Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968


Too few of us have completed a deep dive into what we could/should do about Dismantling Racism and Privilege in ourselves, our community, our nation and our world.

Today’s Blog Space… please read a Letter from a Birmingham Jail Found Here

Here are some resources that might help further the conversation:

Be Still and Know

Blog Post by Rev. Robert Jensen
Bridge Presbytery Leader


Last Wednesday, as the mob siege of the US Capitol was unfolding, I sat transfixed in the presbytery office in shocked grief like so many people.  And as I traveled home that evening, these words kept passing through my mind and heart: 

…though the earth should change, though the mountains shake, 
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble. 

Clearly our world was shaking and so was I.  And in this state of mind, even though I knew the words and knew I had shared them with countless people, at that very moment, I could not remember the rest of the quote or where they came from.  

When I finally arrived home, I was, of course, embarrassed to be reminded these words are  from Psalm 46, prefaced by a most sure promise:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear… 

I guess I really needed to “be still and know that I am God!” (v. 10) in that moment.  

In a time where it feels as though we are living with multiple assaults in the form of a relentless disease, a tremendous lack of will toward defeating it, intractable racial injustice abounding, an economy cratering in the face of the pandemic, a safe and legal election threatened, and on and on it goes, this promise from the psalmist is an important word of comfort.  Or, as Martin Luther put it, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” 

When our world is shaking, it is easy to forget the promises of God, the one who walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death.  So it is important for us to lift up this good news at a moment like this. 

Yet it is not enough.  It is never enough. 

Besides accepting and celebrating the promises of God, we are always called to do something, to be something, as people committed to following Jesus Christ, the one who came not to be served but to serve.  Its why the Matthew 25 initiative is so important to me, enlisting us to be at the forefront of building vital congregations, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty. 

I have long loved the three stories that make up Matthew 25.  They are so simple in their claim, yet profound in their effect.  Be prepared, use what you have, focus your efforts on those whom society forgets or rejects. 

A quote often mistakenly attributed to Theodore Roosevelt says, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”  It’s a bit of folksy wisdom, but one that can have profound consequence. 

It is easy to become immobilized by the sheer magnitude of the needs around us.  Dismantle structural racism?  Eradicate systemic poverty?  Me?  Impossible! 

But the quote won’t let us go that easily.  You can’t do everything for justice?  Do something for justice!  You can’t solve poverty?  Do something about poverty! 

For me over the past year this has meant working on preparation like the 10 bridesmaids, taking time to learn more about privilege and how it has influenced not only the opportunities afforded me in life, but how it has influenced my thinking and actions, as well.  I still have a long way to go.  But I am committed to learning and to listening. 

I’ve also been blessed to being involved in a congregation-based ministry working with Belleville-area families in crisis. 

Neither of these will dismantle racism or eradicate poverty.  But maybe they can begin to dismantle my racism and ease poverty where I am.  

This is the call of the gospel in uncertain and difficult days.  Hear and be comforted, yes!  But also hear and be moved to action. 

Rev. Bob Jensen
Bridge Presbytery Leader
rjensen@glpby.org

 

Wading into Pandemic Technology

Blog Post by
Janice McMillen
Presbytery Communications Associate


When the COVID19 Pandemic hit, our presbytery was ready. In the summer of 2019, the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy began utilizing Zoom Web Conferencing to host meetings. They decided it was important to allow commissioners, congregant guests, and pastors, from a geographical distance, the ability to join meetings remotely and still feel connected and heard, as if they were present in the meeting room. I am now thankful that our presbytery made that decision.

In late February of 2020 it became clear that for the safety and health, to avoid COVID19 spread, we needed to change our mission and ministry in a larger spectrum. In our journey of 2020, we had reached the gravel bar of a deep stream. We could sink, attempt a dangerous jump over or we could wade right in.

In chaos, in challenges faced, and in fear unchecked we can become overwhelmed. That is easy to do, and I am guilty of doing that myself, but it also forces us into making a choice of either attempting to jump the stream, or wade right in and get wet. I, in my adult years, am not that athletic so wading into the stream was my only option. I am thankful to our congregations who joined us in the stream and those who will in the future.

The congregations of our presbytery are diverse in many ways, so the challenges they face technologically are also diverse. In some churches there is little, slow or no bandwidth, some have no consistent week to week pastoral leadership, some have financial challenges that make purchasing technological resources outright, almost impossible, and some were uncertain their age allowed them to successful learn how to use new technology.

Zoom, audio/visual elements, live streaming cameras, Facebook and Instagram Live, etc. are useful tools that have allowed us to meet, worship, fellowship, study and support one another in a variety of ways. Creativity and passion have been crucial, as well as the presbytery technology grants.

The presbytery in two waves, made technology grants available to our member congregations, so that they could maintain and sustain their relationships within their congregation and community. Below, and in the coming weeks’ newsletters you will find a brief statement from one congregation on how those grants helped their ministry and mission.

We continue to pray for all our congregations’ mission and ministries into 2021, and though no doubt the year will be filled with challenges, it will also be filled with testimonies of overcoming those challenges with unity, strength and purpose.

Let us wade into 2021 together….

“The past year has been a challenge to every church, but, with the help of several volunteers from the congregation and a technology grant from the presbytery, St. Mark rose to the challenge. We created an online video devotion that runs three days a week called The St. Mark Spark. We also expanded our video capabilities in the sanctuary and are now able to perform multiple shots of pastors, liturgists, and musicians. This helps to make the service look more professional and has allowed members and guests to feel like they are in this sacred space even as we must remain separated. St. Mark is very thankful to the presbytery for this grant and for helping us to share Christ’s love in new ways.” St. Mark Presbyterian Church, Ballwin, Missouri

Peace,

Janice McMillen
Communications Associate
jmcmillen@glpby.org

 

Competition about Compassion

Blog Post by
Janice McMillen
Communications Associate
jmcmillen@glpby.org


I am a competitive person and was raised to be so, but only in team sports. In my everyday life I compete against myself, and I get that from my dad. He challenged us daily by asking, “what did you do to help someone today?” and if we couldn’t immediately answer, he would continue with, “I am disappointed – you had the opportunity to help someone today and you didn’t.”  That was how my dad disciplined. He used his voice. Those words, in addition to my competitive drive, made me work harder to address my need to be a better person.

That is what I love about the 2019 Presbytery wide challenge of addressing Hunger Action as a body of faith. It is a competition of and in compassion. Our churches are mostly filled with die hard sports fans, but we also have equally competitive, yet compassionate ministries.   Win – Win!

Recently we announced that we have 34 of our 76 congregations addressing hunger in their communities in some manner. Not quite 50% – but a huge jump from the 7 that we had at the beginning of the year.

Our congregations were challenged and being the competitive compassionate people that they are, they stepped up to share with our denomination what they were already doing for the most part. We didn’t ask that they do more, rather we asked them to report what they are already doing…from hosting or volunteering at food pantries to community gardens, from backpack programs to meal nights, from Christmas food boxes to writing politicians, and more.   

Is your church a Hunger Action Congregation yet? There are still 42 that are not accounted for on the list.  If you aren’t sure, the list can be found here.

If you are not listed, please reach out to your church leadership and see what you can do to make our denomination aware of your work. Continue that competitive compassionate drive until all our congregations announce hunger has no place in their communities. You see, when we address what we already know about our congregations, our communities, and our world, we can improve the world around us.

If you have questions about the process, you can find the information about Hunger Action here, or email or call me and I will help! I am competitive enough that I would love to lead our entire denomination in combatting hunger, right here in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, with ALL our congregations as a part of the team.

Peace,

Janice McMillen

 

Connected Church

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


 The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love. G-1.0102

At the last Presbytery Gathering, we tried something new. We invited commissioners and participants to come down on Friday and stay overnight for Saturday’s Gathering. On Friday afternoon, the Peace Park of First, Cape Girardeau, was dedicated. The service was open to the public. The audience was filled with church members, Presbyterians who had arrived early for the Saturday gathering, local people who support the church, onlookers, and those just passing by.

It was a beautiful event that included the unveiling of two statues that were created by local artists. Rev. Ellen Gurnon, the new pastor at First, gave a stirring prayer. All hung around to enjoy snacks, music, fellowship, the statutes, and the beautiful garden.

The Peace Park is a testament of First’s commitment to the community that surrounds it. The congregation has created a space where people can just hang out with one another in the shadow of the church. There is a playground where kids can play safely. I can envision people on blankets enjoying one another while the children play. All in the name of peace. All in the name of Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.

What brought gladness and peace to my heart that day was the fellowship of congregations and support of the presbytery for this small congregation in southern Missouri over 2 hours from St. Louis.  It spoke to the core of what it means to be Presbyterian and what it means to be a presbytery.

Being presbytery means being connected to one another, supporting one another, and showing up for one another. Sometimes it may be inconvenient and to do so may even temporarily disrupt our lives. But this is the core of who we are. Being on committees and teams, attending meetings, making time to serve the local congregation and the larger church. These are also ways we live out our Presbyterian ethos.

I dream of a day when larger congregations in St. Louis and Illinois show up for events of smaller congregations in other parts of Missouri and Illinois. In this dream, smaller congregations show up for things at larger congregations as well. They each show up to learn and to have fellowship. It is not about one who is wealthy giving to another who is in need. As we tap into God’s abundance, we realize each has something to give to the other. Distances are crossed in both directions because true ministry is a gift exchange. This is a dream within our grasp. I saw a clear demonstration of this in Cape Girardeau. Perhaps our presbytery can be a garden of peace, where young, old, large, small, and all flavors of Presbyterians and others can fellowship and play. Let’s make this happen all over our presbytery!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Shining at GA

COLA Co-Moderators, Rev. Cedric Portis and Rev. Carol DeVaughan

Rev. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


I’m going to need my Thesaurus to find the proper words to describe the job our Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) is doing at General Assembly. I will need help finding words to thank all of the volunteers who are participating in GA. Let me start with outstanding, and admirable. I have to add fantastic and incredible.

The Friday night Welcome to St. Louis event, which had never been done in the history of GA, was a sensational success. The music, food, and raffle created a spirit of fellowship and family. This was the goal that Carol Devaughn had when she came up with the idea. We believe this will become part of GA going into the future.

Saturday Worship was extraordinary. The theme of water was brilliant. Thank you Susan Niesen. The reading of the scripture was astounding. The choir was angelic. The dance and singing of “Wade in the Water” thrilled the hearts of the worship participants. I have been attending GA since the year 2000. This was one of the best worship services I’ve been a part of.

Allow me to give a shout out to the video! We have a link on the website, but you can view it here. The video helped to put Giddings-Lovejoy in context. It lifted up our diversity, challenges, opportunity, and the way we have come together as a presbytery. Great idea. Great job.

To all of the churches who hosted convention attendees during Sunday morning worship, thank you! The busses arrived back from the congregations with people full of smiles and joy! Thank you all so much!

Did you attend Bible Study? On Monday morning Deborah Krause created the theological template for becoming a 21st century church and presbytery. Tuesday morning Raj Nadella followed her lead on Tuesday morning. Our souls and spirits were fed. Their teaching was a feast in the Holy Spirit!

And then there was the march on Tuesday. Hundreds of Presbyterians marched from the convention center to the Justice Center to bail our kin out of jail! The denomination raised over $47,000 and the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy raised over $2,000 through the giving button on the webpage. Erin Counihan had a crazy dream for a public action. Well, this is what God can do with our dreams.

I wish I could name and thank everyone for your work, help, and efforts. I hope to meet and greet all of the volunteers while you are serving at the convention center. I am so proud of you. I am so proud, happy, and humbled to be your presbytery leader. Giddings-Lovejoy has become a shining light of what a presbytery can do when we all work together.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

From the Middle East to Missouri

Blog Post by the
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


Next week I will be traveling to Israel. I have the opportunity to lead a group of 15 African American clergy as part of Interfaith Partners For Peace. This 10 day trip will allow me to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, business people, politicians, and educators who are building bridges for peace in this difficult part of the world. I went on a similar trip last year as part of a group of clergy and rabbis. My purpose and rationale is to learn how people with deep disagreements, histories, and narratives, find ways to live together.

As I leave Missouri, I am going at a time the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has issues a travel advisory for people of color who are coming to this state. Even though African Americans have a 75% greater chance than White people of being stopped by the police while driving, the advisory is pointing at a larger issue, SB43. This bill makes it more difficult for an employee to prove racial or gender discrimination. The bill also affects whistleblowers and the amounts they can collect. According to the Governor’s office, the bill is considered business friendly, and reduces the amount of frivolous lawsuits. I have yet to see statistics on the number of discrimination lawsuits being filed in Missouri, and I have not found how many of these lawsuits are deemed “frivolous.” By the way, the representative who submitted the original bill is being suited for racial discrimination in his small business. Business friendly indeed!

Traveling in certain parts of Missouri brings a sickening feeling in my stomach. I am less worried about traveling to the Middle East than I am driving to some of our Presbyterian churches. I have not been stopped by the police, called obscene names, or treated with any disrespect. But I know this reality is present; maybe at the next gas station I’m at, or restaurant I sit down in for coffee. There is fear on Missouri highways for African Americans, and it is palpable.

Tomorrow I will be standing with others at Canfield, in memory of Michael Brown’s shooting. His murder sparked protests and violence. But it also created the Ferguson Commission that has several strategies for approaching racism in our state.

Middle East tensions, NAACP travel advisory, Michael Brown. Could this all be connected? Perhaps it is about how we are different people, and how we can choose to live together in peace, or in bitterness and violence. Maybe the Middle East can teach the Midwest about the struggle for peaceful coexistence, and the consequences when we fail.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

In-N-Out

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

 

 


In-N-Out

I spent the weekend in California visiting Marilyn. We spent our time enjoying the wonderful weather and the local eateries. One of my favorite haunts is the “In-N-Out” burger joint. This west coast chain opened in 1945 as a drive through only burger restaurant. Today, In-N-Out can be found in California, Texas, Arizona, and Utah. Now, there is indoor seating to enjoy the meal, as well as the drive-through. 

 What strikes me about In-N-Out is their menu. It only contains three items: burger (single or double), fries, and a drink. Then there are the combinations: single burger with fries and a drink, single cheese burger with fries and a drink, double burger with fries and a drink, double cheeseburger with fries and a drink. 1-2-3 or 4. That’s it. The only question is “Do you want onions?” Furthermore, In-N-Out makes delicious hamburgers! No nuggets, no salad, no wraps. Simple. And they are highly successful. There is always a line inside and cars circle around the building’s drive-through.

 And here is the connection: The primary attraction for millennials to congregations is simplicity and authenticity.  

 In his blog “Reaching Millennials,” Jefferson Bethke writes, “You don’t need the fog and lights to get young people to show up at your church.” He goes on to write about the driving need millennials have for authentic prayer, and theologically sound and biblically based preaching. In the Huffington Post, David Briggs summed it up in the KISS principal: Keep it spiritual, stupid. He writes, “(Millennials) are looking for something that connects to the divine in a palpable way.” 

As we seek ways to draw younger people to our congregations, perhaps the answer to moving forward is looking backward. The answer may not be more bells and whistles, but more emphases on what we know and do well: an experience with God through preaching, prayer, and theological study. This experience may mean an invitation to study or prayerful reflection. It may mean walking a labyrinth or spiritual exploration through small groups. In-N-Out is a reminder that practicing traditional spirituality may be our best hope for engaging in the future. 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Passion Drives Membership

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org

Passion Drives Membership

Since arriving in St. Louis, I’ve heard so much about the Missouri Botanical Garden. Last week I and a group of people volunteering at the office went over for lunch at Sassafras Café. The volunteers talked up the garden on the trip over. The place was filled with people coming and going; talking with one another about the various flowers and plants. I got so excited, I became a member!

Passion drives membership…

As your Transitional Presbytery Leader, I spend a lot of time in numbers (not the book of Numbers in the Bible!). I am constantly massaging our presbytery statistics to figure out our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. At the Vision Team meeting last week, Mike Willock and I shared information about the presbytery trends as seen through our annual statistics. Here are some of the highlights of the highlights!

Membership Totals

We have 79 Congregations with 12,585 members. We lost 13.5% of our membership in 2016. If we remove Bonhomme from the statistics, we lost 4.5% of our members in 2016.

  • 18 Congregations grew.  The total increase was 112.
  • 36 Congregations lost members. Total losses were 708.

Membership Attendance

  • On Average 73 people attend worship each Sunday.
  • 15 congregations had 25 members or less in worship each Sunday.

Age

  • 47% of our members are over age 65.
  • 5 Congregations have 75% or more of their members over 65.

Racial Ethnic

  • 10% of presbytery members are racial ethnic. 90% of these are of African descent.
  • However, 50% of our congregations have zero Racial Ethnic members.

As I visit congregations, I hear the concerns about membership declining, aging congregations, and lack of youth and young adults. These are real concerns indeed.

I’ve been inspired in my Lenten reading by James Baldwin’s book, The Cross of Redemption. Baldwin writes, “We are misled here because we think of numbers. You don’t need numbers; you need passion. And this is proven by the history of the world.”

I believe Baldwin has something here. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the passion. And there is a lot of passion happening in our presbytery! After writing last week’s article about my visit to New Hope Presbyterian church, I received four emails from other congregations expounding on the interesting ways they do worship, and the energy and passion they experience. This week I am now hearing more and more stories about congregations where exciting things are happening.

I believe passion can drive numbers. When the gospel is being preached and the liturgy is being done with creativity, quality, and excellence, people tend to show up. But the passion cannot stop with the choir and the pastor. The members must show passion about their God and their faith as well. I believe when people are excited about something they tend to share their excitement with others.

So, where is your passion? What makes you get up in the morning and want to live the day? Where is the passion in your congregation? I’d like to hear about it, and share your story with others.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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Blended Church

Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy

Transitional Leader Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
choward@glpby.org

 


Blended Church

Imagine a congregation holding worship in a multi-use space instead of a traditional sanctuary. The ceiling shows steel cross beams and large round lighting. The walls are concrete block with sound proofing to offset the tile floor. Instead of pews bolted to the ground, the movable chairs can change and conform to whatever activity the congregation needs. And yet, the windows are inspiring stain glass. Symbols of faith are throughout the space, including a beautiful oval shaped baptismal font on a rise in the center of the space. The preacher moves from pulpit to font; from a message of hope to a prayer of discipleship.

The sanctuary I’m describing is New Hope Presbyterian church in St. Charles. On the outside it looks like a typical church. On the inside, however, it looks like a post-modern space with traditional trappings. The space attracts young people and young adults while holding on to older more traditional worshipers. The space is what the Fresh Expressions movement calls mixed economy. Mixed economy is the “vision of new and existing expressions of church working together in mutual encouragement and support.” It is a vision where new ways and old traditions work side by side. One type of church doesn’t replace the other. But both work together to bring about something new.

Space is important, but even more important is the ministry happening in the space. And there is a lot of ministry going on at New Hope!

Between the two worship services, I sat in a class called A Parent’s Journey. This group of young adult parents are preparing to present their children for baptism on Easter. The class meets from January until Pentecost and is led by members, and not the pastor! Any and all questions are on the table. Pastor Chris James adds, “They will begin talking about the challenges of raising children in faith, including how they might support one another in intentionally living out the promises of baptism for them and their children.”

According to the book, The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones writes that only 35% of mainline young people who go through confirmation return to the church. That’s 3-4 out of 10. I believe New Hope has found a way to increase those odds!

Rev. Craig M. Howard