Diagnosis

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


I had the greatest physician when I was in Milwaukee! She was from India, a Hindu who did community health clinics in the African American community, and she knew what to say to get my attention! After one of my check-ups, she wanted to make sure I was eating a healthy diet. She sent me to a nutritionist and said in a stern voice, “Don’t you start eating crazy on me, or we’re gonna have a problem!” I hear those words every time I want to gorge on sweets or fried foods. Her diagnosis changed my behavior.

We are coming to the end of the calendar year and it is an excellent time for congregations and sessions to perform a diagnosis. Now would be the time to schedule a planning retreat, review committees, and blow the dust off of the strategic plan to see if the church has been following it. The three questions asked in the book Holy Conversations by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann still apply. They are, “Who are we?”, “What has God called us to do or be?”, and “Who is our neighbor?” I would add a fourth question, “What do we do best?”

Congregations do many things from music, liturgy, day care, feeding ministry, various building uses, etc. Congregations are a bundled institution. They are more like newspapers with several items to attract readers: editorial pages, puzzles, comics, ads, etc. Another example is that congregations are more like Sears with clothing, lawnmowers, and refrigerators. What would happen if we unbundled ministries and committees? What if congregations separated all that they do, and then asked, “What do we do best?”

Perhaps 2019 can be the year of focus for your congregation. What if a congregation focused more on what it does best- worship, music, children’s education, etc. and enhanced that ministry. Perhaps that “thing” which the congregation is known for becomes the ministry focus which other new ideas orbit around. I’m not suggesting what churches should stop doing, but I’m suggesting churches should focus their energy, resources, and imagination. There was a time when congregations had the resources to be all things to all people, but for many that time has passed. Perhaps now is the time when churches need to be more focused and less scattered.

I’m interested to hear what your congregation plans are for the new year. Email me at choward@glpby.org or respond to this blog.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

 

Decent Disorder

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


Have you ever had one of those days where if anything could go wrong, it did? That is what Saturday’s presbytery gathering felt like for me! We started out by forgetting the cash box! This meant we couldn’t provide change for those who wanted to pay cash for lunch. Then there was the need for copies. Ordinarily all of the copies of documents we need are done at the office. We don’t expect the host church to provide a copy machine. There was a last minute replacement of a speaker, errors in the online binder, reports that went too long and presentation time that was too short. My anxiety level was going skyward! Then, Leigh Porter, our office manager who holds everything together, took ill and had to go to the doctor. Yikes!

And the presbytery commissioners and teaching elders handled every foul-up, mix-up, and screw-up with grace, patience, and humor. Instead of taking the opportunity to point fingers or make a case out of each problem, the presbytery just rolled with the punches!

We’ve come a long way!

This spirit of cooperation and compassion is critical as we journey further into a future that is both exciting and fearful. It is a future of ideas, innovation, and risk taking. We will balance faith with reflection. We will seek to take chances, create theories, and take actions that produce observable and measurable results. It is a balance of faith (belief) and science (what is measurable).

I want to thank our science presenters again. They were Dr. Randall Flanery from the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute, Dr. Sara Miles from the Presbytery of Milwaukee, and our own Ellie Stock. Sara and Ellie have provided a copy of their presentations. You can access them here:

I also want to thank the presbytery for electing me as your “permanent” Presbytery Leader. It is an honor to serve you. I have received tons of “congratulations” by email and social media. I believe elections in the church are God’s way of speaking through the body of Christ. I take your vote seriously. There is plenty I could say about the joy, opportunity, and challenge of being in Giddings-Lovejoy, but that would take another article!

I will just leave you with one comment, this presbytery has a tremendous gift that the world needs, hospitality. You know how to express kindness and embrace others. What I’m seeing now is that you (I guess I should say we!) are turning hospitality and kindness, that we’ve always expressed to outsiders, toward one another.

I pray we continue to move from criticism to flexibility; from judgement to embrace. With the right attitude we can achieve anything, in the name of Jesus Christ!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Homework

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

 


This past weekend the presbytery had a visioning retreat with the team and sub-team leaders. It was a time of stimulating ideas, great conversation, and rich fellowship. As we met with one another, we realized what a blessing we have when we come together in fellowship. Saturday will be another opportunity for us to meet face to face and get to know one another a little better at our stated Presbytery Gathering.

