. We also called others serving in pastoral leadership roles to check-in with them and offered to pray for them as prompted by the Spirit. Since the next presbytery gathering is at First Cape Girardeau, Leigh and Joy toured the church site with the pastor to discuss the gathering checklist and discuss ways to ensure that the gathering goes as smoothly as possible. Our time there was a joy. Taking the office out into the presbytery was a good idea and if we continue to be guided by the same presbytery practices that we embody in the office in Creve Coeur, I believe we will continue the good work of deepening our connectional ties and strengthening our cords of friendship in ways that will move us closer to the ideal of the Beloved Kindom that God has called us to embody.

Here are the Rules of Life which govern our steps and actions as Giddings-Lovejoy staff:

  • Remembering that we are the Body of Christ called to be a light to the world in tangible and practical ways.
  • Paying attention when others contact us with particular needs, concerns, and questions and responding in an appropriate and caring manner.
  • Praying for others as we learn of their concerns, conflicts, and grief.
  • Listening and learning from others who take the time to share with us and inform our work as staff and colleagues and being appreciative of their wisdom.
  • Breaking bread together as a community of friends and colleagues, thus taking the time to get to know each other beyond the work of the presbytery.
  •  Laughing with and loving all of God’s creation.
  •  Going where God sends us with the right spirit and with an open heart while accepting that things won’t go always as planned, but the experience will give us guidance for next steps.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

 

Space for the Spirit

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


At the end of April, I will be in Detroit Michigan for two days as a member of the denomination’s General Assembly Nominations Committee. I am going to stretch my time and stay the weekend with my brother, so that I can preach at his Pentecostal church. We’ve decided to try a tag team sermon! I’m going to begin the sermon with the exegesis work, and then he is going to take it into the stratosphere with his Pentecostal emotionalism! We’ve never done this before, but we think the Spirit will be working with us and with God’s people on that day.

One of the things I enjoy about my brother’s church is the liturgy. There is an order to the service, but there is space between the liturgical pieces. I believe it is in these spaces that the Spirit moves. It is the pause after the sermon- a pause that allows for time of reflection. It is the moments after the song which gives people time to process what they have just experienced. These spaces are a testament to our limitations and God’s possibility.

In his book, Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World, Gil Rendle references John Wimmer of the Lilly Endowment in using the phrase, “Functional Atheism.” He writes, The functional atheist is the one who speaks about God as the active agent of salvation in the life of individuals and in producing a wholeness in the world but who then assumes that nothing is going to change unless and until he or she puts his or her hand (and resources) to it.”

This Lenten season I’m realizing the ways in which I am experiencing the shadow of functional atheism in my life and work. For example, I believe in strategic planning. The presbytery has goals with observable metrics. But when we believe our goals can only happen if we put our hands and resources to them, we need to be careful. When I find myself living a life that doesn’t allow space for the Spirit to work, then I may be living as a functional atheist.

We plan and we pray. We act and we believe.

This Lenten season I also find myself facing the unavoidable question of “Who is God to me now?” And “Where is God moving in my life and in this presbytery?” I am challenged to make space for the Spirit to move and lead us into our future. Gil puts it best, “The hubris of organizational leaders who fall to the trap of functional atheism, assuming that the future is to be shaped by their own hands rather than God’s, will humble even the most skilled. A significant portion of the substantive work of quietly courageous leaders is to provide for the space and learning found in the mystery of the hand of God that will not only form the world differently in the future but will also surprise us in the process.” Amen and Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

In the Neighborhood

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


Vanessa has been preaching to the presbytery office for some time now that as a presbytery, we are living in resurrection, and we get to decide what that will look like. One of the consistent concerns I and the staff received is that the presbytery doesn’t care about “us.” Us could mean those in congregations further away from the office or at a distance from St. Louis; us could mean congregations with very small attendance and membership; us could mean those who are theologically more conservative.

As a result of these concerns, I and the staff have attempted various ways of connecting with and communicating with all of our congregations. We have visited more congregations. We have made ourselves available for pulpit supply, session meetings, congregational meetings, and retreats. Now, we are going to try another idea called In the Neighborhood. The entire staff will go down to Cape Girardeau and camp out at the Drury Inn right off I-55. We are inviting churches in the southern region to come by and see us. You are welcome to bring questions regarding the Stated Clerk, pastor transitions, communications, congregation development, or administration questions. It’s okay if you just want to say “hi” and meet the staff. We will be there to meet with you because we care and because you matter.

My hope is that our office becomes a model of ministry that is risk-taking and transformational. The presbytery office is evolving. We are adapting to our new reality of size, geographic location, and theological perspectives that comprise Giddings-Lovejoy. Adaptive change means tackling questions we do not know the answers to, and problems we cannot solve. What we do know is that we need to be different. If we are ever going to be different, we have to try different things. We don’t believe that everything we try will work. But we know we will learn from each experience and experiment. And that is the way it should be.

Rev. Craig M. Howard