Race: A Difficult but Necessary Conversation

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



Two weeks ago, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege team (DRAP) sponsored a drama performance entitled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The performance was at Cote Brillante, an African American Presbyterian church located on the Northside of St. Louis. The attendance was outstanding! There was a good mix of African American and European American Presbyterians in the audience. Afterward, DRAP had the audience form small groups of three and four people, and answer three questions. The small groups were intentionally mixed with both African American and European American participants. Each question received about 45 responses from all the small groups. The answers paint a diverse yet similar picture of the members of our presbytery.

As I read the full survey results, I realize the presbytery must find the courage to have a conversation about race. Racism is not just a St. Louis problem. Racism is also hiding under the rug in Cape Girardeau and tucked away in the cabinets in Sikeston. It is present in sleepy Pacific and the refineries of Wood River. Since arriving in Giddings-Lovejoy, I learned of Sundown Towns, where African Americans had to be gone from the area by sundown. Although these laws are now off the books, the towns and this history are part of this presbytery and its history.

At the same time, I’m pleased to report that as I have traveled throughout Giddings-Lovejoy, my experience in each congregation has been one of hospitality and kindness. We have great leaders and members of our congregations.

However, racism and all its ugly tentacles is nevertheless still alive and well in the geographic area of Giddings-Lovejoy.

I believe the future of the church is diversity. The future of our country is diversity. And I believe that’s part of why you called me to serve with you as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. We can either follow the demographic patterns of our communities and our nation, or become a cottage industry catering to a decreasing racial-ethnic group in a smaller and smaller slice of the American pie.

A conversation about race in every corner of the presbytery is the beginning of living into the future.

Now, listen to a few of the voices of the people at the performance. They are African American and European American; young and old; of different economic classes and backgrounds. They are Presbyterians. Some answers are inspiring, and others are surprising.

Here are the three questions, followed by some of answers that were provided.

  1. Some people say that talking about race creates divisions. What do you think?  Should we talk about race?
  • Talking about race does not create division, but it may make people uncomfortable.
  • It may make people think about their part in promoting racism.
  • There’s no chance of getting past race (understanding it) until we talk about it to get to the real issues: Issues of privilege, power, and class.
  • There’s more division when we don’t communicate.
  1. What is the Church’s role regarding social issues?
  • Make sure that people understand that Christ spoke out on social issues. The church should follow Christ’s example.
  • The church’s role is to educate and lead.
  • To stop being so segregated on Sunday.
  • Social issues should not be the church’s main function. We are to spend our time “in church” focusing on God.
  1. What are you afraid of today? What keeps us from going out?
  • Afraid of dying young.
  • Rejection
  • Isolation
  • Lack of support.
  • Cloudy climate.
  • Loss of identity, status.
  • Elimination
  • Crime is a fear.
  • Rapidly changing pace due to technology.
  • Government leadership is negative.
  • Afraid of all congregations shrinking because church is not a priority. Families are not coming.
  • Stigmitization
  • Discrimination


Passion Drives Membership

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

Passion Drives Membership

Since arriving in St. Louis, I’ve heard so much about the Missouri Botanical Garden. Last week I and a group of people volunteering at the office went over for lunch at Sassafras Café. The volunteers talked up the garden on the trip over. The place was filled with people coming and going; talking with one another about the various flowers and plants. I got so excited, I became a member!

Passion drives membership…

As your Transitional Presbytery Leader, I spend a lot of time in numbers (not the book of Numbers in the Bible!). I am constantly massaging our presbytery statistics to figure out our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. At the Vision Team meeting last week, Mike Willock and I shared information about the presbytery trends as seen through our annual statistics. Here are some of the highlights of the highlights!

Membership Totals

We have 79 Congregations with 12,585 members. We lost 13.5% of our membership in 2016. If we remove Bonhomme from the statistics, we lost 4.5% of our members in 2016.

  • 18 Congregations grew.  The total increase was 112.
  • 36 Congregations lost members. Total losses were 708.

Membership Attendance

  • On Average 73 people attend worship each Sunday.
  • 15 congregations had 25 members or less in worship each Sunday.


  • 47% of our members are over age 65.
  • 5 Congregations have 75% or more of their members over 65.

Racial Ethnic

  • 10% of presbytery members are racial ethnic. 90% of these are of African descent.
  • However, 50% of our congregations have zero Racial Ethnic members.

As I visit congregations, I hear the concerns about membership declining, aging congregations, and lack of youth and young adults. These are real concerns indeed.

I’ve been inspired in my Lenten reading by James Baldwin’s book, The Cross of Redemption. Baldwin writes, “We are misled here because we think of numbers. You don’t need numbers; you need passion. And this is proven by the history of the world.”

I believe Baldwin has something here. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the passion. And there is a lot of passion happening in our presbytery! After writing last week’s article about my visit to New Hope Presbyterian church, I received four emails from other congregations expounding on the interesting ways they do worship, and the energy and passion they experience. This week I am now hearing more and more stories about congregations where exciting things are happening.

I believe passion can drive numbers. When the gospel is being preached and the liturgy is being done with creativity, quality, and excellence, people tend to show up. But the passion cannot stop with the choir and the pastor. The members must show passion about their God and their faith as well. I believe when people are excited about something they tend to share their excitement with others.

So, where is your passion? What makes you get up in the morning and want to live the day? Where is the passion in your congregation? I’d like to hear about it, and share your story with others.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Blended Church

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader Rev. Dr. Craig Howard


Blended Church

Imagine a congregation holding worship in a multi-use space instead of a traditional sanctuary. The ceiling shows steel cross beams and large round lighting. The walls are concrete block with sound proofing to offset the tile floor. Instead of pews bolted to the ground, the movable chairs can change and conform to whatever activity the congregation needs. And yet, the windows are inspiring stain glass. Symbols of faith are throughout the space, including a beautiful oval shaped baptismal font on a rise in the center of the space. The preacher moves from pulpit to font; from a message of hope to a prayer of discipleship.

The sanctuary I’m describing is New Hope Presbyterian church in St. Charles. On the outside it looks like a typical church. On the inside, however, it looks like a post-modern space with traditional trappings. The space attracts young people and young adults while holding on to older more traditional worshipers. The space is what the Fresh Expressions movement calls mixed economy. Mixed economy is the “vision of new and existing expressions of church working together in mutual encouragement and support.” It is a vision where new ways and old traditions work side by side. One type of church doesn’t replace the other. But both work together to bring about something new.

Space is important, but even more important is the ministry happening in the space. And there is a lot of ministry going on at New Hope!

Between the two worship services, I sat in a class called A Parent’s Journey. This group of young adult parents are preparing to present their children for baptism on Easter. The class meets from January until Pentecost and is led by members, and not the pastor! Any and all questions are on the table. Pastor Chris James adds, “They will begin talking about the challenges of raising children in faith, including how they might support one another in intentionally living out the promises of baptism for them and their children.”

According to the book, The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones writes that only 35% of mainline young people who go through confirmation return to the church. That’s 3-4 out of 10. I believe New Hope has found a way to increase those odds!

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Building A Team

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader Rev. Dr. Craig Howard



In the book, Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal writes about building the teams that had great success in the Iraqi war. McChrystal writes that a strong team has certain characteristics including trust, communication, cohesiveness, and purpose. He writes, “(a team) is about individuals who have critical roles to play in achieving a goal and need to be motivated and rewarded. If you ask a team member what their vision is, it’s not: ‘Hey, I’m here cutting this stone.’ It’s: I’m part of a team building a cathedral.”

I am putting together a team that is modeling ministry for the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. Together with the presbytery leadership, we are building vibrant congregations and dynamic leaders.

The following is an update on where we are.

Our new Office Manager will be Leigh Porter. Leigh describes herself as a versatile professional, adept at managing multiple projects, providing customer support and streamlining office operations. Leigh brings excellent communications skills, knowledge of office equipment and software, and strong organizational skills. Leigh currently serves as an administrative assistant to the president at Botanical Gardens. Leigh is looking forward to joining our team, beginning on Monday, March 13. She will be serving the presbytery full time, in the presbytery office. She can be reached by phone at (314) 772-2395 or by email at lporter@glpby.org.

Janice McMillen is well known throughout the presbytery. She currently keeps our webpage up to date. Now Janice will serve as our Communications Associate effective March 1. She will be responsible for telling the stories of our congregations and members. Her assignment is to find those stories that are hidden under a bushel and bring them to light. She will continue to update the webpage and produce the newsletter. Janice is also skilled in technology and will help us with our computer and telephone needs. Janice will work part-time and be deployed. You can reach her by text or by calling (573) 578-3960 or by email at jmcmillen@glpby.org.


The active stated clerk is appointed by the moderator of the presbytery. Rev. Joy Meyer will serve as Stated Clerk until the presbytery elects the permanent person. Joy has replaced Gary Ferbet, who served us well. Joy has served the church in many area. She has been moderator of Blackhawk presbytery, served as commissioner to the synod and GA, served on COM, taught CRE classes, and served on administrative and investigative commissions. Joy is part time and will be in the office one to two days a week. She can be reached by phone at (314) 772-2395 ext. 123 or by email at jmyers@glpby.org.

We have been using the accounting firm of Clifton Larson Allen for our business management and accounting needs since November 2016. We plan to use them for one year. Mary Ann Nold serves as the accountant, balancing our books and producing reports. She is in the office twice per month. Amy Jo Houston serves and the processor and comes in once per week to process checks, vouchers, invoices, and payments.

We are refining the job description for the Associate Presbytery Leader. My hope is to widely circulate the job description beginning in April. This full-time position will be the final staffing position for the office.

I am excited about the team we have assembled. The common traits of all team members are empathy, compassion, professionalism, and service. Their contact information is in their introduction, so please stop by and say hi, or send a note of encouragement and welcome. We’re looking forward to meeting and serving you.

Rev. Craig M. Howard