Deciding Versus Discerning

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

I am a youngest child. There are basically two types of youngest children: One says, “Help, I can’t do it!” The other says, “I don’t need your help, I can do it myself.” I’m the second type! My drive for competence and control is what led me to take Home Economics (so I can wash, iron, and cook without anyone’s help!) and obtain a doctorate degree (I’m smart enough to do it without anyone’s help!). Sometimes I think the Presbyterian church is filled with oldest and second type of youngest born children. These are the take control, independent thinking, highly competent, decision making type. Our polity is designed for order and efficiency; it is a polity that works hand-in-hand with a “we can handle this” personality.

Yet God calls us to silence. God calls us to stillness. God wants us to let go of the controls. God speaks to us in prayer and meditation through a still small voice. At a time when meeting to make decisions is the norm, perhaps God is calling us to ancient practice of discernment. In her book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Susan Beaumont quotes Ruth Haley Barton in defining discernment as, “. . .an ever increasing capacity to ‘see’ the work of God in the midst of the human situation, so that we can align ourselves with whatever God is doing.”

Discernment can be done individually or as a committee, team, or group. In either context, discernment means letting go of what we want- what we desire to happen. We then open ourselves up to what God wants as we seek God’s will for the situation or problem. This process is called shedding or letting go. Beaumont writes, “Shedding invites personal indifference. Discerners suspend personal preferences because they don’t value anything as much as they value honoring the soul of the institution and knowing God’s will.”

There are many more elements to discernment in Beaumont’s book including framing the question, grounding in principles, listening, exploring, weighing, choosing, and testing. Discerning is a lot of work! It is not practical to use this process for every decision. But it could be used for individual critical decisions (like when I sought God’s will for becoming your presbytery leader) and group decisions (such as “Should we lease our space? Change our worship? Reorganize our department?”). 

Advent invites us to a reflective pause as we ponder the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. This is a good time to reconnect our spiritual disciplines which are the foundation for discernment. Advent reminds us that no matter how talented or gifted we are, we cannot do it by ourselves. We do God’s best work when we are not in control. And that we need the hope, peace, joy, and love we find in Jesus Christ and in one another.  Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

The work of leadership, pastors, teachers, and chaplains is the work of making decisions. Pastors and other leaders often feel as though they are on an island and often work alone. While there are still a few large congregations with full-time staff, for the most part, the days of multi-staff congregations and full-time staff are behind us. Many pastors find themselves preparing bulletins and vacuuming carpets! Seminary faculty must do their own copying while handling a large teaching load. Hospital chaplains are stretched over several hospitals and have little administrative help with their work. Religious leaderships in various forms are faced with expanded roles with extended time without matching compensation. They face complex problems with varying and contextual answers with even more severe consequences. The demands of religious leaders to have an answer quickly and correctly is matched by the requirement to be relvant, approachable, and “without all that spooky spiritual stuff” in their replies.

As my colleague and Executive Presbyter of Pittsburgh, Sheldon Sorge, likes to say, “Lord give me a tough skin and a tender heart in this work that creates a thin skin and tough heart.”

I’m writing to leaders who may judge themselves harshly for not keeping up or when they make a mistake. I’m addressing those who experience internal guilt when they fall short of their high internal standards and to those who blame themselves when things don’t go as planned. I’m writing to myself.

I have been helped this Advent season by the book Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action by Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini. They spend a bit of time on the subject of self-empathy. Self-empathy is needed when we hear a negative comment, fail at a task, or things don’t go as we would like. It is needed when we respond internally with words like, “I should have known better,” or “What an idiot I am; I can’t believe I did that,” or “I’ll never learn.” They write, “With this kind of response to criticism, we set ourselves up for chronic stress, guilt and shame. If it becomes a deeply entrenched pattern, it can lead to depression.”

Empathy is the ability to listen, connect, and relate to others. Self-empathy demands the same attention and compassion that we share with others to be applied to ourselves. Through self-empathy we hear things differently and respond in healthier ways. It is a way to lighten the burden of leadership by emphasizing our acceptance by God and valuing our feelings and needs in our relationships and lives. As we practice self-empathy, we will learn to love ourselves as we love others.

Rev. Craig M. Howard




Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

Advent is the season of waiting. During advent, we light candles on the advent wreath with each candle representing an element of our faith. These elements are hope, faith, joy, and peace. The fifth candle, Christ’s candle, represents light and purity.

Advent is a time to stop and reflect on our calling in Christ. As Presbyterians, we believe everyone is called to a particular vocation. This calling asks each of us to serve our society and the world. In her book, The Spirit of Advent: The Meaning is in the Waiting, Paula Gooder reflects on the calling of Abraham and Sarah and how their lives can guide us in our sense of call and vocation. She writes, “With God the command is both to go and to come. The ‘go’ element involves leaving behind many things; the command to ‘come’ involves knowing that God will accompany us on the journey.” What is God calling you to leave behind this Advent season?  How do you experience God on your journey of faith?

Advent is a time to believe that the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ is the God who calls us to wait. We are called to wait for the seeds of faith that have been planted in our spirit to sprout into new life. For me, I wait in anxious anticipation for fruitful congregations, chaplains, teachers, new worshiping communities, and other specialized ministries to bud, blossom, and bloom, all in God’s time. What do you find yourself waiting for during this Advent season?

Advent is a time for change. God’s change in God’s time. Change may mean letting go. It often means loss and grief. Gooder writes, “God’s call to us remains a call to change: to leaving and accompanying, to moving and changing, to growing and flourishing. It is part of human nature to yearn for stability, to put down roots, and to stay put; but it is also a rule of nature that things that do not move do not live.” What changes are you welcoming into your life this Advent? 

Advent is a call to life. As we embrace the core elements of our life in Christ – hope, faith, joy, and peace–we enjoy the happiness of God through the fruit of the Spirit. Blessings to all during this Advent season as we engage the Triune God and find new life together. Amen.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. On Saturday at the presbytery gathering, Janice McMillen and I were presenting certificates to the congregations that qualified for Hunger Action. Earlier, Rosemary Mitchell and Bill McConnell from the Presbyterian Mission Agency presented certificates to the 28 congregations that qualified for 4 by 4 special offerings. We had many people coming onto the stage for Hunger Action, and Janice asked them to stay up on the stage so that we could applaud them all together at the end. There were 45 congregations that qualified for Hunger Action. After reading the last name and handing the framed certificate and check to the last congregation, I turned to see rows of smiling faces proudly holding their certificates spread across the length of the stage. For a moment, I was overwhelmed. All I could say was, “Wow!!”

I want to thank all of the congregations that participated and all the commissioners and members that witnessed the celebration and awards on Saturday. I hope each one shares the award with their members at their home church, and make sure they receive applause for their great work. I know this isn’t a stopping point for any of you; it’s just a moment to pause and celebrate. For example, take a look at First Kirkwood’s Rise Against Hunger which they did on Sunday, seen here.

Also on Saturday, Diane Moffett gave an inspiring message promoting the Matthew 25 initiative. For the first time, we live streamed the worship service. So far, we’ve had 173 views! You can view it here. 

As we come to a close of calendar year 2019 and enter the season of Advent, I am anticipating Giddings-Lovejoy doing great things together in 2020. We will flesh out the Matthew 25 program and make significant progress against poverty and racism as we learn ways to become a presbytery of vital congregations. Thank you all, again, for a wonderful presbytery gathering.  Along with the staff, I thank you for your support and an exciting and full 2019! God bless you all!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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





Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

Our next presbytery gathering is one week from Saturday at The Washington Presbyterian church in Washington, Missouri. It will be a time of learning, celebration, and efficient business. I am so happy that we will celebrate the ministry of 51 of our congregations. There are currently 42 congregations who have said yes to participating in the hunger action program. Additionally, 28 of the 51 also participated in four of the special offerings over the past 4 years. Wow!

I often say that there are two words which seem to never go together: all and presbytery. We cannot get all of the presbytery to do anything! But I am pleased that 2/3 participated in these programs. Kudos to each church, pastor, and session that will receive certificates and financial gifts at the presbytery gathering.

According to our mission statement, we are presbytery of dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations. In 2020, I want to focus on us becoming vibrant congregations. This is part of being a Matthew 25 presbytery as well. Although Mathew 25 uses the word “vital congregation,” the idea is the same. Both vital and vibrant speak to life, energy, creativity, and relationships. Both define a congregation as building community, dismantling racism, and pushing back against poverty.

The presbytery does not create vibrant congregations. There is no magic formula or five step program to become a vibrant congregation. But the presbytery can create an environment where vibrant congregations can exist and flourish. For this to happen we must be a connectional church with the presbytery office serving as a hub in multiple ways–creating, enhancing, resourcing, and steering connections. 

Not all of our congregations are vibrant. There are many reasons why. Some have very limited resources, and others are limited in vision. Some choose to be disconnected because of past hurts and disappointments (these congregations may even grow but are not connected to the presbytery). Some have been without leadership for so long they can’t see a way out of their entrenchment, and others are slowly winding down as they come to the end of a rich life and fulfilling ministry. The presbytery is willing to meet each congregation where they are and help them to determine their future, whatever it may be.

The November gathering closes out 2019 and kicks off 2020! It is about celebrating the past while looking forward with newly elected officers and living into Matthew 25. I urge all of our congregations to come off the sidelines and get into the action of doing connectional, vibrant ministry in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy!

Rev. Craig M. Howard




 Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader 

Yesterday I received an email from our communications associate, Janice McMillen, informing me that we had 40 congregations signed as either “certified” or “covenant” Hunger Action congregations with the PC(USA). These congregations completed a simple online form to explain what they are doing. They received the appropriate recognition from the denomination, and we will be recognizing their efforts at the November 9th presbytery gathering in Washington, Missouri.

For these 40 churches, being a Hunger Action congregation was not their goal. These congregations saw a need in their community and decided to do something about it. Their responses range from food pantries to community gardens. Some have community dinners while others do education programs to combat hunger. Their response to hunger was not out of a desire for recognition but an expression of their vision, mission, and core identity.

