Bridge Presbytery Leader Announced

Introducing Rev. Robert (Bob) Jensen
Bridge Presbytery Leader

Please join me in welcoming Rev. Robert (Bob) Jensen as our Bridge Presbytery Leader beginning on January 4, 2021. An Honorably Retired (HR) member of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, Bob spent 13 years in business working for a public utility before being called to parish ministry. Following seminary, he served nearly 30 years in Presbyterian congregations in Coal City, IL, Tulsa, OK, and Delafield, WI before retiring in 2016.  He also was called to serve as Bridge Pastor at First United Presbyterian in Collinsville in 2019.

He graduated from Governors’ State University in University Park, IL, receiving a B.A. in Business Administration in 1974 and the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Divinity in 1987.

During his years in parish ministry, Bob was consistently active in presbytery life, serving in a wide variety of roles including GA commissioner, Presbytery moderator (Blackhawk and Milwaukee), chair of Council, and moderator of Committee on Ministry.

He has been married to his wonderful spouse Jan for 47 years.  They moved to Swansea, IL from Wisconsin in 2016.  They have been blessed with two sons, David (Sarah) and Andy (Cathy), and seven grandchildren ranging in age from 20 to 9.  Jan and Bob are currently active in worship, ministry, and mission at First United Presbyterian Church in Belleville.

In retirement, Jan and Bob have found enjoyment in the freedom that these years have brought, including the freedom to do more traveling and be more connected to their grandchildren.  At the same time, he has looked forward to opportunities to continue to be of service to Christ through the church.  The opportunity to serve as Bridge Leader for the presbytery fulfills that desire.

He views his role as Bridge Leader to be one of stewardship – helping to maintain continuity of ministry and support of both staff and leadership – as the presbytery begins to anticipate the arrival of its next leader.

The Vision team extends a welcome to Bob and, with all of you, look forward to meeting and getting to know him over the days and months ahead.

We also look forward to introducing and accepting him for this role at the special called presbytery gathering on January 9th.

On behalf of the Giddings Lovejoy Vision Team,

Barbara Bowyer
Moderator, Vision Team


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


I am so glad that 2020 is coming to an end! This has been one tough year. The year has been marked by a pandemic crisis, social unrest, political chaos, and for many of us, some form of personal tragedy and loss. As we turn the corner and look ahead to 2021, things are foggy to say the least. It will be a year of challenges as congregations continue to figure out what ministry will look like and how to come together again face to face. Our nursing homes and healthcare facilities are also facing continual upheaval in 2021. The pandemic has taken an emotional and financial burden that will overflow into 2021, even with the vaccine.

When we are faced with intractable problems and unknown solutions, dialogue is a tool we can use to find our way forward. In a healthy dialogue we realize we don’t have the answers and that we don’t live in a closed intellectual system that require only one way toward a solution. In his book, Dream Work, Jeremy Taylor writes about the understanding that happens when we recognize our limitations. He writes, “It is only through the holes and spaces and at the edges of what we know that what we do not yet know and understand can enter our consciousness.” Taylor sees the hope of understanding and problem solving happening when we encounter the edges of our thoughts, the holes of our reasoning, and the spaces in our beliefs.

True dialogue happens between people who are different. This means inviting the other and being open to invitations from others to dialogue. In Giddings-Lovejoy rural area folks should talk with city and urban folks. Illinois residents should talk with Missouri residents. White people should talk with Black, Latinx, and Asian people. We should continue to seek and dialogue with people we consider as “other” in order to stretch our ideas and learn where our holes and spaces are.

This way of talking, learning, and working together is not centered on one side gaining knowledge from the other. It is not a one-way interaction. True ministry is a gift exchange, as each has something to give and share with the other. This is what Damayanthi Niles (our February presbytery speaker) calls “liberative dialogue”. In her book, Doing Theology with Humility, Generosity, and Wonder, she writes, “[Liberative dialogue] requires that everyone is allowed to speak and that all voices in the conversation are truly heard without one voice dominating and overriding the centerstage.”

As I write my final blog to you and prepare to leave my role as your presbytery leader, I have been stretched and challenged from being in conversation and dialogue with you. I have attempted to share myself with transparency, humility, and honesty. You have allowed me into your lives as well as sharing your heart’s desires, struggles and hopes with me. Our relationship has been a true gift exchange. I have learned so much and become a better leader and person because of you. Thank you.

As part of the presbytery separation agreement, I will not interfere or be involved with the working of the presbytery for the next two years. I plan to serve you in my role as Ministry Relations Officer of the Foundation, and we will walk a delicate line as I do so. For this reason, I will join a different presbytery for a while and give the new administration in Giddings-Lovejoy time to take hold. I will maintain my friendships and relationships in this presbytery and attend worship at Woodlawn Chapel. But I plan to honor the separation agreement and not comment on presbytery business or decisions. Thank you for honoring this agreement with me.

So many of you have sent emails, cards, and phone calls to say goodbye and thank me for my service and ministry. Thank you for your gracious words and many blessings. I’m looking forward to the formal celebration for my time and ministry in Giddings-Lovejoy on January 22nd. I’m hoping you will all be there.

When I finish a conversation with my friends, I never say good-bye; instead I say, “Talk to you later.” You are my friends. Stay in dialogue with one another. Continue the great gift exchange of ministry you are doing. I look forward to seeing you online again on January 22nd. Talk to you later!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

The Spiritual Value of Church Property

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

One of my first memories of coming to serve as your interim presbytery leader was the magnificent church buildings in the St. Louis metro area. It was and still is amazing to see the Presbyterian churches off of Delmar, going from Second Presbyterian Church, then Westminster, past Trinity, and ending at First Presbyterian. Seeing the Ladue Presbyterian campus, the majestic columns of Faith and Des Peres, and the stained glass windows of Kirkwood gives the impression that church is significant and important to the people in Giddings-Lovejoy.

The book, Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape, is a collection of essays on life in the urban landscape of America. In one of the essays, “Tasting the Bitter with the Sweet”, Linda Marcadante writes about her struggle with coming home and leaving home in Newark, New Jersey. She writes about the role Sacred Heart Cathedral has in her current life and what the presence of that congregation meant for her community. She writes, “Set like a crown jewel at the head of Branch Brook Park, the Cathedral has two towers that rise ten stories, making it visible from far away. But although it is huge, it does not seem to dwarf human life, but to pick it up in an inclusive embrace toward God . . . For me, the glory of this architecture wordlessly preached sermons that I remember far beyond what I may have heard from the pulpit.”

Marcadante reminds us that there is more to a church building than bricks and mortar. Church buildings hold memories and presence, histories and dreams. Church buildings can lift our spirits beyond the words of a sermon. They can usher us into God’s presence.

In 2021 and beyond, there will probably be a lot of conversation around the role of church buildings in a post-COVID era. We have learned to worship, fellowship, and learn online. The role of the church buildings and the budgets needed to maintain and run the structures will come into question.

Also, for those congregations that will close their doors, their building will be monetized. What is the best use of those funds and how will those decisions be made?

As we have these difficult and necessary conversations in our session meetings, property committees, and finance rooms, let us keep in mind that the built environment can also bring glory to God. Let us remember that a church building can inspire a community by its presence. We are challenged to take into account the community asset that our buildings hold, even when we close and sell them. I can only begin the many elements this conversation has. I hope the presbytery can become a platform where these ideas can be discussed and advanced.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Lets Talk About Reparations

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

Yesterday I along with Rev. Jackie Taylor, General Presbyter of Baltimore Presbytery, lead a group of 61 mid-council leaders from across the country on the topic of reparations. We used the Atlantic article The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It can be found here

Our conversation taught us that reparations is a difficult topic to grasp because the range of victims is so broad, and the number of hurts is so many. A conversation on reparations for African Americans will drift out of its lane to include native Americans, Japanese Americans, LatinX, and Jewish Americans. Even when only focusing on African Americans, we learned that the Black community cannot be painted with the same broad brush that provides the same solution for everyone.

Some key questions include, what does a plan for reparations look like? What has been lost? Who are the victims? Who are the perpetrators? What is owed? What are possible sources for renumeration? Combine these questions with the reality of our dual society- one white and one Black, and quickly power dynamics become part of the conversation. And just as quickly a reparations conversation turns into charity, handouts, and power-over one another.

What would it mean if DRAP (Dismantling Racism and White Privilege) lead this conversation within the presbytery in 2021? So much can be learned just by having the courage to talk with one another about such a sensitive topic. Coates writes that just having the conversation, “We can learn about our particular heritage, history, and standing in our community and in this country.” A conversation on reparations is an opportunity to etch out more of our identity. It is a chance to see the truth of who we are and how we are perceived by others.

Some concrete ideas for reparations did come from our conversation yesterday. These include making sure every African American pastor receive full board of pensions benefits, having two congregations- one white and one Black exchange budgets, retiring loans and debts for African American congregations, seek to hire African Americans as leadership staff in churches and presbyteries, and create a different path for African Americans in the ordination process.

The mid-council leaders are committed to reading, learning, and sharing ideas and experiences. But each presbytery has its own context and Giddings-Lovejoy is further down the line of progress than most. From the good work of the Apology, DRAP is growing and learning to lead this presbytery is fruitful anti-racism conversations that will continue to produce healthy results for everyone.

Rev. Craig M. Howard





Post COVID World

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

I am feeling a sense of gladness as 2020 comes to an end. What a year it has been! The cloud of COVID is passing over, and we can see hints of blue sky and sun rays again. We have learned lessons in COVID that will pay great dividends in the post COVID world.

When it comes to many operations at the presbytery office, we’d already begun practices that really paid off during this time of COVID. In a meeting with the presbytery staff and our new treasurer Kathy Sherrick, we talked about how we do almost all of our financial business online. This practice began when we left a 30,000 sq. ft. building on Tower Grove and moved into a 1400 sq. ft. office. We simply had no place to put all of the paper generated from our financial operation.

That’s when we purchased software with cloud storage. We then scanned all of our paper into the cloud with our copier, making it accessible and searchable. The next step was creating online billing and payment. This eliminated printing checks. All of this happened before COVID. When COVID hit, we found ourselves in a position to work from home and not have any financial glitches. Our accountants no longer have to come into the office. We have learned a new way to work and we will continue to work in this way even after COVID.

Parallel things are happening in the church. People are learning a new way to have worship experiences. Some (like myself) will be part of several worshiping communities over a single weekend. We are finding new ways to be nourished and strengthened.

After COVID, I am sure people will still desire to worship from home and in person. Church budgets will be affected. Sessions will have to think about the amount of resources now being spent on bricks and mortar, compared to the small amounts spent for technology. Because of COVID some people who were hidden and quiet have really come alive! Their knowledge of technology has made them more valuable. New roles have been created; new gifts discovered.

How does the church continue to move forward in this new way of being? The church should focus more on purpose and less on getting the most people in a building. Perhaps trying to meet again in person is a grasp for nostalgia—a longing to return to a way of being that will not fit in a post COVID world. I’m not sure exactly what the post COVID will look like, but I’m confident the answer is not found by looking backward.

In a recent podcast Gil Rendle said, “A thriving (church) is steady in purpose but flexible in strategy. When your environment changes, can you do what you do but in a different way for that environment?” The future church will be a thriving church because it has learned to use the tools and resources to live in a post COVID environment. It will learn to do the mission and ministry of Christ to a post COVID community. Pastors and leaders should use the tools they have learned and move forward in prayer, while thinking and planning for the post COVID environment.

Rev. Craig M. Howard