Sylvia Franklin

Craig in AlaskaBlog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

Everything I need to know I learned in Sunday school. Not so much as a child but as an adult. My love for Sunday school is rooted in my adult conversion and baptism, which happened during Sunday school at a Pentecostal church in Ann Arbor Michigan. I was deeply planted in the work, ministry, and teaching of Sunday school by Sylvia Franklin. Sylvia was the Sunday School Superintendent at my Pentecostal church in Chicago. She was a tough woman who stood six feet tall and did not tolerate fools or foolishness. Sylvia was a disciplinarian whose rough exterior melted away in her love for children, education, and the Bible. She championed education and learning in an inner-city African American church that sat across the street from the high school my mother dropped out of as a teen from boredom. Sylvia believed in education and demonstrating education with proper diction and the use of a weighty word every now and then! The Bible drills we did with the children are many of the Biblical text I can quote today (King James Version of course).

Under Sylvia’s leadership, in my 17 years at that Pentecostal church, I taught every level of Sunday school from 4 year olds to adults. When I became the Sunday School Superintendent, Sylvia was my assistant. But she was really my mentor. In just three years, under her model of teaching and leadership, our Sunday school of children and adults grew from 300 to over 800 with 65 teachers and 27 classes. Our Sunday school kept pace with a growing church.

Sylvia pushed for me to go to seminary. I saw it as an opportunity to become a better Sunday school superintendent. God is still laughing!

Sylvia Franklin passed away last week. Her funeral service is being held today. It has been a year of great losses for me–of friends, spiritual and vocational mentors. I wish I could be in Chicago for Sylvia but grieving and mourning must be done differently during a pandemic. I want to give her a tribute because of what she meant to me and because more than any one person, she made me the Christian leader that I am. I end with a quote from Joyce Rupp in her book, My Soul Feels Lean.

The Best of You

I want the best of you,
who you were in your finest clothes,
generous, forgiving, full of purest love.

Every day I ask of you
to grant just this much to me,
the best of you,
a wardrobe of goodness
wrapped in easy laughter,
an adventurous heart,
a searching soul.

How could I not yearn
for what held us close,
the best of you.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Being Neighborly

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Junie Ewing
Bridge Associate Presbytery Leader

“Acting Neighborly“

In these difficult times, the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” keeps coming to mind.  You remember, the one about the lawyer who asks Jesus to define “neighbor” so he might know who is neighbor and who is not.  As a lawyer, he wants to obey the law to love God, neighbor and self.  Would Jesus please give him a definition so he might apply appropriate limits to caring?

Now Jesus begins to answer the lawyer with a story. The “good-guy” here is a mixed-blood foreigner who worships God in the wrong place and the wrong way – a Samaritan.  Jesus names him “good”. Then Jesus surprises the lawyer by expanding “neighbor” to how we are being with others.  Instead of defining neighbor by neighborhood or zip code, Jesus reveals everyone is our neighbor, so we are to “act neighborly”.  Like the Samaritan who interrupted his trip to help the stranger left for dead on the side of the road, we too are invited to step out of our comfort zone.  We too are invited onto paths that may feel uncomfortable, that some may call risky.  Yet how else but through “acting neighborly” might we address a world filled with hatred, fear, and strife?

Indeed, our world is starving for those who act neighborly.  There are many in our cities, towns and rural areas who thirst for acts of neighborliness.  Yet at the same time, our African American brothers and sisters are clearly named “Not-My-Neighbor” by political structures, laws, speech and acts of hatred and violence.  For the color of one’s skin still opens or closes doors to housing, loans, education and jobs.  In such an un-neighborly environment, how might we be their neighbor?  What might “acting neighborly” toward our African American sisters and brothers look like in your life, in your community, through your leadership positions?

The answer lies within you. You know your context best and so need to discern your own answer.  Even so, here is question that I ask you to consider.  It is:  What might the world look like if we used our leadership positions to open doors to African American brothers and sisters as faithful, tangible, neighborly actions?