But first things first! We will be voting on eight amendments to the Book of Order. These include:

  • Bringing clarity to the constitution of a nominating committee.
  • How to handle Ministers of Word and Sacrament who renounce jurisdiction while in the midst of a disciplinary proceedings, and then want to return to the denomination.
  • Preventing congregations from supporting a political candidate.
  • Clarity on rules regarding a minister laboring beyond the bounds of a presbytery.
  • Clarifying wording for pastors and commissioned pastors.
  • Clarifying when children should receive the Lord’s supper.
  • Adding sexual abuse as misconduct.
  • Eliminating the time limit sexual abuse can be reported.

Some see the Book of Order as a manual of archaic rules that impose limitations on the activities of congregations and ministers. These amendments remind us that the Book of Order is a living document, responding to the challenges of our time. It is an attempt to guide the life of the church. The amendment process keeps the Book of Order updated. When presbyteries and sessions around the country experience a problem that the Book of Order does not address, is fuzzy on interpretation, or outdated, the amendment process addresses these needs.

The challenge for Saturday is that the commissioners will need to read the amendments, rationales, and recommendations. This is real homework! But it is a way to be informed when we vote on Saturday.

In other parts of business, we will hear about some exciting congregational initiatives for 2019 as we lay out the budget. I’m looking forward to our panel discussion on Creation and Science with Ellie Stock and Sara Miles. Sara will be our preacher for the afternoon, and we will serve communion.

Most of all I’m looking forward to seeing the commissioners, Teaching Elders, and visitors. As I travel throughout our presbytery, I’m enjoying the worship and fellowship. We have some really good people in our presbytery, and I am blessed to serve as in Giddings Lovejoy.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Hope

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


 

“There is a quality I feel in the room right now—a generosity of spirit—a drawing one another out— that gives me the feeling we can do things we didn’t know we could do and say things we didn’t know we knew.”

We need churches that feel like this. Our future depends on it.

The above quote is from a monogram called “December Gathering: Notes from the Field.” The monogram is part of a series by two young Harvard Divinity students, Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile.  These young adults have remapped a path for the future church. All five monograms can be found here https://www.howwegather.org/.

I find the work that Angie, Casper, and Sue are doing fascinating. The phrase I quoted reminds me that what really works for our congregations and ministries has less to do with buildings, budgets, and resources. We have to try new things. This takes risk, and with risk comes the possibility of failure. Angie and Casper have brought together others who are trying to figure out a way forward. They have discovered that when people who believe in what is possible come together, they are able to achieve more than anyone thought doable.

I call this hope.

I believe what is needed in our presbytery is a confidence grounded in hope. Perhaps we need a spirit that believes we can try and do things we did not know we could do. As a church we are led by the Holy Spirit and guided by the scriptures. Both place value on reaching out to our community, being hospitable, and sharing God’s story of transformation and change with our neighbors.

On Friday and Saturday, the presbytery team and sub team leaders will gather for our retreat. My goal is to infuse them with a spirit of possibility and hope. At the end of our retreat I want our leaders to believe that together we can do things we did not know we could. This is the spirit I want to carry into 2019 and beyond. I pray that it radiates from this group of leaders into every corner of our presbytery.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Another Hidden Jewel

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


The first indicator that I’m visiting a rural church is when the pastor says not to trust my GPS but follow his instructions instead! After exiting I-44 I turn, weave, go up and down hills, and after a few more hair pin turns, I’m on a black top. The church suddenly appears on my right. I know I’m visiting a rural church when the only sound I hear are the cows singing a melody of moos! I’m met at the front door by a little dog, which I find out later doesn’t belong to anyone but refuses to leave. This is Old Argo. This is a shining jewel of a congregation located in Bourbon, Missouri off the Sullivan exit.

As worship begins, about 35 people fill the sanctuary. The age range is a perfect bell curve from babies in arm to seniors on canes. There is energy, excitement, and a bit of exhaustion. The night before is the annual Fall Festival which the church hosts. They cook up two pigs (donated by a church member), add in tons of homemade goodies, a musical group, a silent auction, games and fun. This congregation of less than 40 serves 335 dinners and raises over $5,200! The festival is a total volunteer effort. As I hear the stories of the night before, I long for a jar of homemade apple butter!

Old Argo is led by pastor Rob Caldwell, a commissioned pastor (CP). Giddings Lovejoy has a robust CP program. We take ruling elders who feel God’s call to a pastoral ministry and put them through a three-year program. A new cohort is already underway with 11 elders in training. These leaders often end up in small congregations.

