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)

Greetings from Portland, OR and the General Assembly of the PC U.S.A.

Dear Friends in Ministry,

Greetings from Portland and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  The city is beautiful and so far the weather has been fair.  The General Assembly has been described as a big family reunion, and I am certainly greeting many long-time friends, some I have not seen since my seminary years.

For the first time, the Assembly elected co-moderators, Jan Edmiston, a presbytery executive from Chicago, and Denise Anderson of National Capital Presbytery. Reflecting on the visit of past moderator, the Rev. Heath Rada as he made his last presbytery visit in Caledonia, MO, I anticipate that sharing the position will enable Jan and Denise to balance their ministry as moderators with more time for family, rest, and recreation.

On Sunday commissioners and others of us attending the assembly worshiped in churches across the Presbytery.  I chose to walk to worship at near Westminster Presbyterian Church to experience an inspiring service and lunch prepared by those experiencing homelessness. People living on the streets and asking for hand-outs are very visible here in Portland, a beautiful place where the weather is moderate most of the time.  Encountering so many youth and young adults living on the streets is heart-breaking.

Portland is one of the “whitest” cities in the U.S., but the Presbyterians are bringing diversity at least in the days we are here.  Yesterday Erin Counihan and I spent several hours waiting to “advocate” for the overture Giddings-Lovejoy sent and one that John Knox sent with which we as a Presbytery concurred.  The G.A. Social Justice Committee made a few changes to our overture which differed from that of overtures on race from other presbyteries, in that the Giddings-Lovejoy overture focuses on social justice reform (policing, justice system, etc.) in our communities.  The other overtures emphasize working within ourselves and our churches, raising awareness and building capacity for “being” the world we want to see.  Witnessing the sincere and dedicated work of committees to encourage a church and world that reflects the love, justice and peace God intends is inspiring.

Please pray for our commissioners as they spend long days in meetings.  Also pray for our Committee on Local Arrangements as they go back-stage to become informed about the hosting of General Assembly.  As I move around the Assembly, those that ask if we are ready to host the next GA.  I respond that Giddings-Lovejoy is not ready yet, but we will be!

Yours in Christ,

Anita Hendrix

Presbytery Leader

Report of the Presbytery Leader– June 4, 2016– Caledonia

The heart of the life of our Presbytery is our churches. In my visits to 61 of our eighty congregations for worship, education, and fellowship on Sunday mornings, I have discovered thriving vibrant congregations. But many of our churches are struggling, some just barely holding on. Some are continuing to serve their communities and provide for Sunday worship because of generous past donations and income from nesting congregations or nonprofit groups.

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy has a proud history of social activism, begun by champions for justice such as Elijah Parish Lovejoy. We continue the legacy of praying and working for justice through efforts in our congregations, among our pastors and members, through our partnerships with Peru, Nicaragua, Kenya, our Earth Care efforts, our work in local partnerships like Metropolitan Churches United and the Interfaith Partnership, and neighborhood partnerships begun and/or nurtured by our churches. Every one of our congregations is active in feeding people experiencing hunger and working for health, safety, and well-being in our communities.
Since I arrived just short of two years ago, many changes have taken place in the Presbytery.

Five weeks after my arrival Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer, unleashing protests and calls for a new civil rights movement. Presbyterians have responded in a variety of ways– by protesting, by educating ourselves, by engaging in conversations about race, and by advocating for justice. Giddings-Lovejoy is an example for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. in for many years, requiring training of pastors and leaders to examine ourselves and commit to dismantling racism and privilege. An overture that will come before the upcoming General Assembly from another Presbytery calls on the PCUSA at every level to provide this kind of training. The overture that Giddings-Lovejoy has sent to the General Assembly addresses racism in our communities, along the lines of the recommendations of Ferguson Commission.

In our response, we are grateful for the prayers and assistance from the greater PCUSA community. Three times in the past two years, Giddings-Lovejoy has benefited from the resources of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance– the aftermath of events in Ferguson, the burning of black churches, and flooding early this year. The Presbytery is bearing witness and working for wellness in our communities.

