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

GLPby 30 Days of Thanks Giving

Blog Post by
Vision Team Moderator
Elder Barbara Bowyer

Of Thanks Giving

November has got to be one of my favorite months of the year. The weather is beautiful, the last days of fall are showing off their vibrant colors, and a there is a noticeable chill in the air. I especially love to walk in Forest Park and kick my feet through the leaves underfoot, making the most wonderful crunching noise. The holidays are on the brink of erupting. My life is filled with many happy memories. The point is: it is November. AKA Turkey month. AKA the time of year when stores put up all the Christmas decorations (if they hadn’t already done so!).

But this year is different. Large gatherings of family and friends are discouraged as COVID continues to ravage our community. Residents of local nursing homes are continuing to feel isolated as visitations are curtailed or stopped. As we enter this season of Advent, it is easy to be downcast, to think we have lost so much. But we have much for which to be thankful. If you are reading this, you have access to technology that allows you to stay connected. If you are reading this, you were given an education that taught you to read. If you are reading this, you have been given the gift of sight. If you are reading this, you are most likely to be a member of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery and one of its member churches, part of a community that cares for one another during these uncertain times.

How, then, should we respond? I would offer that we need to focus outward and offer the gift of “thanks giving” to others. The challenge is to give something to someone; the gifts can be anything given to anyone…money, food, old clothes, crafts, your time, or even kind words. You can start the 30 days any time; perhaps you will choose to start right away or wait until Advent begins – the choice is yours. You can see my Thanks Giving calendar below for ideas, but you are encouraged to make it personal for you and your family.

30 Days of Thanks Giving

  1. Think about someone from your past that you are grateful for. A teacher. A pastor. A youth leader. Write them a note and tell them why you are thankful for them.
  2. Pay it forward. At the coffee shop? Going through the drive-through? Pay for the next group of people in line.
  3. Give away some clothes that you wear. Give to a local thrift store or the homeless person you regularly pass on the way to work.
  4. Write a thank you note to a health care worker for their tireless efforts in serving others.
  5. Give a big tip to your waiter and waitress. Tell them why they are good at their job.
  6. Drop your loose change in a Salvation Army red kettle when you see one.
  7. Do a chore that a co-worker or spouse normally does.
  8. Send a letter to a friend or relative in another city and tell them something going on in your world and why you are thinking of them.
  9. Write a note/send a card to a shut-in from your church. Have the children draw a picture to include with the card.
  10. Slow down and pay a sincere compliment to someone today.
  11. Give $10, $20, $50 or $100 to some random person you sense has a need today.
  12. Send a text message to someone today with an inspiring Bible verse.
  13. Make cookies for your neighbor.
  14. Draw a picture for your friend, co-worker, or spouse of one of your favorite memories.
  15. Purchase and give a toy to a local toy drive.
  16. Go on a long walk, and notice—really notice—all the little things that God has done in creation for you. Write God a thank-you letter.
  17. Clean out your closet or clean out a desk drawer and give away those things you have been thinking you would use someday but never have.
  18. Say thank you to someone and look into their eyes when you do it.
  19. Tape change to a vending machine.
  20. Buy a bird feeder or make a pinecone bird feeder and feed the birds.
  21. Support a local or national nonprofit with a cash gift of any amount.
  22. Write a thank you note to your pastor.
  23. Write a positive Facebook post about all the good in the world because of the things God has done.
  24. Support a small business in your area.
  25. Write a thank you note to a teacher and enclose a gift card to a favorite restaurant of coffee shop.
  26. Put a $1 in the next tip jar you see.
  27. Donate a favorite book to a homeless shelter.
  28. Buy some canned goods and donate them to your local food pantry.
  29. Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  30. Adopt a grandparent at a local assisted living facility and send him/her a card. If you have children, have them draw a picture to include.

Elder Barbara Bowyer
Vision Team Moderator
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy


Finding Hope

Guest Blog by
Rev. Max Hill
UKirk – StL



Several months ago, I was sitting in a Zoom meeting of campus ministers from around the country. The meeting was focused on helping us to connect and share ideas about how we could help one another as pastors whose ministries are akin to one another.

Throughout the call, I began a group text with several friends (also in the meeting) about our frustrations with things that were being said in the call. One of the main points of contention was centered around the idea of hope. Many people on the call were wrestling with the question of “how we can bring hope to our students as they return to college campuses this year.”

Now we are all pastors and recognize the need for hope in the lives of our congregants. However, we worried that by jumping directly to “finding hope”, we’d create a version of it that wasn’t real. That it would be a “hope” divorced from lived experience, filled with platitudes about how to “make the most of a pandemic” (and I’m not in the business of “making the most” of people’s very real suffering, death, and loss).

We worried that jumping to hope leapt right past people’s anxiety, past their fear, not recognizing it as something that is substantial which affects everyday life.

What we wanted to recognize in the conversation is that ministry is enough when it offers connection, listening, and recognition of suffering.

This semester, UKirk St. Louis, has been utilizing every avenue that we can to address the needs of students. Our twice weekly community Zoom meetings offer a brief moment of connection, one-on-one pastoral conversations allow us to listen to what student experiences, and our podcast Bible study allows us to engage with topics like faith and politics, anti-racism, LGBTQ+ identity and scripture, and topics of mental health and caring for one’s wellbeing. When schools changed their housing policies for the year, we are working to provide meal delivery gift cards and fresh produce and recipes to students who are unexpectedly without the guarantee afforded to them by a meal plan.

There are certainly moments throughout this year that have provided me with hope. But it’s not a hope that “we’ll make it through” or a hope that “things will all return to normal” – because I have no way of knowing what the future holds.

The hope that I find is in moments where students continue to connect with one another. When they bring me ideas about topics of faith that they want to explore. I find hope when I hear from students who found creative ways to cope with an eating disorder by scheduling meals with friends so that they would eat that day. Or when they tell me about how they’ve been working to get other students on their campus registered to vote.

These moments give me hope because they are real ways of recognizing that God is at work in the lives of the congregants of UKirk St. Louis.

I’m often asked how people can support UKirk this year. Many of our presbytery churches, communities, and individuals love to provide meals and meet students each year. But this year in order to keep everyone safe our meetings are all virtual. However, we are still living into our mission to feed students spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

In order to do this, we need the financial support of your churches and you as individuals. Checks can be mailed to the presbytery. And you can give securely online through our website

Max Hill (they/them/theirs)

*Folx is not a misspelling this is an intentional spelling used to indicate the inclusion of marginalized groups


Too many pastors are falling on their own swords

Article shared from Baptist News Global

Well, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been imagining killing myself,” the pastor said.

I was on a Zoom call recently with 10 pastors across three denominations, when one of the participants shared a struggle with suicidal thoughts in these challenging days. By the time the meeting concluded, four of the 10 had found the courage to admit their own suicidal ideations.

I was the youngest person in the group, so these aren’t young, green pastors. These are veterans who have gone through plenty of difficult things in their time, but today’s intensity and difficulty is unprecedented.

One pastor shared the heartbreaking story of going back to church too early and losing a beloved church member to COVID-19. Another shared how congregants were daily emailing him with threats to leave the church if they didn’t reopen immediately — and withholding their tithes until then.

One pastor was fired. Her husband passed away several years ago, leaving her a single mother of two children. Without childcare, she was forced to work from home as best she could. Parenting is a full-time job, and parenting two small children alone during a pandemic stretches the metaphor beyond its breaking point. Her church was unhappy with her leadership, sermon quality and lack of a vision during this time of crisis, so they let her go.

Another pastor was forced to lay off half the church’s staff members because so many of the church’s congregants lost their jobs and are unable to give right now.

I know of another pastor who wasn’t in this meeting who after preaching about race one week, a congregant came to the church office and kicked his office door off of its hinges in an attempt to incite the pastor into a fist fight.

One shared that the survey results the congregation took about whether they should return to in-person worship or not resulted in a nearly perfect 50/50 split, with several members writing in the comments section that they would leave if the church (1) didn’t open immediately or (2) attempted to open at all.

“Leading anxious congregations amidst a pandemic, a hyper-partisan culture, a civil rights movement, and an upcoming election is destroying the lives of our pastors. Literally.”

Leading anxious congregations amidst a pandemic, a hyper-partisan culture, a civil rights movement, and an upcoming election is destroying the lives of our pastors. Literally.

The only thing that surprised me about the confessions made by these four pastors struggling with suicidal ideation was that there were only four admissions. This Zoom call only echoed the reality that I’ve heard other pastor friends across the nation report for months now.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about King Saul being defeated in battle. Instead of waiting on the opposing army to torture and ridicule him before killing him, he chooses to take his own life by falling on his sword.

Well, pastors are already facing ridicule not just from their adversaries but from many of their own congregants. They’re being tortured by their own inability to lead their churches out of a pandemic, out of hyper-partisanship and out of racism.

Falling on their swords is starting to look pretty attractive.

Church always has been a place where people can act foolish with little consequence — where people have the space to act out toward clergy in ways that aren’t safe to do toward their bosses or their spouses. Being a pastor never has been easy, but this is a new level of hell that pastors are living.

If you’re a congregant reading this, here’s some advice:

  • First, accept the fact that your church is not The Church. The body of Christ here on earth is not Christ himself. Don’t conflate the two. Churches are fallible organizations full of sinners saved by grace.

“Those people who are hellbent on saving the church are ironically the very ones who end up doing her the most harm.”

In my experience, those people who are hellbent on saving the church are ironically the very ones who end up doing her the most harm. The person who chooses to love the church just as she is, for this is what Christ does, is the one who is able to grow with her.

So stop comparing your church to the one down the street or the one your kids go to. Accept your church for who she is.

  • Second, accept that your pastor is a shepherd, not The Shepherd. If we’re unable to accept that our pastors are human beings with flaws, that says more about us than it does our pastors.

And stop comparing them to the pastor down the street or on the podcast you listen to. It isn’t fair to your pastor, and such comparison incites in us the sin of envy. One of the Ten Commandments teaches us not to covet —and I believe healthy church members will not covet their neighbor’s pastor.

  • Third, pray for your pastor. Pray for his or her mental health. Pray for the pastor’s family. Pray for the pastor to flourish. Pray for God to give you understanding and patience with your pastor and to show you how to be a source of light and life during this time of death and darkness.
  • Fourth, for the next six months, commit to staying and being the best church member you can be. I’ve learned that when I get angry emails, I don’t need to respond on the same day. I write a response, then I sleep on it. If I still feel like I need to say those things the next day, then I do. But 90% of the time I don’t, and I craft an entirely new email.

If you don’t like how things are going in your church, that’s OK. No one is saying you should, but I am absolutely suggesting that you keep it to yourself until the pandemic is over and then, if you still think it’s worth addressing, do so at that time.

It’s common for church members to smile to themselves when their pastor does something they like but never reach out with a compliment — and then be quick to speak out when the pastor does something they don’t like. That means the only time we hear from some of you is when you are unhappy. It’s exhausting, and isn’t an honest representation of who you are or your relationship with the church and your pastor. Share the good things, and share them often.

Practice the Christian virtue of being long-suffering, and ride this storm out. Be committed to your church. Be committed to its financial and spiritual success.

  • Fifth, advocate for you pastor’s mental health. Ask committees to use emergency funds to pay for your pastor to see a counselor, get a spiritual director or even just get out of town for a bit. Assure your pastor that if she or he needs to take a leave of absence or an extended vacation, they are empowered to do so. Their lives may depend on it.

If you’re a pastor reading this, I have advice for you too:

  • First, get a counselor. Find a professional outside of your congregation whom you can get real with, and then be brutally honest with that counselor.
  • Second, be honest with your primary care physician about anxiety and depression. You made need to see a psychiatrist, but odds are that your PCP is dealing with a lot of mental health issues right now and may have some wonderful advice for you. And you made need medication in the short term. It’s worth it. Your life may be at stake.

“We are in a pandemic. Reevaluate and recreate realistic expectations.”

  • Third, do less. Being a pastor right now is killing pastors. That isn’t hyperbole or a metaphor. The workload and the mental strain are inhumane and unsustainable. We are in a pandemic. Reevaluate and recreate realistic expectations.

Some things can be delegated to other staff, deacons, committees or lay teams. Other things will need to be dropped for a time. Hopefully your church will understand if you communicate your needs to them, but even if they don’t, losing your job is better than losing your life.

  • Fourth, practice friendship. One of the worst things about the pandemic is the isolation. We are in this together, but we are doing it separately. Reach out to your friends and put a weekly or monthly Zoom date on the calendar. Have a drink, cuss, play video games or anything else that brings even a modicum of relief to the internal pressure you’re carrying.

Community and intimacy are prescriptions for the spiritual disease of isolation, and you probably cannot get your prescription filled in your congregation right now.

  • Fifth, lean on your peers. No one can support a pastor quite like another pastor. Ask a few trusted peers to be in a small peer group that carries each other’s pandemic burdens for the next six months. And then tell them the truth, pray for each other fervently and often, and hold each other accountable for their taking care of mental health. When my other pastor friends ask me if I’ve made an appointment with my counselor yet, then I feel compelled to do so in a way that I don’t otherwise feel.

You may think you don’t have any more room to carry anyone else’s burden, and that’s true, but I’d wager you will find the burden is actually lessened when shared with competent companions who are on the same journey.

Jakob Topper serves as pastor of NorthHaven Baptist Church in Norman, Okla.


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

Introducing Matthew 25

Matthew 25 will be introduced at the Saturday Presbytery Gathering. The three pillars of the program are vital congregations, poverty, and anti-racism. The following reflection from Julie Nicolai is about her experience on the recent Dismantling Racism and White Privilege bus trip to the Montgomery Alabama.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


A Journey Never to be Forgotten

I recently had the pleasure of going on the bus tour to Montgomery, Alabama to visit civil rights sites sponsored by the Presbytery’s Team on Dismantling Racism and Privilege.  The trip included attendees from varied backgrounds and a number of churches within the Presbytery.  We visited two museums and attended Sunday morning worship service at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

The service at Dexter Avenue was amazing, with Grammy award caliber singers, dancing, shouting and clapping, plus a sermon that made me want to get up and take action.  I must say we blew the roof off the place. 

We visited The Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Incarceration on Saturday.  It was a sobering experience.  It took us on a journey from the horrors of slavery, through the terrorism of the Jim Crow era, and on to the contemporary injustices of our criminal justice system.  Along the way, we were brought to tears by powerful period images, quotes and interactive displays.  I will not soon forget the absolute and inescapable brutality of systematic rape forced upon female slaves (and some male slaves) by the white plantation system.  I will forever remember the photograph showing a hanged man’s feet above a crowd of leering men, some of them laughing.

Our visit to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was powerful, eerie, angering and sad, yet left us with hope for redemption and salvation.  Hundreds of large, metal rectangular blocks hang from the ceiling of the memorial.  Each one has the name of a county and the names of the people that were lynched there.  Some were lynched for simply looking at a white person the wrong way, or just being in the vicinity when a barn happened to burn down.  The most amazing thing about it is that exact replicas of each block are laid on the ground outside the Memorial, with each county being challenged to come and claim their respective block, thus assuming accountability for its actions, and initiating the healing process.  So far, 40 counties are in the process of claiming blocks. 

There are 4,000 documented lynching’s in the United States.  They are not confined to the South.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, more that are undocumented.  There were 60 documented lynching’s in Missouri and one in St. Louis County.  Here are the names of the victims of lynching’s that occurred within the Presbytery of Giddings – Lovejoy’s boundaries:

  • John Buckner, 1894, St. Louis County          
  • Erastus Brown, 1897, Franklin County
  • Ray Hammonds, 1921, Pike County             
  • Henry Caldwell, 1882, Iron County
  • William McDonald, 1883, Pike County        
  • Curtis Young, 1898, Pike County
  • Sam Young, 1898, Pike County                    
  • Love Redd, 1915, Pike County
  • William Henderson, 1895, Cape Girardeau County

Julie Nikolai, History Team of the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy




Did you know…what our Session Clerks are doing???

Blog Post by
Rev. Joy Myers
Stated Clerk


G-3.0104  Officers

            …Each council shall elect a clerk who shall record the transactions of the council, keep its rolls of membership and attendance, maintain any required registers, preserve its records, and furnish extracts from them when required by another council of the church.  Such extracts, verified by the clerk, shall be evidence in any council of the church.  The clerk of the session shall be a ruling elder elected by the session for such a term as it may determine.

           I KNOW!  That can sound intimidating…but the wonderful part is that we have so many amazing session clerks in this presbytery who support one another and share ideas of how to keep the myriad of details that are required in the minutes, registers and rolls of each congregation.  You always know you have support.

            We have held three peer review gatherings for session clerks:  August 10 at New Hope Presbyterian Church in St Charles; September 14 at Sullivan Presbyterian Church in Sullivan and September 21 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St Louis.  There were 46 different congregations represented out of the 76 congregations of the presbytery.  I really want to see 100% of the congregations participate in this review.  We currently have over 60% participation.

            There were some areas where we found that we do not always follow the guidelines set forth in the Book of Order or we were unfamiliar with them.

  • First: G-3.0201b, W-2.4012, W-3.3616e – ask that we provide for distribution of the sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper (at least quarterly)] to members isolated from the community’s worship.
  • Second: G-3.0202a – states that commissioners are elected to presbytery and report after each presbytery meeting. Many said they rotate or that the pastor attends.  We really need the voices of ruling elders as well as teaching elders.  Now that the presbytery is incorporating educational aspects to the gathering times, you never know what idea or information you will take away with you.
  • Third: G-3.0201c – The training, examination, ordination and installation of newly-elected ruling elders and deacons is recorded. Most sessions do a portion of these tasks but the Book of Order asks that sessions do all of them…that it is not up to the pastor but to the session to decide the leadership of the congregation.
  • Fourth: G-3.0113 – There was a financial review or audit. These should be conducted annually even if your session reviews the finances monthly at your meetings.

            We are keeping a copy of the insurance declaration page for property, liability, and officer insurance in the files of the congregations of the presbytery that are kept in the office.

            Three resources available from the Board of Pensions, which you can request directly from them, are:

  • Understanding Effective Salary
  • Living by the Gospel: A Guide to Structuring Ministers’ Terms of Call
  • Federal Reporting Requirements for Churches: What you need to know for 2019

       These are especially helpful as you approach the end of the current budget year and are looking at the compensation for all your church staff but especially the pastor’s terms of call.         

Rev Joy Myers, Stated Clerk

Road to Reconciliation

Blog Post by
Rev. John Harrisson
Dismantling Racism and Privilege (DRAP) Team Moderator

When asked why God’s people in the United States are still so divided by race in churches, neighborhoods, schools and regions of the country, a lot of people tend to shrug their shoulders and say that’s just the way it is. We can be tempted to believe our history of racial violence and subjugation ended with the Civil Rights movement, and the separation we have today can therefore seem self-selecting, a matter of comfort level or choice. It is easy to forget that the separation we still experience was built by design and enforced by law (The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein, lays out this argument particularly well).

This information can feel depressing, but I believe learning more about how racial segregation was built by human hands is, at its root, an exercise in hope. If we still live, move and have our being in divided communities because of what has been built, that means the things that divide us can also be dismantled. Something else can be built in their place. That, in short, is the mission of the Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team. We join Jesus Christ in breaking down the dividing walls (Eph. 2:14) in our presbytery piece by piece, with the hope of building something new in its place.

We can be tempted to believe it is enough to dismantle racist laws. The problem is that while the laws may be gone, the walls they built still remain: in our families; in our churches; in the air we breathe and the media we consume. Our purpose in leading a journey to Montgomery, Alabama this October is to lay a new foundation as a Presbytery, and to see together what God is building.

It has been a breath of fresh air to see all the stakeholders who have pledged to join us on the road to reconciliation. Much more than a simple mission trip, we see this journey as a seed, a new beginning we can bring home with us to take root and grow. It is a seed of interracial community and spiritual formation, a seed of acknowledgement and healing and boldness to approach the throne of grace in our time of need. It is an investment in developing new leadership and stronger networks for a broader project of reconciliation and new growth in the years ahead.

We are closing in on our application deadline of August 1, and so we invite you with urgency and zeal to consider joining us on the bus in October and in the community,  we hope to sustain when we return home.

Details of the journey may be found here.

Rev. John Harrison



Follow Your passion!

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader

This past Saturday, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness, posed two question to approximately 70 Giddings-Lovejoy members. What is your passion?  What are your concerns? The Office of Public Witness is the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Jimmie is the director and also my brother.

The Social Witness Action Team (comprised of social witness team members from across the Synod of Mid-America presbyteries) hosted the Troubling the Waters: For the Healing of the World event. It was a wonderful and relaxing event filled with relevant information, dynamic music, discussions, a nice lunch and fellowship. There were Giddings-Lovejoy members who came from the North and South and East and West in Missouri to learn more about the Office of Public Witness (OPW) and local issues. 

For over 45 minutes, Jimmie gave an overview of the work of his office and reminded us that “people are looking for the presence of the church outside the doors of the church.” He also reminded participants that our Presbyterian forefather John Calvin wrote, “Civil magistery is a calling not only holy and legitimate, but by far the most sacred and honorable in human life… Therefore, we are called to be engaged in the public arena, and ask how God is calling me to act out my faith in the world.” 

What I truly enjoyed about this event was that the Social Witness team provided presenters who embodied a national focus as well as those focusing on local issues. Jimmie discussed national issues (i.e.; sex trafficking, racial injustice, gun violence, and the opioid epidemic, etc.) while the six panelists from local Presbyterian churches and community organizations highlighted their passion and concerns for educational and health equity, community and church relations, elder care, racial justice, payday lending, and the benefits of providing access to community gardens. Each individual presented participants with a wealth of information and resources.

What I loved about this event was that Giddings-Lovejoy folks showed up. The diversity of the participants (age, faith community, race, geography) demonstrated that Presbyterians across this presbytery care deeply about justice. In fact, so deeply that they gave up their Saturday to be a part of this event. Also, people in our communities are passionate not only about engaging social justice issues, but they continue to learn other ways to be a presence of hope and mercy in and for the world. My hope is that this event not only provided new information, but also opened the doors to new friendships and partnerships.

Below are a few links to some of the resources that were mentioned.


Rev. Vanessa Hawkins


  1. Social Witness Office (PCUSA):
  2. Office of Public Witness:
  3. Booklet: Holy Discontent:  Grassroots Advocacy and Organizing in the PC(USA):

Presbytery Practices: In the Neighborhood

Blog Post by
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Designated Associate Presbytery Leader

Last week, all five members of the presbytery staff packed up a day’s worth of work, computers, and snacks and traveled down south to Cape Girardeau for a day “In the Neighborhood.” We have traveled and worked together on several occasions with presbytery gatherings and leadership retreats, but this was different, and I could feel the excitement in the air as I drove down Interstate 55.  “In the Neighborhood” was an intentional team effort to be present to presbytery members in a distinct way – to take our hands and feet into the very geographical regions to which normally only one or two of the staff travels. Normally, our members from these regions travel to us and it was only fair that we travel to them also.

Not only did we take our physical selves into the area, but we took our presbytery practices also.  Over the last year and ½, I have come to recognize and appreciate the spiritual practices embodied by the staff as they carry out their work. Although we do not talk about “presbytery practices,” there are certain perspectives and actions that provide a rhythm to our lives as we work together as people called to serve God, presbytery members, our communities, and each other.

Using those practices, we spent Wednesday evening meeting with teaching and ruling elders and commissioned pastors who had particular situations that needed to be discussed. Thursday we rotated between working on office tasks and greeting visitors. We also called others serving in pastoral leadership roles to check-in with them and offered to pray for them as prompted by the Spirit. Since the next presbytery gathering is at First Cape Girardeau, Leigh and Joy toured the church site with the pastor to discuss the gathering checklist and discuss ways to ensure that the gathering goes as smoothly as possible. Our time there was a joy. Taking the office out into the presbytery was a good idea and if we continue to be guided by the same presbytery practices that we embody in the office in Creve Coeur, I believe we will continue the good work of deepening our connectional ties and strengthening our cords of friendship in ways that will move us closer to the ideal of the Beloved Kindom that God has called us to embody.

Here are the Rules of Life which govern our steps and actions as Giddings-Lovejoy staff:

  • Remembering that we are the Body of Christ called to be a light to the world in tangible and practical ways.
  • Paying attention when others contact us with particular needs, concerns, and questions and responding in an appropriate and caring manner.
  • Praying for others as we learn of their concerns, conflicts, and grief.
  • Listening and learning from others who take the time to share with us and inform our work as staff and colleagues and being appreciative of their wisdom.
  • Breaking bread together as a community of friends and colleagues, thus taking the time to get to know each other beyond the work of the presbytery.
  •  Laughing with and loving all of God’s creation.
  •  Going where God sends us with the right spirit and with an open heart while accepting that things won’t go always as planned, but the experience will give us guidance for next steps.

Rev. Vanessa Hawkins