Rural and small church ministry in a reality in our presbytery. Out of 79 congregations, we currently have 27 with 50 members or less. In Giddings Lovejoy, once a congregation has 40 members or less, they can no longer afford a traditional called and installed pastor. Our challenge is to prepare people like Rob, who have a genuine love for small church ministry, and support them in their call. With the right pastoral leadership, even small congregations can thrive and be vibrant where they are.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Rules and Policy

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


Today I took part in Boundary Training for ministers in the presbytery. The training is required every three years for all Teaching Elders and Commissioned Pastors. We covered several topics including dating, touching, friendship, and intimacy between pastor and parishioner. We also talked about social media, and the challenges of pastoral identity on the internet. Around the question of friendship, we talked about the difference between being friendly and being a friend. We shared stories of accepting and rejecting gifts and discussed the separation policy regarding once a pastor leaves a congregation.

A big takeaway from the meeting is that boundaries can be fluid, elusive, and highly contextual. While one church may have a brief passing of the peace where no one barely moves or touches, another church walks around hugging everyone for an extended time.

This is why creating policy for congregations and ministers is difficult. We often write policy as a response to a negative activity. For example, we have a stringent separation policy after a pastor leaves a congregation because in the past a pastor abused the relationship with former parishioners. The temptation is to use the worst case as the norm. In Boundary Training, the pastors and leaders reflected on a more nuanced approach. They desired a policy that is sensitive to context. We should think less about absolutes and more about ways to be flexible and have boundaries more fluid and permeable. The church should be less about “thou shalt not” and more about “I bring to you a new commandment, love one another.”

Of course, it is difficult to live in a more flexible community. I imagine people will want to be firm or fluid depending upon their need and advantage. As humans we may want the strictest application for others, and the more open interpretation for ourselves. As your leader, It is easy to apply stiff policy from above. But reality is that we are all doing the best we can as we stumble through our life of faith together.

The Bible says that God loves us. But God’s love is unique to each of us, and the Triune God loves us as we each need to be loved, and not all in the same way. Perhaps this is a way to get at the question of rules and policy. Create the framework but recognize the application may not be the same in every situation.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Fun

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

Q: What is the chief end of (humanity)?
A: (Humanity’s) chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy (God) forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism

. . . For the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

After graduating seminary, my first call was as an associate to a small Pentecostal new church development (300 members) on a rough side of town in Chicago. It was a difficult context and a difficult call for me. I had not been exposed to a community of drugs, violence, and crime since my youth in the projects. But this is where God chose to plant a church, and where I learned to connect with the most vulnerable in our society. Each week the pastor, Dr. Leon Finney, would meet with the staff, and in the midst of heart wrenching ministry, Dr. Finney taught us to have fun. He helped us to see the lighter side of life and ministry. We would share hilarious stories of growing up, get a laugh at lyrics from songs and aphorisms our parents taught us. Dr. Finney taught us that no matter how difficult life is, there is always space for joy.

I was reminded of this while in worship Sunday at First Belleville. During the children’s sermon, pastor Rob Dyer dressed as Disco Bob! It was hilarious! And it worked. The children were engaged, answered questions about how to care for one another, and had a great time in the process.

When do you find joy in your work and ministry? Do you make time to have fun?

What does it mean to be a presbytery of vibrant congregations and dynamic leaders that have fun in fellowship, and joy in ministry? In what ways do we give permission to our members to enjoy worship, music, ministry, and service? In what ways do we demonstrate such joy?

I have an idea. How about sending us pictures of fun and joy in ministry? I would like to create a collage in next week’s newsletter of Presbyterians having fun! Just attach the photo to an email and send it to communication@glpby.org and how about telling us some ways you break the standard routine of meetings, worship, and other ministry context to inject a bit of fun.  I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing from you!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Listening

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


It’s time I doubled back and shared more material from our August Presbytery Gathering at Edwardsville, First. After each Presbytery Gathering we send out a survey to determine what went well and what did not. The surveys are reviewed by the Presbytery Gathering Planning Team. Our last gathering from September returned a record number of responses. Thank you! Many of you requested we provide the documents from the pre-sessions.

