Merry Christmas!

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Blessing to all this Christmas and Advent season. It is a pleasure serving the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. As we enter 2019, I have been reflecting on what it means to be your permanent presbytery leader. First, it is an honor to serve in this role. It means Marilyn and I are putting a stake in the ground and make St. Louis county our home. We plan to purchase a house in 2019. This will be the first home for us together. Since being married for 14 years, Marilyn and I have lived in five different cities. We’re ready to settle down!

I will write an extensive blog in January outlining plans and ideas for 2019. For now, I just want to say thank you. Serving in Giddings-Lovejoy has been life changing for me. It is a joy to pour my life and energy into the work of this ministry. I have met so many of you at your church, presbytery gatherings, or various events. My mind is filled with smiling faces, generous hugs and handshakes, and kind words. Truly being your presbytery leader is a gift exchange.

Again, I say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Blessings as we go forward together into the New Year.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Three More Questions

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

In an article some weeks ago entitled “Diagnosis,” I asked congregations to reflect on four questions:

  • “Who are we?”
  • “What has God called us to do or be?”
  • “Who is our neighbor?”
  • “What do we do best?”

This week, I read an exciting book by Richard L. Hamm called Recreating the Church. Hamm, the former leader of The Disciples of Christ denomination, writes about congregational, mid-council, and denominational revitalization. He introduces three questions which I find intriguing:

  • “What time is it?”
  • “Where am I?”
  • “What am I doing here?”

Hamm says our congregations and institutions want us to believe it is still 1955, 1965, or even 1995! The first question reminds us that it is 2018 (and soon to be 2019). How are our congregations reflecting this historical time? I was in worship on Sunday and the preacher asked us to turn to a scripture. The pew Bible was too far away from me, so I pulled out my phone, opened my Bible app, and read the scripture from there. What does the church of 2019 look like when it comes to technology and the use of smart devices and online streaming in worship? What if hymns, lesson outlines, and even bulletin content with deeper-dive options were available for us on Sunday morning? What if what we do inside of the building could be accessed outside of the building as well?

The question of “Where am I?” pushes back on the false assumption that our communities have not changed significantly since we built the church there. Communities change much faster than we are willing to admit. Do the people inside the church reflect the people outside of the building? Many of our congregations do an excellent job of attracting people to our food pantries, rummage sales, and clothing give always. How does active outreach lead people to believe they have a place in the pew and at the table of the church as well? Are we willing to change the leadership in the building to reflect the people outside of the building in age, race, and gender?

This leads to the third question of “What am I doing here?” Hamm places this question in the lap of the leader. In addition to the third question, each leader should reflect on deeper questions that include the following:

  • What did God call me here to do?
  • What did the church call me here to do?
  • How does what I am doing today fit with my overall purpose and objectives as a leader?

As we come to the beginning of 2019, this is a time to reflect and plan, remember and envision. I have provided a few more questions that can lead and challenge us into the future church.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Advent – A Journey of Faith

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader 

Last Sunday was a busy day for the presbytery!

I started Sunday morning off listening to my GPS inform me that some of the streets to First Brighton were unverifiable. Not one to be derailed by GPS, I headed out only to get lost and be rescued later by a wonderful member of the church. My GPS took me to another church down the road. Thankfully, a member of Brighton collected me from the parking lot of the local museum and drove me to their beautiful edifice.

After the service I rushed to preach at Moro Presbyterian Church as they celebrated 170 years of service. Walking into the fellowship hall after the service, I was able to spend some time looking over 170 years of memorabilia. It was a delight to look over worship bulletins from decades ago, to listen to members identify their photos in the directories, and to listen to the third oldest member of the church tell stories about those who have passed on to join the Church Triumphant. I was reminded by their witness that this faith journey is built upon the faith of those who came before and our faith will be built upon by those who come after us.

My last stop of the day was the installation of Andrew Kasberg, as the new head of staff, at Dardenne Presbyterian Church.  It was a fitting end to a long day.  One theme that stood out that encapsulated the entire day was one of the opening praise songs “Who You Say I Am.” As I listened to the choir, I was reminded that we are indeed a chosen people, called and loved by God. That God, Emmanuel, is indeed with us – and does not stand against us. It was a beautiful song reminding me that as a child of God I truly belonged to God and that Christ died so that we could be free.

As we continue to journey through this Advent season—let us be like the African Sankofa Bird – looking back while walking into the future. In this season of waiting – let us pause for a brief moment. Take time to give thanks to God for the faithful witnesses who have gone before us. Pause and give thanks for being one of many being used by God to prepare the path for those who will come after us. And for all these things we give thanks.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins

Advent Hope

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling. Ephesians 4:4

“Hope is a dangerous thing.” Shawshank Redemption.

Each Advent and Lent, I read one book a week. I have begun my Advent reading with Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I’m enjoying the book as it takes me through her neighborhood on the southside of Chicago, where I too was born. She talks about Chicago winters and owning way too much wool! But when she talks about having a snow shovel in the trunk of the car, I knew she is a real Chicagoan!

Michelle Obama tells the story of interviewing for admissions to Princeton. The admissions counselor tells Michelle that she is not sure that Michelle is Princeton material. Michelle writes, “Failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result. And for me, it felt like that’s exactly what she was planting. A suggestion of failure long before I would even try to succeed.” Of course, Michelle would go on to be a student at Princeton and graduate at the top of her class. She would go on to Harvard law school as well.

The concept that failure is an idea before it becomes actualized, strikes me. This is not a book about false positivism or Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Becoming is about growing up as an African American woman surrounded by assumptions our culture has regarding what is possible for a black child, and the role family plays to combat these false expectations. If failure begins as an idea, so can hope. Michelle shares how hope pushes her and challenges her to take risks and follow the paths into the unknown to reap the fruits of a life with impact.

If the field of your life is experiencing dry spots, perhaps Advent is the time to plant seeds of hope. Sessions can use Advent to regenerate the corporate imagination and dream new dreams for the church. As Chris Keating said in his Advent sermon on Sunday at Woodlawn Chapel, “Advent is the time we contemplate the nature and audacity of hope.” It is an inclusive waiting for a radical hope.

This is the work of the church. We are the place where the idea of hope is planted and the fruit of hope is actualized. The church of the resurrection- God’s ultimate statement of hope- is what the world needs.  May each of us and our congregations do the work of spreading hope this Advent season.

Rev. Craig M. Howard