Will we pass on this great legacy of faith in action to the next generation? We Presbyterians, along with other denominations have a great problem we must address. Most of our congregations not only are not growing, we are shrinking. We are making faithful contribution to doing justice, showing kindness, though there is always more we are called to do. Jesus taught us to care for the poor and to work for justice. He encouraged us to welcome “the least and the lost.”

He also told us to “go and make disciples.” But most of us Presbyterians are not as comfortable nor as successful at making disciples. In the midst of growing secularism of our culture, we have failed to develop new ways to share faith and invite others into the fellowship of the church. As Christian thinker Alan Roxburgh posits, “we have been slow to join in what God is up to in our neighborhoods.”   We must learn anew to be evangelists, to bear witness to God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, and let people know that each of us is called to relationship with God.
One of the bright spots in my ministry here in Giddings-Lovejoy has been hearing the stories of pastors and congregations reaching out to join “God in the neighborhood.” The Rev. Miriam Foltz courageously approached the New Worshiping Communities Commission with a request for funding UKIRK, a new Presbyterian expression of ministry with college and university students. I had the privilege of attending a dinner with many of the students who have been touched by the new campus ministry at Washington University and Saint Louis University. Presbyterians are stepping up to reach students on campuses across the country with renewed efforts in a ministry largely abandoned a generation ago.

Yet another commitment to explore engage young adults is demonstrated in the outreach of The Rev. Joshua Noah. In a conversation last week, he revealed that he had offered to teach a course at the local community college. When I asked why he had added this responsibility to an already busy life, he related that he wanted to can get out in the neighborhood with young adults. And, in another adventure of stepping out in faith, the Affton Presbyterian Church, sold its building and became a pilgrim church. The Rev. John Harrison was ordained earlier this year as the Pastor/Evangelist of this congregation. Another adventure in responding to new opportunity is the conversation between the Wood River and College Avenue congregations as they move toward merger and witnessing with greater strength in their communities.

To support and encourage new ministries, the Presbytery is living into a new way of organizing our mutual ministry and outreach around the vision of dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations. The organization is designed to build the capacities of our congregations to make disciples as we work for justice and peace.
On May 12 about 40 people gathered at the Presbytery Office for orientation to their leadership roles in the new structure. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable as teams became acquainted and began planning their work together. New leadership is emerging, and there is excitement about coordinating our Presbytery mission and ministry in new ways.

Would all of you who are serving on a commission, committee, team, or sub team would stand so we can recognize you. Thank you for your willingness to serve Christ through the ministry and mission of the Presbytery.
The Presbytery also is addressing debt incurred on behalf of two congregations. In order for us to be able to equip our congregations to be vibrant witnesses to Christ, the Vision voted to pay off and pay down debt, thus freeing future mission dollars to equip our congregations to grow and initiate new ministries. Thanks to the hard work of the Bonhomme Commission, the recouping of lost mission and per capita payments as well as a substantial property settlement, the Presbytery is able to substantially lessen the drain on our limited resource by paying down the loans on the St. Charles and Hillside loans.

Lessening our indebtedness is a great gift to the next generations of Presbyterians in Giddings-Lovejoy.
Knowing that we cannot depend on windfalls of cash from property settlements or sales, the leadership has worked to reduce staffing costs. There were ten paid employees of the Presbytery when I arrived less than two years ago. Our new staff design calls for 5. The process that led us to where we are now has been a thoughtful, but painful, as the Personnel Team worked prayerfully, and graciously in this change.   Many of us are wondering how we will survive without the supportive ministry of our two longest-serving employees.

Judy Pickett began service at the Presbytery in 1997. Judy has provided administrative support and has managed property of the Presbytery during her years of service.  I’ve come to rely on Judy for information about policies, procedures, and people resources of the Presbytery, as well as all the best places to eat in St. Louis. Consistently, Judy has approached her service with good-humor and a “can-do” attitude.

Cindy began work at the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy in 1998. Cindy welcomes guests to the Presbytery, creatively produces the weekly news blast, provides staff support for committees, teams and networks and serves as primary support to the Stated Clerk. The Resource Center is maintained by Cindy and volunteers from the Presbytery. Both Cindy and Judy have provided hospitality for meetings at the Presbytery Office, and we’d be here all afternoon and evening if I were to list all their accomplishment.

Please join us on Friday, July 15 from 2-4 p.m. at the Presbytery Center for an informal wine and cheese reception in their honor. I want to officially thank Judy and Cindy at this Gathering today with small gifts. Please take time to greet the two of them today and thank them for their service in support of the mission and ministry of Christ in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.

New Mission Design & Our Missional Challenge

Dear Friends in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy,
The Presbytery adopted a new Organizational Plan for Mission at our last Presbytery Gathering. Many currently serving in leadership have agreed to carry on their work through the transition to the new framework for our mission together. The Committee on Representation/Nominations is busy calling members of the Presbytery to serve on the Vision, Congregational Vibrancy, Dynamic Leaders, Mission and Outreach, and Administration and Support Teams. In addition, COR/NOM is identifying those willing to be elected to the teams and administrative commissions. If you receive a call from a member of the hard-working Committee on Representation/Nominations, please prayerfully consider saying yes to this opportunity to assist in our mutual mission. If you have suggestions for others to serve, please contact Rob Cardwell, Chair of COR/NOM or another member of the Committee. In particular the Committee would appreciate suggestions of diverse ages and various racial/ethnic identities.
The new design we created for our work together will allow us to become more nimble as we adapt to our rapidly changing world. Most of us realize that the church must learn new ways in order to thrive in our current context and nurture Vibrant Congregations and Dynamic Leaders.
While church attendance in North America and Europe has been declining since the latter quarter of the 20th Century, it has been exploding in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Fortunately for us in the United States, people from these areas of the world are immigrating to the United States, bringing new life to our tired denominations. In worshiping with fifty of our congregations since I began ministry in Giddings-Lovejoy, I have experienced some of the most enthusiastic, Spirit-filled worship in our immigrant congregations. What can we learn from our recently arrived neighbors?
Being missional means drawing closer to God and closer to others. The growth of the church is about neighbors meeting neighbors and inviting relationship, caring about those who live around us, and, working together for justice and wellness, loving others, and bearing witness to our relationship to God through Christ. Jesus told his disciples to go into the world and make other disciples. How’s that going for us?
Let’s tell our stories to one another about the adaptive changes we are making in our congregations and the new life we are witnessing. God has joined us in community so that we may learn from and support one another, and bear witness to God’s love and desire for shalom. We are discovering anew how to bring the Good News in a diverse world. Spanish author, Antonio Machado, wrote “…there is no road, the road is made by walking.” As we move forward in our mission, may the power and presence of the abiding and guiding Spirit be with us.
Yours in Service to Christ,
Anita Hendrix, Presbytery Leader

General Assembly Moderator to Visit Giddings-Lovejoy

General Assembly Moderator to Visit Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery
Dr. Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly will be our guest at the Presbytery Gathering on June 4, 2016 in Caledonia. Last fall I invited Dr. Rada to visit Giddings-Lovejoy and we are blessed to have the GA Moderator present for the celebration of 200 years of Presbyterians within the bounds of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.
The following information comes from information at the General Assemby website:

A native of Richmond Virginia, Dr. Rada is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Union Presbyterian Seminary and NC State University. He has also studied at St. Andrews University and Harvard University. Dr. Rada is ruling elder, retired from the position of CEO of the Greater Richmond Chapter of the American Red Cross where he served as coordinator for the work of that organization in Virginia and the District of Columbia. He also held the positions of interim CEO of Red Cross Chapters in San Diego, Minneapolis- St. Paul, and Ft. Worth. Prior to his work with the American Red Cross, Dr. Rada served as President of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in Richmond.
As an active church member, Dr. Rada has served in numerous capacities on the local, presbytery and national levels of the Presbyterian Church. Currently he serves on the boards of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Montreat Conference Center, and the Presbyterian Homes of North Carolina. He recently rotated off the board of the National American Red Cross Retiree’s Board. Previously he has served on numerous community boards in North Carolina and Asheville, including the Richmond Rotary Club, Sheltering Arms Hospital, Mission Hospital Foundation, Collegiate School, Council for America’s First Freedom, the National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ), among others. He is a published author, a noted speaker, and has been honored numerous times for his contributions to his work and his community. He was North Carolina’s first Community Educator of the Year, the first recipient to receive an honorary Paul Harris Award from the Richmond Rotary Club, the recipient of the Margaret Bowen Award in Christian Education, and was named one of Richmond’s Humanitarians of the Year by the NCCJ. (This information and more is available at the PCUSA website.)
Dr. Rada has led the PCUSA with wisdom and grace during these past two years. He has listened around the country to the concerns, hopes and dreams of members and ruling and teaching elders.
Moderator Rada will be preaching at our Gathering on Saturday, June 4, and on Sunday, June 5, he will preach and lead a conversation at Dardenne Presbyterian Church. Dardenne welcomes all who would like to attend and interact with Moderator Rada.
“You never know what God has planned, and the best we can do is to make ourselves available to do God’s work in whatever capacity God works out for us. If we do that, it is not a matter of winning or losing. It’s a matter of being open to all sorts of possibilities and being faithful to God’s will as it plays out.” – Dr. Heath K. Rada
I hope many of you are on hand to welcome Dr. Rada on June 4.  See below about the Moderator’s call to the church.

