Online Presbytery Gathering

Craig in Alaska

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


Participating in worship during COVID-19 has been a different experience than most of us are used to. Many congregations are doing online worship either live with Zoom or Facebook live, or recording worship and presenting it on various online platforms. When our shelter in place began in early March, we also postponed the May 9th presbytery gathering. In March, we did not know what the future would bring. But we were confident that business as usual was not going to be possible. We knew that the ability to assemble over 100 people, bring in outside speakers, obtain reports from various committees, and pull together a cohesive and worthwhile meeting could not happen.

Just as many churches have found a way forward, so has the presbytery. Our next two presbytery gatherings will be online. The first will be on Saturday June 13 and the second will be August 27. We are excited about providing an opportunity for everyone to participate, learn, and fellowship during these events. We will use the Zoom platform. This will enable both video and audio participation. For those who have the technology and bandwidth for video, you will be able to see one another as well as listen to the business and learning. For those with only telephone capabilities, you will still be able to listen, vote, and voice your opinion. Click here to see a humorous take on doing online presbytery gathering from my colleague Stewart Smith in Arkansas.

The staff has participated on other online presbytery meetings so that we could bring what we learned back to Giddings-Lovejoy. We will have several opportunities for those who need training on how to participate remotely. We have learned to have layers of help with technology and using Zoom with a large audience. The June 13th meeting is scheduled from 2 – 4 p.m. in the afternoon. This should provide those with children a best time to participate.

We will prepare, train, and practice. And it will not be perfect! But whatever happens, we will all be in it together to make the best of our situation during this pandemic. We will experiment and learn as a community. This too is what it means to be presbytery and to be the church of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

Taking a Productive Break

Craig in Alaska

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


In a meeting with rural pastors yesterday, I learned something new. It’s called floating. Apparently, this is when a person gets in a canoe, raft, or other floatable device and floats down a river. Being raised near lake Michigan, I have a difficult time imagining groups of people just floating down a river! My first question was, “How do you get back up the river?” I could tell from the silent giggles that I was out of my element! Steven Matthews, who is the pastor at Ste. Genevieve, then sent me photos. I still have many questions, but this summer I’m ready to head to Steelville and give it a try!

The conversation of floating came about as I challenged the pastors to take a break. The time spent on Zoom meetings, writing liturgies for virtual worship, making conference pastoral care calls, and delivering front door care packages is taking a toll on the pastors. Chaplains have been working double time to be the family for patients who cannot have visitors, as well as care for overworked medical colleagues and caregivers. Many are feeling exhausted, yet taking time off doesn’t feel right when we are already working from home.

For some, being at home is part of the problem. In the article, “To Avoid Burnout, Work Less and Ignore ‘Productivity Propaganda’”, Lindsey Tramuta writes, “There’s burnout, and then there’s pandemic-induced burnout. . . Juggling full-time responsibilities, family life, and the stress of confinement makes the risk of burnout greater than ever.”

Tramuta then raises the issue of productivity and distraction and how our ability to be productive on devices that are designed to distract us is problematic: “When you combine our culture of chronic overwork with the distraction inherent to the technology and social media, at a time when people are forced to stay at home, you have a recipe for amplified anxiety and shame.”

Tramuta then interviews Rahaf Harfoush, the author of Hustle and Float. Harfoush believes we need to incorporate recovery time in our work process. In her book, she shares the idea that “it’s crucial to recover hard when you play hard.”

As we approach Memorial Day, perhaps it is time we plan for a break. Plan a time to turn off the electronics, take our eyes off of the screens, just unplug and take some “self” time. Call in the stated supply, bring in the guest liturgist, and get away. As things are opening up, perhaps a nature walk, museum exploration, or just sitting in a canoe and floating down the river is in order. Take a break. You deserve it.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

COVID19 and Black Bodies

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


Racism does not shelter in place. It does not work from home, but continues to dissect and disintegrate values and life in America. COVID-19 has revealed the contours of America’s structural racism. Like a pencil rubbing a nickel under a sheet of paper, this pandemic is bringing out details of structural racism that exist in healthcare, the labor force, and in the minds and hearts of African Americans.