The theme of the gathering was Missional Church. In addition to our presenter Dr. Bonnie Sue Lewis from Dubuque Seminary, we had two pre-sessions. In one pre-session we focused on the work of the personnel committee in our congregations. It was led by Laura Arnold. She shared material that would be helpful for all personnel committees. These materials can be found here. The other pre-session involved an exploration of the surrounding communities of Edwardsville. Members went into the neighborhood, visiting stores and shops, speaking with neighbors, and observing the life of the community. The documents used to perform our community exegesis can be found here

There were so many good ideas on this survey. You encourage us to continue tweaking the order of day’s events. You want us to bring in the best speakers on the specific topic, yet don’t forget our local talented leaders. You desire us to be considerate of your time, while making sure there is time for us to get to know one another.

Thank you again for your input, suggestions, and critiques. We are listening! You are being heard! Together we will shape and craft our Presbytery Gatherings and our time together into a form that is beneficial to everyone.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Laboring in God’s Vineyard

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


When I became a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I was not ordained to a congregation. At the time I was working at McCormick as the Chief Development Officer. I really enjoyed fund raising, and I had spent my time since graduating seminary doing pastoral work, and institutional ministry.

Instead of being ordained to congregational ministry, I was ordained to specialized ministry (or validated ministry) as a fundraiser for McCormick Seminary. To make matters more complicated, I was a member of the presbytery of Chicago while living in Madison Wisconsin! I commuted to Chicago from Madison (3 – 5 hours, depending upon the weather and traffic) and lived in Chicago during the week. Those were crazy times for Marilyn and me!

The Presbyterian church recognizes specialized ministries by validating different forms of ministries beyond the traditional congregation. In Giddings Lovejoy we have a diversity of validated ministries. We have chaplains serving in hospitals, senior living facilities, the Army, Seminary professors, an Executive Director of a food pantry, and a Regional Liaison in East Central Africa!

Our Teaching Elders serve as Pastors and Head of Staff, Associate Pastors, Parish Associates, Stated Supply, Interim and Transitional Pastors, and Designated Pastors. I can’t forget the 79 Honorably Retired ministers in our presbytery.

For many, the call to specialized ministry is a different calling than to that of a congregation. My vision for the church is a large tent where a diversity of people, congregations, and even religious traditions can dwell together. I enjoyed congregational ministry when I served as a pastor. I enjoy the work of validated ministry even more as I am able to serve a geographically larger and theologically and racially diverse population.

On this post Labor Day, I want to lift up those who labor in God’s vineyard. I spend 90% of my time with congregational issues. I find myself neglecting those in validated ministries, even though that is how I entered ordained ministry and how I serve. The next time you meet one of our chaplains, professors, executives, or others in validated ministry, let them know you appreciate all they do. I appreciate them as well.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Civility and Kindness

Blog post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


“I will know that the presbytery has been transformed when we show kindness toward one another.” I made this statement in a Vision Team meeting in the middle of 2017. It was my first attempt to grasp what was occurring in the life of our presbytery, and what needed to change. Kindness can be experienced as civility. By actually listening to one another, and not just waiting to interrupt, is a show of respect. Kindness means feeling the frustration we share as we work within the rules of a system that often seems daunting, irrelevant, indifferent, and unreasonable. Kindness is the grace we extend to one another, especially in times of brokenness, insecurity, and vulnerability.

I am experiencing kindness at our presbytery gatherings. I am watching people show patience and flexibility when things are not perfect. I observe people listening to one another, even when we do not agree. I see people supporting ideas and decisions that rub against their personal interest but in the name of the greater good, they say “Yes!”

We will still disagree. We will still hold values that conflict. The Presbyterian church is a large tent, and Giddings-Lovejoy is a microcosm of the entire denomination. But we are disagreeing with a tone of kindness. We are having public discussions with respect for one another.

As a little boy I would occasionally get into a fight with one of my brothers. I am the youngest and they were bigger and stronger than I, so it was always a losing battle, except that one time I sprayed Keith with a water hose and ran, and he couldn’t catch me! That’s when I learned I was fast. But I digress! During these times my Mother would yell from the back of the house, “Stop hitting other people’s children!” As we show kindness to one another, perhaps we see one another as God’s children, and who are we to strike or hit God’s child?

Thanks to all of you who participated in the presbytery gathering. Thank you for the energy, humor, attention, seriousness, prayerfulness, and love that you bring. Thank you for sharing in the work of the ministry. This includes the neighborhood exegesis, personnel training, Missional Church workshop, business meeting, and worship. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! (Psalm 133)” Thank you all for making the presbytery gathering a place to show kindness, civility, and respect for one another.

Rev. Craig M. Howard