Responding to Anxiety

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


Responding to Anxiety

One of the many joys of my work is meeting with pastors of the presbytery. Once a month a group of pastors who serve congregations in Illinois gather for lunch, fellowship, and a little bit of business. The Eastside Pastor fellowship are men and women, young and old, serving primarily small or rural congregations. However, they are not immune to the challenges of urbanization, declining oil prices, and farms struggling to hold their own.

These are anxious times for small and rural congregations. These are anxious times for all of us.

David Marshall, a retired pastor shared the following document with the Eastside Pastors. It is a list of how to handle anxiety. David created the document for one of his children, who is having a difficult time during this anxious political climate. When I read the document, I knew it was something to be shared with the entire presbytery! I hope you find it enjoyable as well.

Craig M. Howard

Living Well in Today’s World

                                                                          Expressing anger physically 

NAILING BLOCK:   The standard version is a cedar block 4”x4”x1’, a sturdy hammer, a bag of nails, and safety glasses.  Tap the nail in about a half inch, avoid knots, put on the glasses, now drive the nail with your particular anger cause in mind.  Repeat as necessary, but be cautious not to just rehearse your anger.  See more positive expressions.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE:  Physical exercise is a constructive outlet for anger.  It is clearly established that physical exercise is good for your health and emotional life.  Pick what you like and do it.

YELLING:  Yelling may also help if it does not disturb others.

                                                                                      Positive Action

CHOOSING YOUR RESPONSE:  When a crisis happens the future is determined by how we choose to respond.  If we choose to hide and nurse our anger, we will become depressed and sick.  If we choose a constructive action, we will heal more quickly and make the world a better place.

THE GOOD DEED:  Pick something to do every day for someone else that will put a smile on their face and make their life better.  Repeat as often as the opportunity presents itself. You will feel better.

MUSIC:  Music is healing and comforting. Select a justice song you love. Listen to it. Sing it to yourself.  If you are sharing with a group, make copies and have everyone join in singing it.

YOUR GROUP:  If you are fortunate enough to have a group of like-minded friends, help the group create a safe space where ideas and opinions can be shared without judgment.  In the group seek to understand and be understood.  Name calling is off limits.  Respect is key to a safe group.

VALUES:  Take time to identify your core values.  This is important when you are in conversations with other people.  When you have a conversation where the individuals own their values it will be easier to build a bridge rather than a wall.

FOR PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THERE IS A HIGHER POWER:  The simplest thing to do is have a one-way conversation with your God.  Talk it all out.  Dump your load.  Forgive and ask for forgiveness.  Think about how loving and forgiving your God is.

If you think of yourself as a follower of Jesus, read Matthew 5:38-48.  Think of “perfect” as being complete and whole.

HUMOR:  Laugh, but be kind.




Lenten Feast

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard

Lenten Feast

I spent my Christian development in the Pentecostal church. Lent was a time of fasting and prayer. The pastor would challenge us to fast for 40 days (one meal a day, not including weekends). The church would be open each day for prayer. It was a time to seek God’s face regarding God’s will for us. Lent was a time of fellowship, Bible reading, stomach cramps and headaches!

Different faith traditions have different ways of understanding the scripture, and living a life that reflects that claims Jesus is Lord.

As a Presbyterian, I have adopted a less physically rigorous Lenten ritual. After going through years of “giving up” something pleasurable like chocolate, wine, or movies, I have recently taken another route. A couple of years ago, Deborah Block, pastor of Immanuel Church in Milwaukee, gave me an idea. She challenged me to use Lent (and Advent) as a time to feed my mind and spirit. As a response, I now read a book a week for Lent.

My Lenten reading is designed to stir my imagination, light the coals of justice in my heart, and challenge me to ask the bigger questions about my place in the world, appreciate the value of life, and what is God calling me to do as an African American man in St. Louis.

It is always exciting to choose the six books I will read. As you view my list (they’re not in any particular order), I invite you to join me. You don’t have to read my books. But if you see one that peaks your interest, let me know and we can schedule a conversation about the book.

I’m leaving my list one book short this year. It is a book I would like for you to recommend to me. I already read my Bible, so you don’t have to suggest that one!! If you’ve read a good book recently and want to share it, send me the title. In the meantime, have a fulfilling Lenten feast this year!

Craig Howard Lenten Reading 2017

Tomorrow Is Now: It Is Today That We Must Create the World of the Future, Eleanor Roosevelt
(“This book is Eleanor Roosevelt’s manifesto and her final effort to move America toward the community she hoped it would become.”)

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, James Baldwin
(Baldwin inspires me to think broadly as he writes from the perspective of an African American male living in the 1960’s)

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin
(“This is a splendid book that I recommend to anyone with an interest in how science works and in the power of human imagination and ability.” —John Gribbin, The Wall Street Journal)

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irvine
(The moderators of the PC(USA) recommend this book for the entire denomination. I’m reading it to find the language to discuss White Privilege in a non-offensive way)

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
(My Grandparents migrated to Chicago from South Carolina around 1925. This story will help me relive their journey)

Rebuilding Foundations

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


First Lesson: Mathew 7:24 – 27
Second Lesson: Hebrews 11:1 – 3

Rebuilding Foundations

Our lessons today are concerned with building upon foundations. In the gospels, Jesus is saying that if we build a house without a foundation, when the rains come and flood rises, and the wind blows, the house will be destroyed. But if we dig deep and build the house on a solid foundation, when the rains come, and the flood rises, and the winds blow, the house will stand.

But our Hebrew text from Psalm 11 paints a different picture. In verse 3 the psalmist asks the question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

It is not just the home that is destroyed in the psalms. It is not just a cosmetic exterior. But the very foundation that the building sits on is destroyed. In my prior life, I was in insurance. I have seen all manner of destruction; fires, tornadoes, even hurricanes. But I have never seen a foundation destroyed.

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

I believe we are living in the times of destroyed foundations. It is a time when the way we have been taught and raised to do church, no longer has meaning to the wider culture. The way we use to believe, isn’t as important. The institutions we thought were solid, are now crumbling.

We see the statistics of decline. In 2016 our presbytery took a huge hit. Ordinarily a decline in membership of 3 – 4 percent is normal. Our membership declined around 14 percent. This is because one of our largest congregations left. But the echoes of the loss are still being felt, numerically, financially, and spiritually.

In any given year 20% of our congregations will grow. We’ve maintained that number in 2016.

What we are experiencing is not only relevant to Giddings-Lovejoy. Out of 171 presbyteries in our denomination, zero grew in 2016. In fact, the only numerical growth in any presbytery in our denomination in the past 5 years has occurred when two presbyteries merged.

The problem is not that our gospel is weak or our churches aren’t doing the job. We are challenged by the age in which we live.

We are living in an age of non-members. We are not losing members to the Baptist or the Catholics, the truth is people don’t join anything. More young people are joining the “nones,” meaning they do not call anyplace their religious home.

And on the other side, our long-term members are getting tired of the same old same old. They are what is called the “dones.” They are done coming to church sitting in the pews, hearing the preacher, and passing the plate. They are done participating in committees just to do the same thing as before and get the same results. They are skilled, gifted, and are ready for change.

This is why the foundation is crumbling and being destroyed. It is the social foundation; it is the political foundation; it is the religious foundation. We know about it because we are living it. The question is, how will we respond.

There are three ways to read our Hebrew text. And each different parsing demands a different response.[1]

First, the text can be seen as a very dark apocalyptic vision: When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Or in other words, when things have gotten bad, and they will only get worse. Our churches will not grow. The future of the presbytery is filled with lawsuits, congregations leaving, and people murmuring and complaining. This reading says we are in darkness and it won’t get any better. The light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming right at us!

One way to respond to this dark vision of our future is to do nothing different. Instead, we can hold on tight to what we have. We can make sure our resources stay in our church, in our building, in our presbytery. We can hold on and hope that the church lasts long enough to bury me. Then I don’t care what they do.

What can the righteous do? What can we do?

Another way to hear the text is with a defeated attitude and spirit, “When the foundations have been destroyed, what has the righteous accomplished?” This reading says that everything is such a mess. Why should we continue to work? What is the point? Why should we continue to do ministry? What is the point? Why should I come to presbytery gatherings? What is the point? Things aren’t getting better. Things aren’t turning around. We are just like Sisyphus pushing that bolder up the hill. Just to watch it roll down again.

What has the righteous accomplished?

A third reading of the text shifts the image of the righteous from us, to the Righteous One being God. When the foundations are destroyed, what has the Righteous One done?

And here is where we find hope. Because if God is with us, (and God is with us!) then God is present even when the foundations are being destroyed. If God is with us, then God is the God of hope, and God has a plan for us, even in the midst of decline, and devastation.

Perhaps we are at the end of something. Perhaps the way we have done church for the past 200 years has run its course and we are winding it down. This does not mean God has left us or is leaving us. Remember, all the churches Paul founded have closed. All of them! But God did not close. Jesus did not shut his doors. The Holy Spirit did not leave the building. Their way of doing church came to an end and another way formed.

Sometimes to move forward, we have to clear the ground, we have move everything out before a new thing can come in.

Sometimes to move forward, we have to let go of what we have. In order for God to do a new thing, sometimes the old has to be let go.

And this is hard. This is very difficult. It is not easy. We become attached to the old way of being and of being seen. In the book, “Transitions” William Bridges describes the letting go as Disidentification, Disenchantment, and Disorientation[2]. During disorientation, we keep wanting to try and do the same thing over and over, even though we know it doesn’t work. He writes about the disorientation phase this way,

“We resist change. Instead our inner voice says, ‘Do it again, don’t change now, live up to your image, keep on being the old you[3].’” Does this sound familiar?

“We’re the Presbyterian church. We are one of the founders of this nation. We’re the bedrock of this community. We are rich, powerful, and educated. Our church must be in this community. Our programs must keep going.”

Even if it doesn’t work.

We say this while fewer and fewer people attend, fewer and fewer people listen, and fewer and fewer people care.

The attitude to keep doing it the same old way, is the very attitude that aborts new life and new possibility.

If God is with us, then we have hope. If God is with us, then we are being challenged and stretched to find the new life and the new way that is ahead of us.

But we have to let the past go. We have to move into our ending, mourn our losses, experience the grief, and move on.

Sometimes I believe we are like Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put humpty together again.

There is no rebuilding Humpty Dumpty. Instead we are broken and fragmented dreaming about who we use to be, instead of imaging what we can be.

This is where the presbytery office has to also take blame. In my first month on the job, I’ve heard the disturbing stories about the divisions and separations within the staff itself. And I want to say I’m sorry. I apologize for the pain, frustration, and dysfunction that it caused the body and the presbytery. My vision of the presbytery office is that we are a model of ministry for our congregations. We demonstrate hospitality, efficiency, and faithfulness. This has not been our story in recent history. And for that I am sorry.

Now I ask you to give us a chance. I ask that you begin to let go of the hurt and pain, and memories. That you allow the balm of Gilead to heal the spirit of the presbytery, and make the wounded whole again.

Can I tell you about my dream for the presbytery? Can I tell you about my vision?

I dream of all of these fragments moving together in the same direction. No more silos; no more separation by ideologies, geography, theology, or personalities.  but we all move in the same direction, together. I have a dream that as we move together we begin to come together; letting go of hurts and anger; opening ourselves up to trust one another. I have a dream of this presbytery reaching through the walls and silos that have been built up and thickening since reunion; joining hands with other Presbyterians and other faith traditions, and moving into a prosperous future that benefits the whole community. This is my dream.

As I said, in the insurance business I saw homes destroyed by fire, ripped apart by tornadoes. But one thing I have never seen. I’ve never seen a family rebuild their home the same way it was before. When given the opportunity, they change it. They don’t want the kitchen they had. That kitchen was 15 years old. They want a modern kitchen. When given the chance, people rebuild from their dreams and imagination, not from their past, not from their history.

We have the unique opportunity to rebuild and dream again. All of these broken pieces, and fragments can come together and be something new, fresh, and alive.

But I must warn you. New beginnings are always a little messy. The start is a little bumpy. But if we stick with it we can work out the knots and kinks. We have to listen to that new song that is playing in our hearts and walk to that rhythm.

God is doing a new thing in Giddings-Lovejoy presbytery. Don’t you want to join us? Don’t you want to come along and be part of God’s new creation for the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy? Amen.

[1] Segal, Benjamin J., A New Psalm, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2013 p51

[2] Bridges, William, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes- Strategies for coping with the difficult, painful, and confusing times in your life., Perseus Books, Massachusetts, 1980 pp 92-104.

[3] Ibid, p102.


Numbers Game

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


Numbers Game

One of the toughest things about starting up my insurance agency was x-dating. An x-date is a 3×5 card with the information of a potential policyholder, and the date their current insurance expires. This was back in the bad-old-days before caller id, and before all of the rules to keep telemarketers like me from calling! I used a special phone book to call people based upon their zip code. It usually took ten calls to obtain one x-date. This means hearing nine people say “No!” or just hanging up. To start my business I had to have 1500 x-dates! Or in other words, I had to make about 15,000. And I wasn’t done. When the expiration date arrived, I had to call these people again to see if I could give them a quote. 4 out of 10 would say yes. Finally, if the price was right, and they qualified, I could sell 1 or 2 out of 4 of these people a policy. So, it would take 15,000 phone calls to sell 150 to 300 policies. In sales, we call this the numbers game.

The Presbyterian church is using the numbers game when it comes to 1001 New Worshiping Communities (NWC). The idea is to have 1001 NWC by 2020. What the denomination knows is that most of these will not stick. I doubt they know the ratio of how many NWC will develop to become congregations verses those that will not. In Giddings-Lovejoy we have started several NWC and New Church Developments. Some are still active while others have not made it.

The good news about NWC is that they never fail. There is so much to be learned from each experience and each ministry context. We can never call it failure when we risk, because being a people of faith means grasping an invisible hope, and believing an unrealized future based on Jesus Christ. By nature, we are risk takers.

So, how many NWC does it take before one is launched that is sustainable? How many times must we risk our energy and resources, before a NWC takes off and becomes a future church? The answer is yes! Yes, we must keep imagining ministry in different ways. Yes, we must continue our commitment to our future. Yes, we must seek and search for God’s way of meeting the needs of this generation with the gospel in a way that they understand it, and that builds the foundation for the future church.

Rev. Craig M. Howard





Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard



I had the opportunity to go to Israel last November with a group called Interfaith Partners for Peace. It was a group of 30 people, 15 Rabbis and 15 Christian Pastors. Our goal was to visit with political leaders, business people, and educators in Israel and Palestine. We wanted to get an understanding of the complexity of Middle East relationships, while observing how some people are actually bridging the chasm that separates these two peoples.

I experienced the 10 day trip while in the midst of business. I’d worked six weeks without a day off. I left a conference in Louisville to go to Israel. I didn’t even have time to wash my suitcase full of clothing!

Workaholism has always been a weakness of mine. Somehow I came to believe that I could solve problems by persistence where I lacked intelligence. This has served me well in education (I completed the M.Div in 4 years while working full-time) and in ministry (I worked bi-vocationally, which meant 60 – 70 hour work weeks). While serving as presbytery executive in Milwaukee, personnel called me on the carpet many times for the hours I kept. I’m trying to do better here in Giddings-Lovejoy. So far I’ve stayed out of the office on Fridays (still checking emails and phone calls though).

One thing a workaholic can do is spot another workaholic. In my first month as your Presbytery Leader, I’ve spotted quite a few! These are pastors and leaders who don’t have consistent down time. Or, their down time is planned but it never happens. There’s always one more meeting, writing, untimely hospital visit or funeral. There is more need than there is time. I’m watching pastors and leaders exert a lot of energy, as they attempt to do more, help more, and save more, yet still remain behind.

While in Israel I was able to participate in Shabbat and Sabbath. The experience left a strong impression on what it means to enjoy the company of friends, celebrate, and rest. Even the elevators work differently on Sabbath! They stop on every floor so no one has to press a button!

I know I am pushing against the cultural grain of 24 hour news and microwave ovens. We desire service. We want it fast and we want it now. Our leaders are expected to maintain the cultural pace and always be available.

But God has a better way. It is alright to stop. It is alright to disconnect and spend uninterrupted time with family and self; to read something we don’t have to preach. It is alright to take time to rebuild and re-create.

Let us model for one another a holy leadership that includes down time and rest. Let us become the people of God to one another.





Future Church: God is calling us to be transformed

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader

Rev. Dr. Craig Howard



Future Church

On Sunday, I had the pleasure to visit our church in Ferguson, just north of St. Louis. In his sermon, pastor Michael Trautman challenged the congregation to take repentance seriously. “Repentance transcends the social/political structures we are faced with,” he said. Michael spoke of repentance as being part of a three pillar system: repentance, forgiveness, and healing. These pillars are held together with prayer, as we seek to be transformed disciples of Jesus Christ.

The power of this message is that Michael has the courage to say that change is part of what it means to be a Christian; a disciple of Christ. God is not content for us to improve or just to be better. God is calling us to be transformed.

This same message holds true for the congregations in our presbytery.

My ministry in executive leadership has focused on leading our denomination into the Future Church. I am certain that there will be a church in the future. The question is what will that church look like? I am not sure if that church will be like our land-locked urban structures or spacious suburban plants. Will the Future Church be rural congregations of the faithful few, or will it consist of the mega-churches that are dominating the Christian landscape? Chances are, the Future Church will be as different from what we are currently doing as my smart phone is as different than the rotary dial I grew up with.

As a presbytery, we are called to usher in this church; a church that will be different from what we have and probably operate in a different way than what we know. To get from here to there will take dreaming, imagination, and risk.

So, here is the challenge. Are we stuck trying to do church the same way it was done 50 and 100 years ago, or are we willing to imagine a church community in a different way? Some models are already out there such as Sweaty Sheep (a church built around running and exercise), Creation Labs (a church that builds community around doing art together), or radical ways of doing traditional church like Contemplative Prayer communities or New Monastic communities. (Click here to see more ideas from the 1001 New Worshiping Communities, or here for Fresh Expressions.)

As a presbytery, we must use our Holy imaginations to dream God’s dream for our future. There will be a Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy in the future. With God’s help it will be a transformed community leading all of God’s people into a Future Church.





Doing Something Right

Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Presbytery Leader
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


Doing Something Right

In his book, The One Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard writes, “Help people reach their full potential, catch them doing something right.” This applies to organizations too! In my first week as your Presbytery Leader (ok, I’m supposed to put “Transitional” on the front of that but you know I’m transitional and I know I’m transitional so I’m dropping it for now!) I have been sitting in a lot of meetings, listening, participating, and taking in a lot of information. I have studied the wonderful history of Giddings-Lovejoy and learned about the recent trials the presbytery has endured. I could fill this column with the number of changes and challenges the presbytery has overcome this past year alone. But I would rather talk about something we are doing right. I’d prefer sharing some good news with the presbytery.

Here it is. We have a balanced budget for 2017!

I know for some this isn’t exciting or spicy enough to warrant celebration. But if you have lived through the financial roller coaster Giddings-Lovejoy has endured these past years, or if you only knew how close we came to financial calamity, you too would be doing a step, a jig, or a poor attempt at a moon walk! Imagine, we do not have to worry about paying our bills or how we are going to meet our obligations this year. This financial strength is a gift that we plan to build upon.

The finance team is developing a strategy to keep the budget balanced and add to the financial foundation we now have. This means living within our means, creating an investment strategy that will allow our endowed funds to grow, and managing all the accounts in the presbytery to maximize value. We are committed to being good stewards of our funds, investments, per-capita, and mission dollars. Our goal is to live into a vision of financial excellence, and become an organization and presbytery that people and congregations want to invest in.

Now, that is doing something right!

Rev. Craig M. Howard






Are you ready to make a beautiful holy mess with us?

Rev. Erin Counihan
Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery Moderator

Every two years, a whole lot of Presbyterians gather in one place to do the business of church, worship, and spend a little time together. We call it General Assembly (GA) and in June 2018, for GA223, they’ll be coming to St. Louis to do that, right here, in our hometown.

But what if it was more than that? What if General Assembly was more than a meeting? What if it was more than a Presbyterian family reunion? What if it was more than a one-week gathering? What if it was also a real opportunity to focus on the work Christ is doing in a particular place, and to get a whole lot of Presbyterians involved in that work?

This past June, at the last big get together of Presbyterians for business, worship, and gathering (GA 222 in Portland, OR), our newly elected Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson thought maybe, just maybe, Presbyterians could make a bigger difference with our hands and our feet when we gather. He asked us to consider what God might be calling us to do in the two years leading up to the next gathering. What could it mean for Presbyterians to focus on that hometown? To pray and work and serve there together? To build relationships? To reach out? To get over ourselves? To muster the faith and strength of the entire denomination to engage in what God is doing in that place? And to be witnesses to Christ’s work before we gather, while we gather, and after we gather for General Assembly?

This week, Stated Clerk Nelson, along with the Rev. Tom Hay and Andrew Yaeger-Buckley, from the Office of the General Assembly, came to Giddings-Lovejoy to discuss this wondering, this idea, this vision, which they are calling the Hands and Feet Initiative. It’s a vision to jherbertnelsongather the collective witness of Presbyterians leading up to General Assembly and focus it on that place where we’ll be for that next gathering. So, for three days, the team from Louisville met with Presbyterians here in the St. Louis region to talk about what this might look like, learn about our ministries and communities, to listen to our ideas, and to start thinking about how Presbyterians from other parts of the country and world, could engage in ministry together, here, now.

We came away with questions. So many questions.

If the whole denomination is coming here anyway, why not put everyone to work? How is God calling us to make an impact here in our region? What could it mean to invite Presbyterians from all over to come and share in what God is doing in our hometown? What ministry are you working on that could use a couple of extra hands and feet? What is working in your ministry that you want to share with others? What have you learned doing ministry in your community that others need to know? What can they take back to their own hometowns and try there?

We settled on two big questions, though, to move us to next steps. And we invite the Presbytery to consider these questions in moving forward with the Hands and Feet Initiative:

     If we had more hands and feet on the ground here in Giddings-Lovejoy, what could we be doing?

     What have we learned here in the St. Louis area that we can share with the rest of the Church?  

Ideas are already forming for many who attended one of these meetings. Opportunities for congregations to help with flood recovery, for youth to engage in conversations about race, for individuals to learn more about community organizing, and many more have been proposed. We want to keep this conversation going locally. If you attended one of the meetings with the Stated Clerk and have ideas or questions, we want to hear them! If you didn’t attend, but have some interest in learning more, we want to hear from you!

Here’s how you can get involved:

  1. Reply to this blog post. Share your thoughts, ideas, questions, and comments. This is one place for open dialogue on this initiative.
  2. Nominate someone, or yourself, to serve on a task force to discuss these ideas and next steps. The State Clerk has asked us to do some work locally on how we might implement such a vision. We are gathering names and putting together a team to start meeting this month. If you are interested and have time, or know of someone who would be great for this project, contact Erin Counihan, moderator, by clicking here to send an email.
  3. Pray for this ministry. This is something new. We’re trying to see how God can use us Presbyterians in this place, in this time, to do some good. We’re trying to make General Assembly about more than just a one-week meeting. We’re trying to engage with one another in new ways. And we want to put to work a whole lot of hands and feet. That work is messy. There will be mistakes. Pray that we’ll be faithful, messiness and mistakes and all.

Farewell and God bless you!

Dear Friends in Giddings-Lovejoy,
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Presbytery Leader during the past two years. Though I was called and installed as the Presbytery Leader with the gifts and passion for assisting congregational leaders in reaching out to their neighbors, inviting discipleship and transforming churches, I have found myself in many ways completing interim ministry tasks.
The five tasks of transitional (interim) ministry include:
1. Coming to terms with history.
2. Exploring identity and direction.
3. Making leadership/operational changes.
4. Renewing linkages to the denomination.
5. Committing to new leadership and a new direction.
While I was called to Giddings-Lovejoy to lead in developing dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations, other concerns took precedence. Leadership development occurred in the context of response to community crisis and work for justice and reconciliation.
• Five weeks into my ministry, Michael Brown’s death prompted response and shouts for justice rang out in St. Louis, and the whole nation was challenged to “come to terms with the history” of racial division and inequality.
• During the ministry of the Rev. Craig Palmer, the Presbytery explored identity and direction. The Leadership Team wondered together about how the Presbytery would best encourage “vibrant congregations and dynamic leadership,” and we created a new organizational plan for our ministry that is less staff-driven and has tapped and empowered new leadership, “making leadership/operational changes.” Debt has been paid down, making it possible to use new mission dollars for transformation of congregations and the creation and suport of new worshiping communities.
• Recognizing an opportunity to make a larger impact for justice, the Presbytery developed and submitted an overture to the General Assembly based on the findings of the Ferguson Commission. I invited Tom Hay from the General Assembly to meet with the Leadership Team, and I recruited a member of the Presbytery to begin preparation for hosting the next General Assembly meeting in St. Louis. Members of the Presbytery have also reached out to the Synod of Mid America in addressing staffing issues. Linkages between the Presbytery and the larger denomination have been strengthened during my time of service with the Presbytery.
• The last interim task is committing to new leadership and new direction, which I believe the Presbytery is now doing. Several teaching elders new to the Presbytery in the last few years have assumed leadership responsibilities in the new design and are making “dynamic” contributions to the life of the Presbytery. The Presbytery has the opportunity to identify a completely new staff to support and encourage living into the vision of Dynamic Leaders and Vibrant Congregations. Several Presbytery leaders have commented on the new design of Giddings-Lovejoy organizational plan and are intrigued as they look for new models for their mission and ministry.
Thank you for the privilege of leading the Presbytery during these past two years and serving among you. Jesus sent the disciples out to live with the people, to share the Good News, to heal the sick and comfort the grieving. The disciples found welcome in homes, the message of the Gospel was received by those with open hearts, and people experienced healing and hope. I am grateful to the many of you who welcomed me, as I visited in your congregations for worship, enjoyed hospitality in churches and homes and as we journeyed, learned, prayed, advocated for justice, and sought together to love and serve God.
I will hold you in my heart and in my prayers. May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all.
Anita Hendrix

