COVID-19 Update

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Click on the arrow, at left, to watch the first VLOG (Video Blog) or continue to read below. 

On Sunday, March 29, the president extended the restrictions on social distancing until April 30. Many scientists agree and believe we should not consider removing restrictions until we see evidence of the virus slowing. There appears to be a correlation between large gatherings of people and the presence of COVID 19 weeks later. An example is a church in Seattle that decided to have choir rehearsal. 60 members showed up, used hand sanitizer, practiced safe distancing, and rehearsed for two hours. Now 45 are infected, 3 hospitalized, and 2 are dead.

It is a difficult decision to request all congregations and New Worshiping Communities in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy to continue not to assemble in worship until April 30. I strongly recommend we continue this period of online worship, and other creative ways of being together, until April 30. On the last week of April, we will evaluate the situation and decide how to move forward after the April 30 deadline.

I am aware this includes Holy Week and Easter. I am sensitive to the financial and personal hardship this places on all congregations- large and small, urban and rural. We are making financial grants and loans available if necessary to help congregations through this difficult time.

The church has endured persecution, plagues, wars, and pandemics throughout history. We will overcome this one too. There is a future for God’s church. There is a future for each of you. When we return to worship, it will be a time of celebration of the resurrection.

So many of you are using creative ways for worship, music, children programs, and observing the sacraments. You are demonstrating what it means to serve the church with creativity and imagination. I am so proud of you all!

The presbytery is committed to being present with up-to-date information as we reach out visually, verbally, and in writing to each of you. We are truly all in this together.

Peace,

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Article on church choir: https://www.yahoo.com/news/choir-decided-ahead-rehearsal-now-023414705.html

Shopping During a Pandemic

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


This morning, I got excited about getting up early to arrive at the local Schnucks to join my other “over 60” population to shop for food between 6 – 7 a.m. I’d seen the videos of people fighting for paper towels and hoarding milk. I imagined this grocery shopping experience would fall somewhere between roller derby and ultimate cage wrestling!

I arrived at 5:45 to make sure I would get a good spot in the line, just in case it was snaking around the building. To my surprise there was only one person there, sitting in his truck. By the time the store opened all of six people had arrived. I figured these must be the meanest, most aggressive folks in the neighborhood! So, with cart in hand, I entered the store.

The experience was nothing short of pleasant. Instead of being met with aggression and panic, I experienced kindness and generosity. People helped one another find things. People allowed one another to step in front of them in line if they didn’t have much to check out. People talked with one another with gladness. I experienced a great sense of “we are all in this together.” And with that spirit, people conducted business in a civil and orderly way.

I am sure all stores are not like this one. The news and online media show the footage of people-acting-badly somewhere. But there is a question the COVID-19 pandemic is raising. It’s about our belief in human nature. Do we believe that we need to buy guns and hoard food because a time is coming when hungry, desperate people will be walking the streets looking for homes to ravage for food? Have we been programmed by disaster films to believe the worst in human nature will appear when given a chance?

In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit dismisses the myths around how people act during times of crises and disasters. She exams wars, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other mass disasters. Her findings go against the grain of what we are often told to expect. In her quote of Enrico Quarantelli, an authority on public panic, Solnit explains how fear is a normal and healthy reaction to a disaster: “It doesn’t mean that if people are frightened, they cannot act appropriately. Instead of ruthless competition, the social order did not break down, and there was a cooperative rather than selfish behavior predominating.”

I believe that people want to get along, be cooperative, kind and generous. I believe that people will help others, shop for others (as one woman said she was doing today at 6 a.m.) and be benevolent if given the chance. Are there mean-spirited and selfish people in the world? Certainly! But I believe there is good in people too—a good that is looking for an opportunity to show tenderness and compassion. During this time of pandemic, perhaps we can show the good that is in us toward our neighbors and community, in the name of Jesus Christ. Maybe then we will realize that we are all in this together, and we will all get through this together.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Homebound

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


While doing development work for McCormick Seminary, I was deployed and worked remotely from my home in Madison Wisconsin for three years. As many of you are sheltering in place, I thought It would be prudent to talk about ways to be more productive, less frustrated, and maintain work-life balance during these stressful times.