In Christ Jesus,

Rev. Dr. Junie Ewing
Bridge Associate Presbytery Leader

New Life from Church Closing

Craig in AlaskaBlog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

On Sunday I attended the final worship service of Calvary Presbyterian Church. This is the first time a congregation closed online through Zoom. Although faced with several technical difficulties, Pastor Emma Holley did an excellent job. She used the children’s sermon, liturgy, and sermon to point toward lament and hope; sorrow and resurrection. The closing of a congregation is a time of nostalgia mixed with grief, sadness, and frustration. The decision to close doesn’t come easily. As Emma said in her sermon, “Our decision to close was not one we came to lightly. We discussed and we discerned, and we prayed; and then we discussed, and we discerned, and we prayed; and then we discussed, and we discerned, and we prayed some more. And somehow, out of all the opportunities and options we explored, we came together in affirmation that God was calling us to a different path.”

The technical term for closing a church is “the dissolution of a congregational ministry”. God’s church doesn’t close. Instead, the local ministry is dissolved into the presbytery and the local community like a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee. The sweetness and flavor of the congregation lives on in the life and mission of other local mission and ministries, congregations, and new worshiping communities.

Ordinarily the presbytery rushes to monetize the building of a dissolved congregation and uses the funds for other congregations and ministries. Calvary’s building will also be sold, but not right away. The presbytery wants to use the space as an incubator or springboard for new ministries and new worshiping communities. For the next three years, the presbytery will look for people who have a vision for the South County area and use the Calvary space to house meetings, gatherings, or other potential expressions of Christ’s presence in the community.

For example, the local high school currently uses the parking lot for cars during the school year. What if we could invite them into the building before or after school to fellowship and study using the WiFi of the facility? What if we could arrange events for them outside in the backyard of the church? What other intersections of the community can we use this space to build a new ministry for the gospel?

This is an experiment. We will continue to lease space to the Affton Presbyterian Church. After three years, we will sell the property, distribute the legacy investment to local missions, and dissolve the rest into the presbytery. Like any experiment, it may work, or it may not. But why not try something new? Why not attempt something bold in the name of Jesus?

As people of the resurrection, we are constantly looking into empty tombs for signs of life. We are only limited by our imagination as we seek to do new things in this community. We are not limited by our title of reverend or elder. God’s storehouse of imagination is open to anyone! On August 18 at 7:00 p.m. our New Worshiping Communities Commission will host a Dreaming and Discerning event for those who have a vision for new mission and ministry. Please contact Rev. Steve Matthews for more information.  I look forward to seeing what God will do in South County, and in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.

Rev. Craig M. Howard



The Organization Person

Craig in Alaska

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

On this long Fourth of July weekend, I did it! I finally got it done! I finished my book filing project that I’d been putting off completing all year. It all started when I purchased a software program that catalogs books on my iPhone. All I have to do is use my phone to scan the ISBN bar code (or input the number), and the program goes onto the internet to find the book. It then downloads the name, author, category, length, etc. I have been trying for months to download all of my book titles, which I have organized on bookshelves in the family room.

Now that I have all of the books cataloged, I can see some interesting statistics (interesting to a nerd like myself!). I have 836 books spread across 27 shelves on 6 bookcases. This doesn’t include my Bibles, dictionaries, lexicons, and Greek and Hebrew books. They are in a separate bookcase. I also have 135 books on Audible and 53 on Kindle. Do you want to know who my number one author is? I have 7 books by Walter Brueggemann. He is followed by Justo Gonzalez and Margaret Wheatley. I have 6 books by each of them. Howard Thurman comes next with 5.

This orderly, straight lines, organizational part of me is a surprise. I do not see myself this way. I feel more artistic, creative, and risk-taking. I’m not sure I even like people who are too organized! But I am learning that others who work with me (and even live with me!) see me as a much more structured person than I perceive myself to be.

When it comes to ministry, God calls our whole person to do the work. God calls all of who we are and brings our gifts, values, and interest to the table of serving the church. It is tragic when we feel we must hide our true selves, muzzle our ministry, or closet our gifts and talents in order to serve a church or a ministry setting. There is so much richness in each of us–so much potential and unfettered life. Serving in ministry should be a time of growth and development of the gifts God has given us, even as we ripen and flourish into the person God is creating us to become.

Thank you for allowing me to use my gifts of organization, structure, and persistence as I serve as your presbytery leader. I pray that as we walk together on this journey, God will work within us to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard