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

Our next presbytery gathering is one week from Saturday at The Washington Presbyterian church in Washington, Missouri. It will be a time of learning, celebration, and efficient business. I am so happy that we will celebrate the ministry of 51 of our congregations. There are currently 42 congregations who have said yes to participating in the hunger action program. Additionally, 28 of the 51 also participated in four of the special offerings over the past 4 years. Wow!

I often say that there are two words which seem to never go together: all and presbytery. We cannot get all of the presbytery to do anything! But I am pleased that 2/3 participated in these programs. Kudos to each church, pastor, and session that will receive certificates and financial gifts at the presbytery gathering.

According to our mission statement, we are presbytery of dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations. In 2020, I want to focus on us becoming vibrant congregations. This is part of being a Matthew 25 presbytery as well. Although Mathew 25 uses the word “vital congregation,” the idea is the same. Both vital and vibrant speak to life, energy, creativity, and relationships. Both define a congregation as building community, dismantling racism, and pushing back against poverty.

The presbytery does not create vibrant congregations. There is no magic formula or five step program to become a vibrant congregation. But the presbytery can create an environment where vibrant congregations can exist and flourish. For this to happen we must be a connectional church with the presbytery office serving as a hub in multiple ways–creating, enhancing, resourcing, and steering connections. 

Not all of our congregations are vibrant. There are many reasons why. Some have very limited resources, and others are limited in vision. Some choose to be disconnected because of past hurts and disappointments (these congregations may even grow but are not connected to the presbytery). Some have been without leadership for so long they can’t see a way out of their entrenchment, and others are slowly winding down as they come to the end of a rich life and fulfilling ministry. The presbytery is willing to meet each congregation where they are and help them to determine their future, whatever it may be.

The November gathering closes out 2019 and kicks off 2020! It is about celebrating the past while looking forward with newly elected officers and living into Matthew 25. I urge all of our congregations to come off the sidelines and get into the action of doing connectional, vibrant ministry in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard




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

Yesterday I received an email from our communications associate, Janice McMillen, informing me that we had 40 congregations signed as either “certified” or “covenant” Hunger Action congregations with the PC(USA). These congregations completed a simple online form to explain what they are doing. They received the appropriate recognition from the denomination, and we will be recognizing their efforts at the November 9th presbytery gathering in Washington, Missouri.

For these 40 churches, being a Hunger Action congregation was not their goal. These congregations saw a need in their community and decided to do something about it. Their responses range from food pantries to community gardens. Some have community dinners while others do education programs to combat hunger. Their response to hunger was not out of a desire for recognition but an expression of their vision, mission, and core identity.

In her book, Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley writes about the connection between environment, vision, and identity. She believes successful organizations are connected to their environment and actually play a part in creating the community in which they exist. This comes about because of the organization’s sense of purpose and vision, which springs from its identity. She writes, “When an organization knows who it is, what its strengths are, and what it is trying to accomplish, it can respond intelligently to changes from its environment. . . The presence of a clear identity makes the organization less vulnerable to its environment; it develops greater freedom to decide how it will respond.”

The vision of a congregation should include the needs and opportunities of its community. The mission of a congregation should be in partnership with its surrounding community. This is why I’ve encouraged each congregation to do a neighborhood exegesis. As a church becomes aware of the needs and opportunities around its space, it will know where and how to connect: it will know how to become a co-creator of the future of that community.

Here is a list of the 40 Hunger Action congregations. Congratulations!

Here is a link to a nice story about First Alton and the great work they are doing with their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Visiting the Country

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

The old phrase, “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is especially true when it comes to people! I’m learning that it is difficult to tell much about a person just from looking at them on the outside. As you know, I was born and raised in Chicago. But what you do not know is I also have country and rural connections from my childhood on my grandmother’s farm in Port Arthur, Texas. My earliest memory of being on the farm is the smell of milk as it hits the bucket under a cow’s udder. I remember the smell and connect it the taste of Corn Flakes I eat for breakfast. Grandma had more of a house with farm animals than a farm! She had a few cows and chickens on her 5 acres. There may have even been a pig waddling around somewhere. Granddad (Who was really my step-grandfather. My real grandfather died when my father was a teenager) always wore coveralls and smelled of sweat from the Texas heat.

When I married Marilyn, I learned another level of country and farm living. My first time going to my father-in-law’s farm in Bowling Green, Missouri became a deep dive into the country. We arrived at night and the darkness was overwhelming. I’d never seen so many stars in the sky. I called it “dark dark!” I came to understand the self-sufficiency of farming. Anything my father-in-law needed could be made on the 1500 acre farm. I listened as this independent minded man in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt shared his in-depth knowledge of land, animals, and weather. He would then just as easily talk about insurance, the economy, and social events. The notion of the dumb farmer is quickly dismissed in conversations with my father-in-law.

As a person raised in Chicago, I have country and rural roots. As a farmer in Bowling Green, my father-in-law is current on what is happening in metro St. Louis. He and I have come to know and appreciate one another because we have conversations.

As I do the work of the presbytery in rural communities, I experience a lot of assumptions regarding values and understanding of different cultures. There are several dichotomies including country versus city and fancy versus simple. These assumptions play into our politics (liberal versus conservative) and our values (Biblical versus biblical). Not to mention assumptions about race and ignorance regarding the capacity and potential of people because of the color of their skin.

But these dichotomies are often proven false when we sit and talk with one another. While talking and listening to one another (preferably over a meal!) we may learn that we have more in common than we assume. Ask Dardenne Presbyterian and Third Presbyterian Church’s men’s groups. Through conversations they learned to appreciate and respect one another. Even though many come from different racial and economic backgrounds.

I find that people usually love their families, want what is best for their children, want work that is meaningful and significant, honor their heritage, and really do care about the environment. Most people have experienced hardship either personally or with a family member, and they want a better life for their grandchildren. If we can listen to one another and find points of connection with common values and suffering, we may find that we are not so different after all.

Rev. Craig Howard

Intentional Love

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

On Saturday I drove back from a synod meeting in Kansas City along with a synod commissioner. We talked about retirement. He shared how he is learning that retirement is about having a routine. He then named 5 daily habits he practices which cover physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being. I asked for examples of each of these. Of course, he talked about daily Bible reading and prayer, physical exercise and journaling. He then surprised me by saying that each day, he does something to show his wife that he loves her. I thought, “Do I show Marilyn that I love her on a daily basis?” (Please don’t ask her!!) Sometimes love means acting in intentional and consistent ways.

As your presbytery leader I want the entire presbytery to feel like they are important, cared and prayed for. The staff continues to come up with creative ways to demonstrate the significance of every church, pastor, and member. The In Your Neighborhood program comes from our heart of compassion as a way to show how important everyone in the presbytery is.

This past Wednesday and Thursday the presbytery office set up camp in Sullivan, Missouri. Over the next two days we met with over 35 people in meals, fellowship, and business. It was great to see people from different churches fellowshipping with one another at meals. Pastors and leaders felt welcomed as the restaurants filled with laughter and conversation. They were attentive as we shared dates for upcoming presbytery events and appreciation for their presence. They also shared with the presbytery and with one another upcoming significant events in each church, and a commitment to support one another. I also met with leadership from Mound Ridge. Our honest and difficult conversation was followed with pizza and well- wishes.

This is what it means to be Presbyterian and a presbytery: sharing our joys and concerns while seeking and discovering ways to show that we love one another. It takes an intentional effort to be a connected church. Love with intention can cover a multitude of faults and create an atmosphere of grace.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Did you know…what our Session Clerks are doing???

Blog Post by
Rev. Joy Myers
Stated Clerk


G-3.0104  Officers

            …Each council shall elect a clerk who shall record the transactions of the council, keep its rolls of membership and attendance, maintain any required registers, preserve its records, and furnish extracts from them when required by another council of the church.  Such extracts, verified by the clerk, shall be evidence in any council of the church.  The clerk of the session shall be a ruling elder elected by the session for such a term as it may determine.

           I KNOW!  That can sound intimidating…but the wonderful part is that we have so many amazing session clerks in this presbytery who support one another and share ideas of how to keep the myriad of details that are required in the minutes, registers and rolls of each congregation.  You always know you have support.

            We have held three peer review gatherings for session clerks:  August 10 at New Hope Presbyterian Church in St Charles; September 14 at Sullivan Presbyterian Church in Sullivan and September 21 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St Louis.  There were 46 different congregations represented out of the 76 congregations of the presbytery.  I really want to see 100% of the congregations participate in this review.  We currently have over 60% participation.

            There were some areas where we found that we do not always follow the guidelines set forth in the Book of Order or we were unfamiliar with them.

  • First: G-3.0201b, W-2.4012, W-3.3616e – ask that we provide for distribution of the sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper (at least quarterly)] to members isolated from the community’s worship.
  • Second: G-3.0202a – states that commissioners are elected to presbytery and report after each presbytery meeting. Many said they rotate or that the pastor attends.  We really need the voices of ruling elders as well as teaching elders.  Now that the presbytery is incorporating educational aspects to the gathering times, you never know what idea or information you will take away with you.
  • Third: G-3.0201c – The training, examination, ordination and installation of newly-elected ruling elders and deacons is recorded. Most sessions do a portion of these tasks but the Book of Order asks that sessions do all of them…that it is not up to the pastor but to the session to decide the leadership of the congregation.
  • Fourth: G-3.0113 – There was a financial review or audit. These should be conducted annually even if your session reviews the finances monthly at your meetings.

            We are keeping a copy of the insurance declaration page for property, liability, and officer insurance in the files of the congregations of the presbytery that are kept in the office.

            Three resources available from the Board of Pensions, which you can request directly from them, are:

  • Understanding Effective Salary
  • Living by the Gospel: A Guide to Structuring Ministers’ Terms of Call
  • Federal Reporting Requirements for Churches: What you need to know for 2019

       These are especially helpful as you approach the end of the current budget year and are looking at the compensation for all your church staff but especially the pastor’s terms of call.         

Rev Joy Myers, Stated Clerk