Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

Rewriting The Rules

This is hard.

I get that. This conversation. All the emotions. Our cultural backgrounds and personal relationships histories and experiences and political leanings and theological positions. It makes it hard and complicated and difficult to talk about. But I have this little flicker of a vision or a dream or a hope that church could be the very place we can go and gather and discuss and debate the things that matter most to us, the passions of our hearts and the great questions of our spirits, and disagree and explore and learn and try, and still stay in relationship with one another.  In my dream-vision-hope it is still hard, but it is good and gives us life and reeks of faithfulness and makes God proud.

So here it is.

I am a rule-following girl. Looking at my Facebook posts this weekend, you may not think so, but deep in my heart, I am a rule-following girl. I like to make lists and check things off. As a kid I loved getting gold stars on the chart for assignments completed. I love a super detailed worship bulletin and I still read all the instructions before I even take the pieces out to play a board game. My friends tease me because even jaywalking makes me anxious.

I am a rule-following girl. The rules provide structure and order and help me to understand my proper place here, and how things are supposed to run over there. Maps and rules and agendas and plans are how I make sense of the world and my work my church and often, even, my identity.

And much of that is because the rules are designed to work for me. The rules are designed for my comfort. The rules are designed to keep me safe, to help me advance, to keep me wealthy, to keep me protected. I am a straight, white, cis, Christian, middle-class woman. With a few exceptions, the rules were designed to help me. But the thing I keep learning is, the rules don’t work that way for people who don’t look like me. Friends and neighbors and strangers and scholars and journalists and authors tell me about how the rules in our society hurt, silence, oppress and kill black and brown people, Muslim and atheist people, LGBTQ people, and so many others. I often hear folks who look like me say, “Well, if he just followed the rules.” But then I see another video of someone of color following the rules and getting pulled over and arrested anyway. Of someone going to the bathroom where the rules say they are supposed to and getting assaulted anyway. Of someone trying to follow the rules or obey a command and ending up dead anyway. And so what do I do when the rules that protect and uplift me, are keeping others down? What does God call me to do?

And I hear it in my head: Do justice, seek kindness, walk humbly with God.

For me, doing justice has meant working to change the rules, to make them more equitable. That means doing my research, organizing with others, signing petitions, engaging with elected officials, pursuing legal action, and participating in direct action, too. Yup, that means taking to the streets, and standing there, to demand justice. So, me, the rule-following girl, ends up in the street breaking the very rules that make me so comfortable. Breaking the rules in order to help change them. In order to stop squashing my neighbors. In order to stop killing my neighbors. In order to dismantle the white supremacy that serves me so well. In order to be a part of bringing God’s justice to all. In order to bear witness to God’s rule-breaking love and grace and power, even in this time and in this place.

And it’s super uncomfortable. And it is divisive. And it messes with our commutes and our comforts, our theologies and our understandings, our structures and our community. And that is hard.

And that is also the point.

This is hard. May God be with us as we discuss. May God be with us as we debate. May God be with us as we work and do the justice that is required of us. May God be with us as we love.  As we love. As we love. Amen.

Rev. Erin Counihan
Pastor, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church



LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 01: People tend to the wounded outside the Route 91 Harvest Country music festival grounds after shooting on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

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


Horrific. Unimaginable. Frightful. Gruesome. These are some of the adjectives that describe the scenes from Las Vegas, as America experiences another mass shooting. Over the next several days we will hear about the background of the shooter, and what may have motivated him to commit such a heinous crime. We will hear about hotel security, change in open air concerts, and gun control.

There have been over 1500 mass shootings (defined as four people or more being killed or injured) since Sandy Hook, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered. Each person killed or injured in these shootings are part of a community of friends, family, and loved ones. The shock wave of pain ripples throughout, bringing grief and deep sadness.

In addition to the stories of terror, we will also hear stories of courage, compassion, and overwhelming kindness. These stories will speak of how people came to one another’s aid; people who were complete strangers and yet risked their well-being to help another. These stories act as a dam, breaking up to grief and sadness. These positive stories will help us to believe in the goodness of humanity. We are reminded that when called upon, we can be a light in darkness, and no matter how severe, frequent or persistent evil is in the world, it cannot overcome the light and life of goodness.