In her book, Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley writes about the connection between environment, vision, and identity. She believes successful organizations are connected to their environment and actually play a part in creating the community in which they exist. This comes about because of the organization’s sense of purpose and vision, which springs from its identity. She writes, “When an organization knows who it is, what its strengths are, and what it is trying to accomplish, it can respond intelligently to changes from its environment. . . The presence of a clear identity makes the organization less vulnerable to its environment; it develops greater freedom to decide how it will respond.”

The vision of a congregation should include the needs and opportunities of its community. The mission of a congregation should be in partnership with its surrounding community. This is why I’ve encouraged each congregation to do a neighborhood exegesis. As a church becomes aware of the needs and opportunities around its space, it will know where and how to connect: it will know how to become a co-creator of the future of that community.

Here is a list of the 40 Hunger Action congregations. Congratulations!

Here is a link to a nice story about First Alton and the great work they are doing with their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard


Visiting the Country

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader 

The old phrase, “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is especially true when it comes to people! I’m learning that it is difficult to tell much about a person just from looking at them on the outside. As you know, I was born and raised in Chicago. But what you do not know is I also have country and rural connections from my childhood on my grandmother’s farm in Port Arthur, Texas. My earliest memory of being on the farm is the smell of milk as it hits the bucket under a cow’s udder. I remember the smell and connect it the taste of Corn Flakes I eat for breakfast. Grandma had more of a house with farm animals than a farm! She had a few cows and chickens on her 5 acres. There may have even been a pig waddling around somewhere. Granddad (Who was really my step-grandfather. My real grandfather died when my father was a teenager) always wore coveralls and smelled of sweat from the Texas heat.

When I married Marilyn, I learned another level of country and farm living. My first time going to my father-in-law’s farm in Bowling Green, Missouri became a deep dive into the country. We arrived at night and the darkness was overwhelming. I’d never seen so many stars in the sky. I called it “dark dark!” I came to understand the self-sufficiency of farming. Anything my father-in-law needed could be made on the 1500 acre farm. I listened as this independent minded man in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt shared his in-depth knowledge of land, animals, and weather. He would then just as easily talk about insurance, the economy, and social events. The notion of the dumb farmer is quickly dismissed in conversations with my father-in-law.

As a person raised in Chicago, I have country and rural roots. As a farmer in Bowling Green, my father-in-law is current on what is happening in metro St. Louis. He and I have come to know and appreciate one another because we have conversations.

As I do the work of the presbytery in rural communities, I experience a lot of assumptions regarding values and understanding of different cultures. There are several dichotomies including country versus city and fancy versus simple. These assumptions play into our politics (liberal versus conservative) and our values (Biblical versus biblical). Not to mention assumptions about race and ignorance regarding the capacity and potential of people because of the color of their skin.

But these dichotomies are often proven false when we sit and talk with one another. While talking and listening to one another (preferably over a meal!) we may learn that we have more in common than we assume. Ask Dardenne Presbyterian and Third Presbyterian Church’s men’s groups. Through conversations they learned to appreciate and respect one another. Even though many come from different racial and economic backgrounds.

I find that people usually love their families, want what is best for their children, want work that is meaningful and significant, honor their heritage, and really do care about the environment. Most people have experienced hardship either personally or with a family member, and they want a better life for their grandchildren. If we can listen to one another and find points of connection with common values and suffering, we may find that we are not so different after all.

Rev. Craig Howard

Intentional Love

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader

On Saturday I drove back from a synod meeting in Kansas City along with a synod commissioner. We talked about retirement. He shared how he is learning that retirement is about having a routine. He then named 5 daily habits he practices which cover physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being. I asked for examples of each of these. Of course, he talked about daily Bible reading and prayer, physical exercise and journaling. He then surprised me by saying that each day, he does something to show his wife that he loves her. I thought, “Do I show Marilyn that I love her on a daily basis?” (Please don’t ask her!!) Sometimes love means acting in intentional and consistent ways.

As your presbytery leader I want the entire presbytery to feel like they are important, cared and prayed for. The staff continues to come up with creative ways to demonstrate the significance of every church, pastor, and member. The In Your Neighborhood program comes from our heart of compassion as a way to show how important everyone in the presbytery is.

This past Wednesday and Thursday the presbytery office set up camp in Sullivan, Missouri. Over the next two days we met with over 35 people in meals, fellowship, and business. It was great to see people from different churches fellowshipping with one another at meals. Pastors and leaders felt welcomed as the restaurants filled with laughter and conversation. They were attentive as we shared dates for upcoming presbytery events and appreciation for their presence. They also shared with the presbytery and with one another upcoming significant events in each church, and a commitment to support one another. I also met with leadership from Mound Ridge. Our honest and difficult conversation was followed with pizza and well- wishes.

This is what it means to be Presbyterian and a presbytery: sharing our joys and concerns while seeking and discovering ways to show that we love one another. It takes an intentional effort to be a connected church. Love with intention can cover a multitude of faults and create an atmosphere of grace.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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