God Tranforms

From the Presbytery Leader

Part of my training for the New Beginnings Program, was performing an assessment with a congregation.  The assessor reviews congregational statistics, examines financial reports, looks at church records, scrutinizes the building, counts spaces in the parking lot, looks at the online presence of the church, drives around the neighborhood, and tries to find out as much as possible about the church, its history, and its witness in the community.  I find myself using these many of these assessment skills as I visit churches in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.

While buildings are valuable tools for ministry, the members are most important for furthering the mission of Christ in the world.  We are the bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ  Attending the recent General Assembly, the breadth and depth of the mission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. was apparent as we heard a variety of preachers and speakers and welcomed ecumenical guests.  A new stated clerk, The Rev. Dr J. Herbert Nelson (whom some of you may remember came to Giddings-Lovejoy to help us gain perspective following the tragic death of Michael Brown) was elected the new Stated Clerk.  Two women, The Rev. Denise Anderson & The Rev. Jan Edmiston,  were elected co-moderators.  More than at any assembly I have attended, the emphasis on racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in leadership was apparent.

At the 2016 General Assembly I sensed an honesty about our circumstance as a denomination–a recognition that the PCUSA must adapt to our current context, and keep adapting in order to reach people for Christ.  How do we live out our mission as Christians, in particular, as Presbyterian Christians in a world that is becoming increasingly secular?  How can our buildings, most of which are underutilized, be blessings to the communities around us?  Are members sharing faith with neighbors?

“Decline is everywhere in the church, but many don’t see it,” writes Thom S. Rainer, in Autopsy of a Deceased Church.  This brutally honest book describes the status of many of our congregations in Giddings-Lovejoy.  How do we turn-around dying churches?  By ourselves we cannot.  With God’s grace and guidance we can, because we believe in the God of resurrection.  Transformation occurs when we recognize and embrace Jesus’ call to give ourselves and what we have away, to be abounding in our generosity.  God transforms us as we become fearless in sharing our faith with neighbors and friends, not by buttonholing people and asking them if they are saved, but by patient, gentle, inviting, compelling witness.

Getting to know who lives in your church’s neighborhood is a way to begin.  The Presbytery has a subscription to MissionInsite, a resource that provides demographic information about your community.  If you would like access to this resource, please contact me. The newly formed teams and commissions of the Presbytery are assisting our congregations in becoming vibrant witnesses to Jesus Christ. Each congregation will have a liaison who will assist church leaders in connecting with ideas and resources available through our Presbytery and the larger church. If pastors or congregations are interested in learning more about church transformation and reaching out to neighborhoods, contact me at the Presbytery Office.

“We can and must inspire the next generation to go where we have not.  We can create the kinds of communities and organizations that encourage risk, humility, learning and experimentation…for the mission of God in a rapidly changing world.”  (Canoeing the Mountains, The Rev. Dr. Todd Bolsinger)