Better

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


Last week we had our second Zoom presbytery gathering. It was an improvement in many ways over our first attempt in August. Worship with Daniel Ervin and Katheen Henrion was energic, creative, and spiritually enriching. Junie Ewing’s sermon was appropriate and edifying. The time with Ben Sanders created an energy in the chat box that fed the conversation between Ben and David Burgess. The back and forth with the presenter, moderator, and chat was an unexpected delight. When it came time to vote, things went smoothly, allowing full participation with those on Zoom video and those with only audio. The content of business flowed, questions were asked and answered. We ended with fellowship, saying hello and goodbye to so many friendly faces.

The presbytery gathering teaches us that during this time of COVID, things are not the way we want them to be, but we can learn to connect and be in touch with one another. We can improve on what we know and on what we are doing. We can do even better. The presbytery office attempts to model ways in which our congregations, non-profits, and worshiping communities should function. Hopefully through the presbytery gathering, we showed that improvement is possible.

How can you improve the way you are doing your worship, meetings, time with youth, and check-ins? How can we make our time together more meaningful, fulfilling, and enjoyable? I pray that during this season when we are not able to be with one another face to face, that we will continue to improve on our technology, content, and form of our time together. I pray that when we are able to meet face to face, this same zeal to do a better job permeates through our congregations and other ministry environments. Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Pandemic Intersection

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


I recently reached out to an old friend who I haven’t contacted in a while. I simply asked, “How are you doing?” He emailed, “I am doing about as well as can be expected in the midst of a global pandemic, an escalating national crisis demanding racial justice, and the most divisive political campaign in my lifetime. Other than that, I’m doing fine!”

I’m afraid to ask people, “How are you?” It is not that I don’t really want to know. I do. I care very much where folks are during this difficult time. But in hearing their answer, I find myself nodding my head in agreement because I’m feeling the same way too.

The congregations in the presbytery were going through challenges before the pandemic hit. We were struggling with the challenge brought on by declining membership and resources. We were trying to figure out why our children don’t return after confirmation, and why our older adults leave or sit idly on the sidelines. The presbytery was struggling with the reduction in volunteers. Are people just busy? Are people disinterested? Are people just apathetic? Then wham! The pandemic hit.

Keep in mind that the social unrest we are experiencing isn’t because of the pandemic. The viciousness and below the belt politics would have happened anyway as well. The pandemic has caused us to observe these events and take them into our living rooms and dens. The pandemic is the stop sign on the corner of the intersection. It is an intersection we should have been stopping at anyway. But were too busy, too involved, and not paying attention. We just blew past the corner. Now we have no choice. We must stop. We have to look at our society, our congregations, and ourselves and ask, “How are you doing? What is going on?”

The anti-racism work that so many of us are doing is necessary to help us become the church on the other side of the pandemic. The self-reflection and grappling with our political convictions can help us expand our sense of community beyond party lines, or we’ll narrow our gaze as we live into tribalism. The constant barrage of Black lives being lost on camera should open the wells of empathy in our hearts and help us become a welcoming community: a community of justice, a community of inclusion.

There will be another side to the pandemic. It may take one year, or it may take five years, but we will come out of this period of limitations. The type of people we become and the type of church that is resurrected will depend upon how we use this time; what we learn, who we talk to, what we value, and where we find God.

Rev. Craig Howard

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.

 

Taking the Pandemic Seriously

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

I took a two-day trip to Chicago this week to celebrate my oldest daughter’s birthday. It was the first time I’ve traveled since March, and I hadn’t seen my daughters since February. My time with my girls was outstanding and worth the travel and challenges. However, entering into the Chicago metro area was entering into a COVID-19 defense bubble, and it began with the hotel I stayed in.

Upon arrival I was given a letter and verbal instructions on the new rules. There would be no housekeeping service, no daily room cleaning, changing and making of beds, changing of towels and linen, etc. I must phone the front desk if I need any of these items. Furthermore, housekeeping is not allowed in a guest room unless the guest vacates the room for 3 hours. If I need a change of towels, linen, etc. or desire my room to be cleaned, I must arrange it one day in advance. There is no access to public areas. No daily free breakfast. No hanging out in the lounge watching TV. Mask must be worn when outside of my room along with social distancing.

And this was the beginning of my trip. The next morning, I went to a 4-mile walking trail for exercise. I used to run this trail in my younger days, so I am very familiar with it. My first surprise was the number of cars in the lot. There were so many people walking, running, and biking on the trail. I encountered more people while walking 4 miles than I have encountered while walking 150 miles in my village of Ellisville. Even though we were outside in a park, about 90% wore masks, and we all practiced social distancing.

I would learn later that restaurants had signs, “No Mask, No Service.” The city had also established the occupancy capacity for each eating facility. As I drove through Chicago to arrive at my daughter’s high-rise apartment, I was amazed that people walked the sidewalks wearing masks. Masks and social distancing were being observed outside as well as inside of facilities.

At one point I felt like I was in a different world than St. Louis. It was as though the community of Chicago is suffering a great loss, and everyone is pitching in to make sure the intruder who committed the crime would be evicted and not permitted to return. Perhaps this also explains the warmth and friendliness I experienced. Amidst the pandemic, protests, and riots, the residents of the city showed a heart of hospitality and kindness to one another.

As I return home to Ellisville, I am clear where I stand on masks, hand washing, social distancing, and public health. Missouri’s COVID-19 rate is higher than Cook County, where Chicago is located. I pray all within the presbytery will take this pandemic seriously as well. Let’s be well and be safe.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Three Dimensional Worship

Craig in AlaskaOn Sunday I had the opportunity to preach via Zoom at Glendale Presbyterian Church. This is only the third time I’ve preached since the pandemic. Each church has been very different in its technology, liturgy, and location. Twice I’ve preached from home, and once inside of a church. Twice has been by Zoom and once by Facebook live. On Sunday I tried something I’ve never done before. It’s an idea I stole from Liz Kanerva. About two-thirds into my sermon, I had the congregation break into small groups. I had several pre-planned questions for them to discuss. I allowed 10 minutes for the discussions. Afterward, they all returned to hear the conclusion of the sermon.

As a teacher at heart, this style of preaching made me feel like a teaching elder! The time for small group discussions was a moment I could stop, enter a small group, and listen to what is on the minds of the parishioners. I could hear them process the sermon and discover their thoughts and ideas. It was a moment of true liturgy–the work of the people–as they engaged one another and led each other in conversation.

COVID time has not been pleasant, but it has offered us an opportunity for creativity. It is a chance to make our two-dimensional worship into a three-dimensional experience. I’ve seen churches use the Call to Worship as a time for people to greet one another with a wave. I’ve seen people sharing their heartfelt prayers and praying for one another in the chat forum during the time for Prayers of the People. Children’s sermons can be videos, images, and recorded nature walks with conversations. At Glendale we ended worship by turning off the recording of the worship service and sitting and sharing informally our joys and concerns.

What are some creative things your church is doing during this time? What are some ways you have turned this time of cloister into a time of creative growth? Please share your ideas in the response section of the blog, so we can all learn together through the cross-pollination of ideas.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Shuffling Through History

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


Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); . . .

Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention, 1995

We repent of shutting our hearts to the experiences of fellow humans whose stories of pain, suffering, hardship, struggle, love and joy mirror our own life journeys, yet are deprived of privilege and marred by racism.  We have turned our backs and walked away pretending not to see, yet we saw, pretending not to know, yet we knew, and convincing ourselves that we were not complicit, yet we are.

We now know that we as white Christians have benefitted directly and indirectly from these injustices. We name ourselves as complicit and repent.

An Apology to Our African American Sisters and Brothers for The Sin Of Slavery And Its Legacy, Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy, 2020

In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) wrote a stinging apology and rebuke for their history of slavery and white supremacy. Over 15,000 people were present in the Georgia Dome 25 years ago when the document was read and approved. The Resolution was then used as an olive branch to the black community. The L.A. Times wrote, “The Rev. Gary Frost of Youngstown, Ohio, the denomination’s second vice president and the first African American to reach that post, accepted the apology on behalf ‘of my black brothers and sisters.”‘

Earlier this year the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy passed their Apology document. The Apology, created by the Dismantling Racism and Privilege team, is a strong statement that fills in the missing, overlooked, and denied pieces of social history in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. It is exciting to see that congregations are examining the Apology and are using it as a platform to discuss current racial issues in their particular context.

As I read the history of the SBC in Robert P. Jones’ book, White Too Long, I see obvious comparisons between the SBC Resolution and the presbytery’s Apology. Since the SBC has a 25-year head start, what can we learned from how the SBC has incorporated its Resolution on Racial Reconciliation and what may happen with the Apology document?

Jones provides a cautionary tale as he looks at the past 25 years in the SBC. Although the Reconciliation document is filled with repentance, regret, and promises, the church has struggled to move past these emotional sentiments into real racial progress. Jones describes what he calls the White Christian shuffle. This entails “a subtle two steps forward and one step backward pattern of lamenting past sins in great detail, even admitting that they have had pernicious effects but then ultimately denying that their legacy requires reparative or costly actions in the present. It’s a strategy that emphasizes lament and apology, expects absolution and reconciliation, but gives scant attention to questions of justice, repair, or accountability.”

The warning from Jones is clear. If the church is going to move forward on issues of race, it must move from lament to accountability; from repentance to justice; from reconciliation to repair. Moving forward means costing the church something today. I do not know what that means for our presbytery. I know there is a conversation in our denomination with the Presbyterian Loan and Investment Program to access their funding (and debt) of African American congregations. I am aware of presbyteries that create incentives for congregations to interview and hire pastors of color. These examples hint at the type of effort it will take to bring racial change in our presbytery.

I believe that if we are going to make any progress against racism, it will take a sustained determined effort. I pray we keep focused, keep at it, and keep the faith believing that a change is going to come. Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Sylvia Franklin

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


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
daily
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
jewing@glpby.org


“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
choward@glpby.org


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
choward@glpby.org


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