With schools closing, and colleges using online courses, many households are full of loving, attention needing, disruptive little and big people! And I’m not even including the dogs and cats! In the midst of this fun and chaos, we are challenged to carve out a space for our work.

That’s why it’s so important to set boundaries of where and when you will work. That is the first principle of working from home. Make sure you have all of the work tools you will need including computer, printer, pens, paper, bookcase, etc. Next, set your hours. Determine when you will be available for work. It is tempting to just answer the phone, texts, and emails whenever they arrive. By setting hours you are setting boundaries (there’s that word again!) for yourself and your family.

Another idea is to develop a routine that prepares you for work. In a good article by Jill Duffy, “20 Tips for Working from Home” in PC Magazine, she writes about having a routine that gets you started in the day. “What in your morning routine indicates you’re about to start work? It might be making a cup of coffee. It might be returning home after a jog. It might be getting dressed (wearing pajama pants to work is a perk for some, but a bad strategy for others). A routine can be more powerful than a clock at helping you get started each day.” One way I know that I am NOT working that day, is that I break up my morning routine.

I also find it helpful to take frequent breaks. I often set a timer so that I know it is time to stand, walk around, and stretch. I take a lunch. I take timed TV or do other things as a break too.

During this time some of us may feel as though we are not working hard enough. We tend to make our boundaries porous and work morning, afternoon, evening, and night. (In the back of my mind I still hear my mother asking, “As a pastor, what do you do all week?!”) I have discovered that people who work hard often don’t perceived themselves as the workaholics they really are. So, this is a word of caution to all of us. Do not fall into the trap of overworking because you are working from home. Set your boundaries, create your space, make sure you have all of the office equipment you need, take your breaks, and continue to be productive to the glory of God.

I’m ending with a sentence of a prayer Karen Blanchard shared with me earlier this week (It is posted on the website).

God, help us to take time to sit still as the world around us swirls, and drink from the still waters of the love and peace that you offer to quench our thirst in both body and spirit. Amen.

 Rev. Craig M. Howard

Stress Reduction

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Last weekend I had a difficult conversation with my soon-to-be 90-year-old father about attending worship on Sunday in Chicago. He was determined to do it, and he did. I was disappointed that his pastor held service in a church that seats 3500. I was more disappointed that Dad went anyway, in spite of warnings, calls from his children, and public messages from the government. Just imagining him at the church stressed me out. Afterward, when I had to then try and talk him out of getting on an airplane to go to Florida to play golf, I was exasperated. (Thankfully, he decided not to go.)     

In addition to sickness and illness, I now realize that the coronavirus is bringing stress to our world and our lives. Kids are home from school. Offices and restaurants are closing. Hourly workers are being hit hard. There is tension in family life. Churches are trying to figure out what does it mean to be faithful and how to maintain community.

In this time of stress, one of my first concerns in the well-being of the pastors, teachers, chaplains, and leaders in the presbytery. Leadership matters. If the leadership of the church or institution is cloudy in their thinking and incapacitated in their actions because of stress, then the entire church or organization suffers.

I asked Rev. Renita Mercado-Heinzl, director of the chaplaincy program at St. Luke’s hospital, to share a list of online sights, articles, and books she could recommend to our leaders. Renita provided a treasure trove of information! I found that just taking the time to look at some of these resources reduced my stress levels! I’m going to list them after the article, but you may want to be sure to see the this one on “10 Ideas for Church Financial Leaders Amid the COVID-19 Crises”. One of the suggestions is to “send messages of hope, encouragement, and impact.” You can find it here: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/10-ideas-for-church-financial-leaders-amid-the-covid-19-crisis.

Another one I found helpful is a commentary from the Baltimore Sun called, “Coronavirus Stressing You Out? Here’s How to Cope”. Her first recommendation is to limit the intake of media. She also suggests we do things that bring happiness or pleasure. You can find it here: https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-0317-coronavirus-stress-cope-20200316-u5vacvgy6zbqvdun2roa3dkdoe-story.html.

Be sure to look at the Headington Institute page with titles such as Resilience, Stress and Burnout, Trauma, and Lifestyle Balance. https://www.headington-institute.org/overview.

When you feel the pressures building, stop, breathe, move around, read an article or a book, gather your thoughts. Pray at any point! Know that we are in this together, and we will come out of this together. Pray for me, as you are all in my prayers as well.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 

 

The Gardener as Leader

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


I will never forget Dr. Parisi. He taught me personnel management at DePaul University where I did my undergraduate degree. Dr. Parisi was a businessman. He always taught wearing a three-piece suit. At the end of each class he would pronounce in full self-importance and condescension, “I have given you enough of my time.”

One of the things Dr. Parisi would remind us of is that management is not about changing people. Instead, we can only create an environment in which people can be changed. Focus on the environment, not the person. This wisdom is helpful when we are expending a large amount of energy but are not getting the results we desire. It helps to know that all things are not in our control, especially when it comes to human behavior.

One of my Lenten books is Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that win wars, cure diseases, and Transform industries. The author, Safi Bahcall, challenges leaders to balance new and creative ideas along with traditional and successful ways an organization has of doing things. Bahcall’s book challenges us to change our attitude regarding how we understand leadership.

In one chapter, Bahcall writes about leaders who are more like Moses. These are leaders who determine what is approved and what is denied. These leaders are less dependent on a process or on others but make the decisions by themselves. The Moses leader is more likely to fall into a trap of saying no to new and creative ways, or saying yes to those things which they like, without using a criterion or having a rationale. Bahcall refers to Robert Dale’s book, Leadership for a Changing Church. Dale writes, “Leaders now make sense rather than make [decisions]. More accurately, they make meaning.” Dale is shifting away from the builder model of leadership to the gardener model.

The leader as gardener knows how to work with the soil, measure the rain, and determine what to plant and when. The leader as gardener realizes they cannot make things grow, but they can create the environment where growth can take place. What are you planting in your church, hospital, or school? How are you tilling the soil so things can grow and be nurtured? What is happening in your environment that is detrimental to the life you want to grow, and what are you doing about it?

Dr. Parisi may have been arrogant and distant, but his classes were popular! DePaul even has a scholarship in his name. I believe he helped us to understand a leadership style that would be with us in our careers for decades to come.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Learning in Dialogue

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry people pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Frieire

One of the six books I’m reading as part of my Lenten journey is Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant landmark book written in 1970 by Paulo Freire. Freire wrestles with the problem of teaching poor and oppressed adult peasants in South America. He creates a teaching method that shifts from the traditional hierarchal direction of teacher to student. This vertical method doesn’t recognize the gifts and learning the student brings to the classroom. Instead, Freire develops the teacher-student with students-teachers method. Teaching ceases to be a one-way conversation and becomes a dialogue between equal partners participating in the enterprise of learning.

For Freire, learning comes from a restlessness in the spirit. Something inside of us has to see things as they are and want to change them. This may happen on a session, in worship, in a hospital or classroom. For Freire, education is about changing the world. It is about being empowered to change the world with others and through others.

One of the gifts of the upcoming Education Day is the opportunity to engage with others who want to bring change. It may be change in Christian Education, Liturgy, or buildings and grounds. It may be change in church growth, digital media, or being a welcoming congregation. Education Day is a day of re-imaging what the church can be; what ministry as ruling elders and deacons can be. It is a day where restless, impatient, and hopeful people come together to rub shoulders and learn from and with each other.

Education Day needs your participation and involvement. All are invited! This includes those across the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec rivers, those down I-55 and the I-44 corridor, those in the lead belt, those from the inner and outer rings of St. Louis Metro, those just north of the boot heel, those in the “villes” in Illinois (Bellville, Collinsville, Edwardsville!). All are welcome!

Take the time to sign up today. The event is free and includes lunch. It happens Saturday, March 21st. It begins at 10:00 and concludes by 2:00. I look forward to seeing you all at Ladue Chapel for Education Day 2020.

Rev. Craig M. Howard