View testimonials about Dr. Heath Rada by following this link.

Presbytery Leader, Anita Hendrix

Moving Forward Together

Moving Forward Together
What is the most difficult decision you have ever made? What factors did you consider in making the decision? One of the questions we might ask in making a decision is, “Who will be affected?”
Every time we attend a Presbytery Gathering we are asked to make decisions. Most often a group of people familiar with the subject has thoughtfully pondered and discussed it over a period of time. Then the Presbytery carefully and prayerfully decides after discussion and debate. When I was in college, I frequently attended worship at a nearby Quaker meeting. Serving as a Resident Assistant responsible for a floor with 67 women, the silent prayerful atmosphere of the Friend’s meeting provided a welcome time of centering on God. Quakers make decisions differently, waiting patiently for consensus.
Sitting in silence, listening for God’s “still small voice,” is one of my frequent spiritual disciplines. The more anxiety I experience from others and within myself, the more I need to be still and listen. Certainly during the past several months as the Presbytery has made difficult decisions about structure and staffing, I have spent time in silence, listening, and I know many of you have as well. Please continue to pray for the Presbytery as we transition to a new Mission Design. And for the Presbytery staff as we face changes.
The Personnel Team has met with members of staff to discuss next steps and offer options. Over the next several months, we will be saying good-bye to some staff members who have served the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy well over many years. I hope you will take time to appreciate the service they have rendered faithfully to the Church and to thank them.
Another challenge facing the Presbytery concerns the disposition of the funds received in the Bonhomme settlement. Already several people have approached me about how the funds “should” be spent. At our recent Presbytery Gathering, Giddings-Lovejoy members were elected to serve on the teams and commissions of our new structure. Orientation will take place on May 12. The Presbytery will be better able to develop a budget and financial plan once our new design is functioning.
Let us pray for the newly elected members of teams and commissions, and may God’s grace abound in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.
The Presbytery Leader- Anita Hendrix