The news about black people contracting and dying from COVID-19 in higher numbers than whites has been statistically proven. Numbers from New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and other major cities clearly show a large discrepancy between the number of blacks in the general population and the number who are dying from the virus.

Why is this so? An immediate conclusion is that there is a difference between black bodies and other bodies. Some believe black people are somehow different flesh and bone than whites. In the article, How Racism is Shaping the Corona Virus Pandemic, Isaac Chotiner writes how the yellow fever in 1793 wiped out 10% of the population in Philadelphia. But experts believed blacks were immune. For this reason, they assigned blacks to care for the whites who were ill. Many blacks died because of this action. The belief that blacks have different bodies goes back to the false science of eugenics and the determined effort to prove blacks are physically and mentally inferior.

The truth has more to do with socialization than biology and more about where black people work and live than how they think. These elements of structural racism were present and active before COVID-19 appeared in this country. Working African Americans hold more blue-collar and service jobs. They are the janitors, grocery clerks, bus drivers, and nursery home aids. They can’t work from home. Black and brown people are the ones ordered back into the meat processing factories where hundreds have been infected and many have died. They are the ones exposed to the unprotected coughs and sneezes of the public.

While black bodies are not different bodies, healthcare for black bodies is often inferior. The history of misuse, abuse, and non-treatment of black bodies has created an internalized reticence toward doctors among African Americans. Some of this is connected to areas of poverty where many blacks live. It creates an atmosphere where people are less likely to trust doctors or the medicine they provide. Limited nutrition leads to obesity. When added to untreated hypertension and diabetes, the combination becomes deadly. COVID-19 is the final weight on the scale that leads to serious illness and death.

These areas of structural racism- employment, healthcare, and poverty–are lifted up in the Apology document DRAP created. We are reminded that just as racism doesn’t sleep nor shelter in place, neither should our vigilance to bring observable change to our communities and society.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Gods Beautiful People

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


Each week several of you join me and the staff at noon for a Zoom lunch meeting. We meet with different groups of people in our presbytery: rural pastors, new pastors, youth and Christian educators, transitional pastors, and clerks of session. Sometimes, we have lunch with all pastors! These pastors and leaders are located throughout the presbytery. From Cuba to Steelville, from Brighton to Ballwin. In our meeting, we take the time to share how we’re feeling, what types of things pastors and leaders are doing, and policies and recommendations from the presbytery. We laugh with each other, tell stories and even jokes! We pray for each other. Most of all, we enjoy the fellowship and support from one another.

When I arrived three years ago, the presbytery was marked by fragmentation and division. We struggled to feel a sense of unity and cohesiveness. The events of Big Tent and GA went a long way to helping us work together and become one presbytery. But this pandemic has been the heavy wind that has loosened long-held and deep-seated resistance. Our waters of stagnation are now a flowing stream. We have found commonality, creativity, and realized we are stronger, smarter, and more tech savvy than we were aware of!

Many books have been written about change theory. My presbytery executive colleagues across the country are in shock and awe at the speed of change in our churches, ministries, and denomination. The change has been more dramatic than what we’ve found in our readings. The reason for this change is because we, as Presbyterians, had to change. We didn’t have the option of remaining in our buildings and doing business as usual. The pandemic has caused us to draw upon resources we have known and studied but never applied. It has caused members to open up to new ideas like online worship–ideas that have been presented and rejected before but are now welcome.

I see God moving in this moment. My God is not the God of plagues, disease, illness, and death. But even through these horrible things, we find ways to bring God glory and worship. In this pandemic, we have found faith over fear, and we have found each other. We can agree with the psalmist who writes,

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Psalm 52:7 NRSV

Thank you for being God’s beautiful people and for bringing the message each week of peace, good news, and salvation. We are all in this together. Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard