Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader

We have a long fight and this fight is not mine alone. But you are not free whether you white or whether you black, until I am free.  Because no man is an island to himself…And I’m not just fighting for myself and for the black race, but I’m fighting for the white; I’m fighting for the Indians; I’m fighting for the Mexicans; I’m fighting for the Chinese; I’m fighting for anybody because as long as they are human beings, they need freedom.[1]

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born into poverty to share croppers. Her father was a Baptist preacher. The youngest of 20 children, she knew firsthand the cruelty of poverty. She left school in the sixth grade in order to pick cotton on a Mississippi plantation. For over 18 years, she worked as a sharecropper and timekeeper on the Marlow plantation. In 1962, After attending a meeting in Ruleville, Mississippi, Hamer decided to register to vote. It took her months to pass the literacy test and become a registered voter. Although her education was shorted due to sharecropping; although she was shot at and beaten half to death for registering to vote, and although she was unable to have children due to an unauthorized hysterectomy—Hamer’s resilience was formidable. In 1962, she became a SNCC organizer in Sunflower County, Mississippi. In 1964, she became the vice chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as they attempted to gain seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention ( Hamer’s social activist legacy continued as she later established a cooperative, collaborated on the building of a low-income daycare center, and the construction of two hundred units of low-income housing for her Mississippi community. Hamer is the essence of what we celebrate during Black History Month.

On July 13, 2003, The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy voted to adopt and implement Strategic Directions, one of which is “Dismantling Racism and White Privilege.”  As staff to our current Dismantling Racism and Privilege Action Team (DRAP), I can say that the work of addressing systemic racism continues. DRAP continues to grow and the team members are full of enthusiasm. This year, they are continuing to broaden the work of dismantling racism. This year, they are providing a scholarship to Gary Naylor to attend the White Privilege Conference in Cedar Falls, Iowa ( DRAP continues to learn ways to articulate the positive value of a racially inclusive space and community. Just yesterday, they participated in a webinar with Kikanza Nuri-Robins to explore how to be more culturally proficient in our efforts to shift the culture of the presbytery and within our congregations   (

Join us if you are interested in developing a deeper understanding of racism and in helping us to uproot this systemic problem embedded in our culture and within individuals. DRAP meets the fourth Monday of each month at Ladue Chapel at 1:00 p.m. Remember: “Racism is fundamentally a spiritual problem because it denies our true identity as children of God. In Jesus Christ, God frees us to love and teaches us how to live as a family.[2] If you want to learn more about what’s DRAP is doing, please contact the moderator, John Harrison, at

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins


[1] “The Only Thing We Can Do is Work Together,” in The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer. This speech was delivered by Mrs. Hamer at a Chapter Meeting of the National Council of Negro Women in Mississippi in 1967.  See


[2] Facing Racism:  A Vision of the Beloved Community.  Approved by the 211th General Assembly (1999) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

In Honor of Black History Month

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

In his book, At Caanan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968, Taylor Branch tells the story about Rev. Lorenzo Harrison. Harrison was preaching at a church in Lowndes County Alabama, when the sound of pick-up trucks came through the open windows. The trucks were carrying Klansmen who were carrying loaded shotguns and rifles as they pulled up to the church on a bright Sunday morning. Inside, the 200 worshipers began to worry and gasp. As Harrison braced the pulpit, he switched from preaching the gospel to exclaiming calm to the parishioners. He said, “They have brought the cup to the Lord’s doorstep.” Weeks ago, Harrison had mentioned voting in one of his sermons. None of the 15,000 African Americans who made up 80% of the county were ever allowed a single vote. Word had gotten out about what Harrison said, and this was enough to bring the Klan to the church.

The emboldened Klan began shouting that they would “get the out-of-county nigger preacher before sundown,” whether the congregation surrendered him or not. The choir sang. Parishioners prayed, gasped, and moaned. They were surrounded and had no way out. They prayed for strength not to give up their pastor to this evil group of men even if the Klan burned the whole congregation alive. Suddenly and for some unknown reason the trucks began to leave. Eventually, the deacons sent out a scout to see if there were any ambushes or threats further down the road. When the all clear was signaled, the parishioners were allowed to leave with many of them walking since so few had cars.

This story takes place in 1965. As a Presbyterian, the roots of my faith pass through John Calvin. As an African American, my spirit is bolstered by the courageous stories of women and men who stood firm and faithful in the midst of crises during the Civil Rights movement. I am not lifting this particular story up to make anyone feel guilty or responsible for the ugliness of our past. However, we must recognize the tendrils of evil that create daily reminders of our incomplete work against racism.

The courage of Rev. Harrison benefits all who enter the pulpit and preach the Word of God. No matter what race or ethnicity, the same gospel that provided the necessary fortitude for Harrison to march and stand, is available to us. We stand on the shoulders of those who have taken a stand in the past. We march in cadence with those who have marched toward freedom for all.

May the same God who enabled the prophets to stand up against kings, Jesus to stand before Pilate, and the disciples to stand before Herod, give us the wherewithal to stand against the powers of injustice in our world today.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Making the Shift

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

I am still bubbling with excitement from our presbytery gathering! The Holy Spirit was present in every element of worship, including the preaching, installation, offering (we received over $1500!), and communion. The business session was efficient and uplifting. The workshops were full of conversation and sharing ideas. The gathering was a reminder of what happens when God’s people come together in unity. It was a reminder that we can do amazing things together as the body of Christ.

I’m leading a retreat this weekend at Cape Girardeau. One of the books I’m using is Holy Clarity by Sarah B. Drummond. It is a book about planning and evaluating ministry. Drummond also talks about the shift that occurred when our culture moved from modernity to postmodernity. The problem is that many of our churches, leaders, and church systems were designed to respond to the modern age and the problems of the modern age. We are now in the postmodern age, and fixes from the modern age often fall short. The following are differences that Drummond lifts up between the modern era and postmodern era style of organization.

 Modern Era

  • Governed by standing committees that move methodically and slowly, even when significant issues arise.
  • Budgets are based on what the church has done in the past, not on what it might do in the future.
  • Leadership structure is hierarchical.
  • Interpret conflict as a problem to be fixed.
  • Popular culture is interpreted as an enemy to their cause.
  • Afraid to engage in a conversation that challenges the necessity of the institutional church.

Postmodern Era

  • Committee structure are more nimble. For example, teams of leaders are assembled to address specific issues.
  • Budgets are based on the church’s future mission and calling.
  • Leadership structure is a flat hierarchy, in which different leaders have the last word depending upon the issue at hand, and the pastor plays a coordinating and collaborative role with those leaders, bringing a spiritual perspective on the work of the church. Thus, the last word comes not from a committee or a leader, but from God as interpreted by the community under the leadership of the pastor.
  • They understand conflict to be a teacher and an illuminator of the path God has laid before them, and they have decision-making structures that help the church move forward- rather than freezing- when conflict arises.
  • They understand themselves to be part of the culture, providing an alternative worldview (a faith perspective) that both participates in and critiques the wider society.

I find these lists fascinating! We are all struggling with the modernity to postmodernity shift. We are challenged to accept that we are living in a postmodern world, and we may be woefully out of step. Perhaps this list can become a conversation for your session and for our presbytery vision team. This may be the start of a shift we all need to make, as we continue to become the church of the 21st century.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Holy Listening

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

Recently, I worshiped at a very small church in our presbytery. During worship, I could see many ways of how connecting to the presbytery would help this congregation. The connection had been severed a while ago because of bad experiences at presbytery gatherings as well as with presbytery visits. This congregation figured they were better off going it alone than being connected with a presbytery that didn’t listen to them, respect them and sometimes disrespected one another.

On Thursday I am being installed as your Presbytery Leader. In this role, I take full responsibility for the life of the presbytery both past and present. I am determined to continue the work of healing our fragmentation and making the presbytery one whole and connected body. We are well on our way! The presbytery staff made over 140 congregational visits in 2018; congregation participation in presbytery gatherings increased; leadership in our new organizational structure is fully populated; teams and sub-teams are doing the mission and ministry they are called to do.

On Thursday we will experience another step in our progress. During the education session, we will be together in small groups, and we will talk to one another. Real connection occurs when we see one another face to face, when we can see one another into existence. And then we talk. We listen. We observe. We find common ground.

In her book, The Power of Listening, Lynne M. Baab writes about holy listening. Quoting Craig Satterlee, she writes, “Holy listening demands vigilance, alertness, openness to others, and the expectation that God will speak through them. Holy listening trusts that the Holy Spirit acts in and through our listening. We discern and discover the wisdom and will of God by listening to one another and to ourselves.”

We have great presenters prepared to share and moderate our conversations. There are already over 200 people registered, and 66 have never been to a Presbytery Gathering before! What an opportunity to listen to one another! What a chance to discern God’s wisdom and will for our congregations! These are the conversations that will mend together relationships and continue to bring us together in love and support of one another in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.

Rev. Craig M. Howard