Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
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