From the Clutch of Death to Life

Last Sunday I watched The Rev. Marsha Brown pour water into the baptismal font, reminding us of our forgiveness of sin that is ours in baptism. Water serves as a powerful image. Always life-generating and restoring, water can also be terrifying and destructive. The floods during the early part of this year are an example. Affected people have a long recovery ahead of them. We cannot live without water, but water can be a threatening force. While participating in a mission trip in El Salvador, I almost drowned.
On the last day of our tour, we debriefed our experiences with our companion travelers, reviewing the people we had met and the work of our PCUSA Coworker. And then, we relaxed on a welcoming beach. I swam out far from the shore to catch the breaking waves and body-surf. Until that day, I had considered myself a strong swimmer. As I child swimming with the local team, I had competed with and defeated my challengers. While living in Southern California, I exercised in outdoor pools year round. That day we learned that the Pacific (calm) Ocean was not always what it appeared to be. Unknown to us, the calmness of the Pacific Ocean was deceptive that day. Later, searching the internet to understand what happened, I discovered that a dangerous rip tide had claimed the life of a woman not far up the coast a few days earlier.
Reaching the place where waves were breaking, I tried to ride the waves to shore. Every time I tried to catch a wave, I was dragged backward toward the ocean. After several minutes of trying, I began to realize that I was continually being dragged backward and under. Remembering my life-saving course, I tried swimming diagonally toward the shore, but was exhausting my energy, being pulled underwater with every stroke. I realized (with a sinking feeling) that I was caught in an undertow.
About 100 yards away toward the shore, I saw one of my fellow travelers. A tall and substantial guy, Bruce was the closest one to me, but he had been smart enough to stay where he could still touch bottom. He was about 80 yards closer to shore. Between spurts of sea water, I began shouting, “Help! Help!” as loud as I could as water filled and refilled my mouth. My trained self was observing my panicking self! “O God, O God… HELP ME!” I repeated in desperation. I knew that God and Bruce combined were my only hope. Shortly before Bruce grabbed my flailing arm, I remember thinking with a sense of surrender… “in life and in death, we belong to God.”
But my baptism was not complete that day in the Pacific Ocean. While I was ready to accept transition from this earthly (and watery) existence to life in the presence of the One who loves us forever, I lived… I lived to continue to bear witness to God’s amazing grace.
In the early days of the church and still in many Christian traditions, catechumens prepared during Lent for baptism during the Easter Vigil. In baptism, we die to the old life (going under the water), and rise from the water to new life in Christ. Every Easter offers an opportunity to embrace the new life God gives in Christ who lived and died for us, claiming us as God’s own. In Jesus, God reaches out to save us!
The women went to the tomb, expecting death. Instead they found it empty, and angels directed them to go and tell the disciples, “He is Risen.” In Jesus Christ, God reaches out to rescue us. Thanks be to God!

New Mission Design– New Opportunities to Dream, Connect, Serve

Dear Colleagues and Friends in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy,

The Presbytery adopted a new Organizational Plan for Mission at our last Gathering. When requested, many currently serving in leadership have agreed to carry on their work through the transition to the new framework for our mission together. The Committee on Representation/ Nominations is busy calling and inviting members of the Presbytery to serve on new teams: Vision, Congregational Vibrancy, Dynamic Leaders, Mission and Outreach, and Administration and Support. In addition, COR/NOM is identifying those willing to be elected to lead teams and serve on administrative commissions. If you receive a call from a member of the hard-working Committee on Representation/Nominations, please prayerfully consider saying “yes.” If you have suggestions or would like to volunteer, please contact Rob Cardwell, Chair of COR/NOM . The Committee would appreciate nominations of men and women of diverse ages and various racial/ethnic identities willing to join in this exciting new venture.

The new design we have created together for our mission in Giddings-Lovejoy will allow us to become more nimble as we adapt to our rapidly changing world. We realize that the church must learn new ways in order to thrive in our current context. As we embrace mission opportunities and encourage transformation of existing congregations and ministries, let us pray together for the encouragement of Vibrant Congregations and Dynamic Leaders.

While church attendance in North America and Europe has been declining since the latter quarter of the 20th Century, it has been exploding in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Fortunately for us in the United States, people from these areas of the world are immigrating to the United States, bringing new life to our tired denominations. In worshiping with fifty of our congregations since I began ministry in Giddings-Lovejoy, I have experienced some of the most enthusiastic, Spirit-filled worship in our immigrant congregations. What can we learn about developing vibrant congregations from our recently arrived neighbors?

Being missional means drawing closer to God and closer to others. The growth of the Church is about neighbors meeting neighbors and building relationships, caring about those who live around us, and loving them with the love of Christ. Jesus told his disciples to go into the world and make other disciples. How’s that going for us? How are we connecting with people in our neighborhoods and cultivating physical, social, and spiritual wellness?

Let’s tell our stories about the adaptive changes we are making in our churches and the new life we are witnessing in our congregations and communities. God forms us in gatherings of believers so that we may learn from and support one another as we bear witness to God’s love and work for justice and wholeness. We are a changing church discovering how to witness to our faith in an increasingly complex world. Spanish author, Antonio Machado, wrote “…there is no road, the road is made by walking.” As we move forward in our mission may we place our trust in God who encourages us along the journey with the power and presence of the guiding Spirit.

Anita Hendrix, Presbytery Leader