Perhaps this is what the gospel of John is speaking about when he writes, “In (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Through the grace of God, we have been given the gift of light. In what ways can our light shine when we face human tragedy, injustice, or evil? Sometimes it may mean helping someone right in front of us. Other times it may be a letter of encouragement, or a call to action. It may mean sharing a much needed hug, or participate in a march to show support. However we do it, and whenever we do it, we are called to bring our lights from under a bushel and set them on top of a hill.

Please pray for Las Vegas, and the many communities the concert goers represent.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Social Perspectives: Voices from the Front

The Spiritual Discipline
           of Protest

I learned about civil disobedience from Shiprah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives who defied Pharoah and refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys – including Moses. I learned about disruptive protest from Jesus, who barged into the temple in a rage, turning over the tables of imperial and economic injustice. So, for me, participating in the protests in St. Louis the past few days has been an act of spiritual discipline.

I have joined three of the official protests since Friday, September 15th, and have attended several planning meetings for clergy and protest organizers. I left the three protests when they were officially disbanded by the organizers partly because my aching knees forced me to, and partly because I wanted no part of the violence that seemed to erupt once the official protest was over. Some of my colleagues have courageously stayed, in order to protect those continuing to express their outrage. But for me, the line between “protection” and encouraging violence is a very thin one, and I want no part of it.

These are some of my learnings and observations from the past 5 days:

  • Holy Disruption, Holy Disobedience, and Holy Disturbance are all spiritual disciplines called for in scripture and modeled by a radical rabbi named Jesus. Holy Destruction is another matter – and such violence undermines the courage and prophetic power of disciplined protest.
  • As a relative newcomer to St. Louis, I am convinced that this city is – and must be – on the front line of confronting systemic racism and white supremacy in our deeply divided nation. The founders of this city arrived with their slaves and so the inequities endemic to this city were there from the beginning. And the old downtown Courthouse still holds the shame of the Dred Scot decision, publicly proclaiming that people of color are not equal to whites. This is our white burden and our calling as people of faith of all colors – to work persistently to repent of the original sin of America and help create a new heaven and the new earth of inclusion, equality, and equity for all.
  • I have been impressed by the intelligence, strategic wisdom, and skill of the official protest organizers – mostly black – some secular and some sacred -passionate, eloquent spokespeople who do not mince words. The white clergy have been asked to provide support and protection and to step back to allow others to lead. This called for humility in spiritual leaders is new and refreshing in my protest experience.
  • For me, the role and power of the police is the most confusing part of this political moment. I have family members who are law enforcement officers – moral, calm, community oriented. And to my eye, the police presence during the official protests was respectful and appropriately peripheral. But the scenes of riot police with pepper spray, trapping both agitators and innocent bystanders in a “kettle” formation, seems both excessive and unnecessary. The criminal justice system in this country, from arrest to incarceration, is both racist and broken – and these reoccurring protests will not – and should not stop – until real change happens.

Many people have asked, “What is the purpose of these protests?  What are the demands that the protestors are asking for?” I have asked the same question. I have finally accepted the answer – which is very simple. What is the demand? STOP THE KILLING!

I hope there will be concrete changes ahead: subpoena power for the recently created Citizens Review Board; implementation of the Ferguson Commission recommendations; independent review for all incidents related to questionable police actions; a cultural transformation within the Metropolitan Police Department.  My tired body may keep me away from some future protests, but my heart will continue to support Holy Disturbance in the Spirit of our Disruptive God.

Rev. Susan Andrews
Interim Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church
September 20, 2017

First Doniphan

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

In the book, Legacy Churches, Stephan Gray and Franklin Dumond address the question, “How do you know when it may be time to close.” They highlight six characteristics:

  • Public Worship Attendance has Drastically Declined
  • Staffing of Essential Ministry is no Longer Adequate or Effective
  • Annual Income is No Longer Adequate to do Local Ministry
  • Age or Tenure of Membership is Unusually High
  • The Church Hasn’t Consistently Grown Over the Last Five Years
  • Survival Has Become the Main Mission

First Presbyterian, Doniphan has signs of all of these. But they also have spunk, resilience, energy, efficiency, hospitality, and love.

You have to drive a long distance to reach our furthest south and west church. Doniphan is located about three and a half hours southwest of St. Louis. The town has an array of churches representing different stripes of denominations. All the more reason why First Doniphan should not be able to survive. Yet, they are alive, and after my visit with them I understand why.

The building is immaculate. It is well maintained and doesn’t show signs of deterioration you would normally see in a struggling church. There were 12 people is worship. In addition to the 8 members, they have faithful visitors who enjoy worship and fellowship with them. Bruce Johnston leads worship. He lives 95 miles away in Arkansas. He is a member of Doniphan, and has been making the 190 mile round trip to serve the people of this congregations for years. Bruce is commissioned to serve communion and approved to moderate session. Also, instead of having a musician, the church uses a programmable piano. A member programs the hymns for the day into the piano, and then it plays on cue. The Sunday I was there, there was a solo by Bruce’s daughter, who lives in New Mexico. As I looked around to locate her, I then realized that she had been recorded, and her voice was playing through the sound system. These folks are up on their technology. They don’t have a telephone, but they have a Facebook page!

I really saw the church in action during the pot luck. The food was delicious! A separate table held the deserts. We ate and fellowshipped. They then cleaned up, all like clockwork. Efficient. Orderly. Plenty of laughter, storytelling, and fun.

This is when I realized this church is going to survive for a long time.

Here is a church with all of the outward signs of a closing ministry. But inside are people who bare the marks of Christian love, and hospitality. It is a reminder that we cannot judge a church by numbers alone. When we take the time to get to know the people, we learn that God is still full of surprises.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Preaching Political

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


I sent a letter to the presbytery last week as a response to the Stockley trail in St. Louis. I received more responses to that letter than anything else I’ve written. Most responses were positive and affirming. A few responses took issue at my claims of injustice and racism. I really appreciate all responses as an opportunity for us to dialogue with one another. This is the way our faith and community are shaped and formed. We are a connected church that does our best work respectfully agreeing and disagreeing, and doing it all in love.

But what happens in a church when the congregation disagrees with a political sermon the pastor preaches? How should members of a congregation respond when the pastor takes them on a path they do not want to go?

Last week Daniel Schultz wrote an article entitled Rev. Rob Lee Lost Congregation for His Anti-Racism Speech: Here’s Why He Should Have Packed His Bags First.

Schultz tells the story of Pastor Rob Lee, a descendent of General Robert E. Lee, and how his remarks from the pulpit against racism got him fired from his UCC church. Schultz believes Lee made a critical mistake in how he approached the congregation. “One of the cardinal rules of working in a church is that you never, ever—ever—tell them they’re doing their faith wrong, even if they clearly are, unless you have your bags packed and the car warmed up.” Schultz believes pastors can talk about difficult political issues, but it must be done with the right attitude.

The pastor cannot demand change, but can explore ideas and different directions. The path must be smoothed with affirmation and uplifting. He writes, “But the trick is to do it in a way that leaves followers feeling like they’re being summoned to their better angels, not being faulted for what someone perceives as their worse devils. That’s not coddling racists. It’s a pragmatic recognition that leaders who want to create social change need something other than ‘Speaking The Truth Boldly’ in their toolbox if they want to be successful. For better or worse, pastoral ministry is about creating change through the power of relationships. It is a very long game, and one that can be lost with one wrong step.

Through the building of relationships, we can all move forward together in our walk of faith. It’s easier to listen to someone we love, even when we disagree with what they are saying. But as a preacher, I must admit, it is a difficult line to navigate when talking about emotionally charged issues. I would love to have to explore this issue further with pastors, and members!

Rev. Craig M. Howard




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

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

The only person who like change is a wet baby!”  Mark Twain

I believe the future of our denomination can be seen in our individual congregations. We have congregations of different sizes, different geographic locations, and different levels of wealth. We have some congregations where you have to wade through the children to get to the pulpit, and other congregations where there are no children present. We have congregations soaked in history and generations of membership, and we have congregations still forming their identity. We have seven congregations that are majority non-white, and several congregations where people of color attend, but they are a small minority.

Yet, there is one consistent feature in all of our congregations, change. And as one congregation recently told me, “We are old and aging, and we do not like change!”

In the book, Strategic Leadership for a Change, Kenneth McFayden uses the scripture text and Mark Twain quote from above. He writes that people do not fear change, they fear loss. Change means letting go of comfort, identity, and familiarity. It means moving beyond “This is how we have always done it.”

There is comfort in repetition. There is power in being the one who knows “how things work around here.” McFayden writes, “Many congregations find themselves in the throes of significant change. The culture is shifting, as are the demographics of communities and denominations. Congregations feel a sense of urgency to grow. What they do not feel is an urgency to change.”

Change means potential loss, and potential conflict. Change is uncomfortable, frustrating, and can even be painful. Change means walking in the fog of liminality, not sure where the ground is; not knowing if we are at the edge of the end or the first step of a new beginning. Change takes courage.

As the presbytery continues to move in the direction that God is calling us to go, we are challenged like Abram to step into the uncomfortable, knowing that God is calling us into new and exciting place. In 2018 we will continue to change-up presbytery gatherings; making them powerful experiences of fellowship, learning, and worship. We will push and challenge our pastors, ruling elders, and leaders to learn, learn, learn! We will continue to tweak our structure so that it will serve us, and not force us to serve it. We will be a presbytery connected to the social issues and changes that are happening throughout our presbytery. And this will only work if we work together.

Let’s come together. Let’s get connected. Let’s become God’s people for such a time as this.

Rev. Craig M. Howard





Called to Serve

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

We had a full and exciting Presbytery Gathering this past Thursday. In addition to hearing motions, voting, and taking actions, this meeting featured several “ignite” presentations. An ignite presentation is a five minute or less slide presentation that focuses on an issue or event. Thursday’s reports included:

  • Highlights of the Nicaragua Trip
  • Invitation to participate in the Hunger Action Network kickoff
  • History Team activities
  • Ukirk presented an update and appeal
  • Hands and Feet provided an update
  • COLA provided an update and request for volunteers

In addition, the sermonic moment during worship was divided into three presentations: one from Isaac Wanyoike pastor of the Pendo Fellowship, John Harrison spoke about his work with the prison ministry, and Johanna Wagner shared about Caritas, our New Worshiping Community that focuses on people with cognitive disabilities.

As we listened to the various presentations, we were moved, excited, and filled with compassion. The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy is doing great work through numerous ministries. Our ministries are broad and cover a very large area of need. Most importantly, this work is not top-down. It is not controlled by the presbytery office and then distributed to the members. All of these ministry efforts are embedded within the local community and they benefit the community.

My goal as your Transitional Presbytery Leader is to decentralize the work of the presbytery. I desire to give the work of the ministry to the people who are most capable, passionate, and driven. This means building a strong volunteer base of people willing to participate with Nicaragua, work with Ukirk, reach out to Pendo, connect with the prison ministry, and help with GA 2018.

In the book, “Adaptive Leadership,” Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky write about giving the work back to those closest to it, and sharing responsibility for the organization’s future. The idea is to remove work from the hands of a few leaders in authority, and instead share it with those who are directly involved with the effort.

We need people to step up and get involved.

I’ve noticed a hesitance and reticence of presbytery involvement. I understand the caution. Perhaps you have been involved in the past and have gotten burned. Or you have heard horror stories and have turned your back on the presbytery and focused on your congregation instead.

I’m asking you to take a look at the presbytery again. There are so many opportunities to serve. We need gifted people with hearts of compassion for justice, and a desire to see God’s work spread throughout our area and the world. We need people who can serve for a few weeks, and people who are willing to serve for a few years. We need people who can stand at a booth, or sit and listen to others. We need specialist in finance and accounting. We need attorneys who want to serve the larger church. We need gifted visionaries who see the world as it could be and ask, “Why not?”

Have you been thinking about getting involved? Do you know someone you can recommend serving? Barbara Willock ( serves as chairperson of our Committee on Representation and Nominations, and she would love to hear from you.

May God put a fire in your heart, passion in your spirit, and a desire to serve with sisters and brothers beyond your local congregation.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Big Gathering!

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

 On Thursday the Presbytery Gathering will take place, and it is going to be a big one! If you are wondering if you should attend, the answer is yes! At this Gathering we will meet our new Designated Associate Presbytery Leader, Vanessa Hawkins. Also, we will vote on moving the presbytery office to a new home. There will be motions tweaking the presbytery design, as well as new ways to invest in mission and communities. There will be an examination for candidacy, and voting on new members for teams, committees, and commissions. Furthermore, we will present these ideas in a new format that we hope will be efficient, informative, and motivating.

The Presbytery Gathering will begin at 1:00 with a pre-session regarding the sale of the presbytery office building. We will then have a time of fellowship as we enjoy cake from the History Team, while celebrating the 200th year of the presbytery of Missouri. Business begins at 2:00, and we will end with dynamic worship.

The volunteers at Washington Presbyterian church have worked hard to prepare a wonderful setting for our gathering. The presbytery staff is looking forward to receiving your registration, and meeting you in person. Each congregation will receive the book, “Waking Up White,” so they can participate in a presbytery wide book conversation.

Whew! A lot is happening in Giddings-Lovejoy! I am glad that you are a part, and I strongly encourage you to come out and join us!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Building Systems of Peace

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

(I’m writing this blog from Jerusalem as I am coming down the home stretch of my clergy study trip to the Holy Land. The trip is sponsored by the group, Interfaith Partners For Peace. The focus of the trip is to explore relationships between major religious and cultural groups. I am helping to lead the group of 14 African American pastors representing four denominations, four rabbis representing each branch of the major Jewish faiths, and one member of the ELCA. Our goal is to explore relationships between these major groups, along with Israeli and Palestinian conflict.)

We spent Sunday morning in worship at St. George Episcopal Church. The rector, Canon Naoum, met with us to describe the theological, political, and social challenges he faces as he does ministry in Jerusalem. Naoum talked about the challenge of being a peacemaker in the midst of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Palestinian threat of perceived violence, and Christians, Muslims, and Jews living uncomfortably side by side. He said, “Perhaps our goal is not to be peacemakers, because we cannot make peace in this region. But we can build systems that lead to peace.”

What does it mean to build systems of peace?

This trip takes place in the shadow of racial violence in Charlottesville, VA and the rise in expressions of hate groups in the United States. My brother lives in Ypsilanti MI. His daughter wrote on her Facebook page, “My Father just called to tell me that he saw a group of neo-Nazis dressed in full regalia, arm bands and all, marching down Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, MI before noon. He’s lived in Michigan for 40 years. He said he’s never seen anything like it.”

I can only imagine the shock and pain my brother experienced while watching this horrific sight; a sight that is meant to intimidate him and other African Americans and Jews living in the community. And it doesn’t stop there. It is my niece, his daughter, who is relaying the story. Hate has reached the next generation.

Building systems of peace means bringing people of good will together and finding commonality that create bridges to connect and strengthen one another. Only then can we find and become allies of support, and together we can combat the sin of racism.

While in Israel I have met with several organizations who are building peace. These include:

The Sikkuy Partnership, an organization of Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel.

Eco Peace, a collaboration between Jordanians, Palestinian, and Israel environmentalists, working together around water issues.

Shalom Hartman, an institute of scholars dedicated to Middle-East peace.

Kids4Peace, a group that focuses on children and educating them for peace and coexistence.

The Roots, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who are separated by walls of fear.

Atachlit Farm, a community empowering program that helps Ethiopian Israelis connect with agricultures.

Lod, providing services to Arab and Jewish communities.

Natal, The Israel Center for Victims of Terror or War.

Each of these organizations have been created with a vision of building systems of peace. May the Sprit lead us to find ways to support and do similar work in our own country and community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard    (Photos of my journey can be found here)


Being Prepared

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

This weekend our nation experienced an ugly outburst of racism. Saturday morning I checked my Facebook page and saw a post from Erin Counihan about White Nationalist, KKK, and Nazi groups marching through a college campus in Virginia with torches, shields, and guns. I thought, “What country is this? Who allows people to march with torches and guns?” Perhaps this is what happens when we mix free speech with open carry laws.

What if this happened in our presbytery? What if the KKK, the Nazi group, or other promotors of hatred decided to march in Pacific, Bellville, or Ballwin? In a way, Giddings-Lovejoy is living in the after-shocks of the murder of Michael Brown, with protests and riots that followed. These were not protest about hate, but race played a key element. Last Wednesday I attended a memorial for Michael Brown in the apartment complex where he lived. It was a sensitive reflection on his life, and a symbolic presentation of the many African Americans whose lives have been cut short. The event included a dance troop, prayers, testimony, and release of doves for peace. I have attached a slideshow of the event below.

As we continue to be confronted by racism in our nation, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team is encouraging us to read “Waking Up White.” Our denomination has been reading this book this past year. Some congregations in Giddings-Lovejoy have already been involved with reading and discussing this helpful book. I am asking, along with DRAP, to set aside the month of September to read this book together. At the end of the month we will form discussion groups and invite those who desire to attend.

I really hope you participate in this book study. If you’ve already read it, please participate in a study group at the end of September. This is an opportunity for our presbytery to learn together and continue to strengthen the ties that connect us.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Michael Brown Memorial Event