The Opportunity to Be Courageous

Dear Good and Faithful Servants of the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery community,

“When someone prays for courage, does God give them courage, or God give opportunities to be courageous?”

This gem of a quote comes from Evan Almighty, a 2007 comedy film where Morgan Freeman plays God. While not my usual grab-bag for theological wisdom, I still found myself reaching for this quote multiple times over the last several months.

Many of you already know what occurred at the August 24th Presbytery Gathering last month. In the wake of the Overture “On Offering an Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy” which came out of our presbytery and approved by the 225th General Assembly last summer (and a number of synods and other presbyteries since!), some questions in the air for my first year as your presbytery leader was, “Well, now what?” And: “Do we really mean this?” “What does it look like to live this out?”

I posed a challenge to this presbytery to consider how we can, with courage, move From Apology to Action. At our April 29th Presbytery Gathering in Ferguson, your Presbytery Leader, Associate Presbytery Leader, and Stated Clerk shared about our experience at visiting Montgomery Alabama with 40 other mid-council leaders from around the country to explore in-depth the impact of racism and how its legacy remains with us today—during that conversation, we invited you to be on the lookout with us for the opportunity to embody justice in our time and place.

None of us even imagined at that time what the docket of the August Presbytery Meeting was going to look like.

 “When someone prays for courage, does God give them courage, or God give opportunities to be courageous?”

On August 24, 2023, the presbytery made the decision to respond courageously in one of the boldest acts of reparative justice in our presbytery’s history.


We had known for a long time about the significant debt burden carried by Third Presbyterian Church over the course of the last 17 years. When this first came to my radar as presbytery leader, I shared the sense that the debt was considerable, but ultimately it is a church’s responsibility to care for the upkeep of their building. After all, when it comes to loans, promises are promises. Third was to be commended, also, not just for their missional strategy that resulted in a meteoric rise in membership, but also how they took a building that was in the process of being abandoned for being a money pit and transformed it into an instrumental ministry asset for the presbytery’s witness in North Saint Louis County.

At that, we could have let it go. We could have continued letting it go.

However, upon deeper digging, some unsettling pieces came to light around the circumstances of how that building acquisition and transfer was arranged. After months of digging in our files and verifying discoveries, we presented what we found in the form of an 18 page document, showing how the presbytery 1) orchestrated a building transfer involving two other churches that did not have the impact of treating Third as an equal partner, 2) did not provide full disclosure of the condition of the building and the scope of the repairs, and 3) did not follow through on requests for assistance in many ways beyond more loan debt, ultimately resulting in half a million dollars of loan debt by Third Presbyterian Church. On August 24th, at Lovejoy United Presbyterian Church, I laid out step by step of how the transfer happened, who was and wasn’t at the table, who benefited, how the presbytery responded (and didn’t) when concerns began to come to light, and how the fullest burden, of what was meant to be a three-way arrangement where all parties would “give something up,” fell disproportionately upon Third—a congregation that today represents about 50% of our Black and African American population.

In the months leading up to this presentation, the presbytery was offered a number of choices. What struck me as options were being presented in different teams and committees with the appropriate oversight of our processes and care for each other was how consistently a consensus was established: Yes, Third was harmed. Yes, they are still impacted today from this harm. Yes, something needs to be done. The question was what that was going to look like, and could we handle this together with grace. I noticed a spirit of picking up where attempts to address this 15 years ago were left off, but now with the gift of greater hindsight, focus, and resolve.

On August 24th, two motions were presented by the Commission on Ministry who has primary responsibility for the care of our churches and its members. 1) The assumption of the remaining debt incurred from those particular building repairs held by the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, and 2) the repayment of principle and interest paid to PILP by Third Presbyterian Church. Totally financial implications represented approximately $720,000, approximately 13% of our total resources as a presbytery.

Following the motion was the opportunity for discussion, questions, and debate.

The first motion to assume the remaining PILP debt passed 96 to 1.

The second motion to repay principle and interest passed 90 to 3.

Both votes were on a secret ballot.

Following every presbytery gathering, we send out a survey that asks for feedback on the gathering. One of the questions asked, “What values did you see embodied, practiced, or embraced by the presbytery today?”

I think it’s best for you to hear your own words and reflections on that night. Here is how approximately 1/3 of those in the room responded:

“I saw a situation be righted and I am proud of that fact.”

Confession, repentance”

“Respect. Thoughtfulness. Huge planning. Significant efforts to consider everyone.”

“I appreciated the efforts that went into voting and felt that the process went very well. Every one was heard that wanted to be heard, imo.”

“Humility, patience”.

“In approving the reparative action motion for Third Pres., GLPBY is putting justice ahead of power and people ahead of material wealth. In taking over the loans we are literally putting our money where our mouth is in order to repair harms done. I look forward to further years of work in this presbytery where we can look honestly at our complicity in system racism and then do something about it.”

“Love and empathy.”

“Respect, care and love.”

“Welcoming, hospitality, materials prepared well, excellent leadership and enablement, resources available through tables and flyers, transparency, making wrongs right/walking the talk, clarity on procedures.”

“Wanting to hear all voices and value what we heard.”

“The vote on reparative action re Third Presbyterian Church was historical as well as amazing! The value of righting a wrong. The amount of time and effort that went into researching and documenting for the reparative action was commendable. The value of making these gatherings inspiring, educational, relational, and with meaningful action options.”

“Moving from apology to action with regard to the situation involving Third Pres.”

“The presentation and vote regarding reparations for Third PC was the most effective and meaningful action this presbytery has engaged in since I have been in STL. The thorough research and power point helped tell a complicated story with power and clarity. And the clear connection to actions steeped in ignorance and racism in the past was a wake up call -and a way that all of us could understand the effects of white privilege in a concrete way.”

“Compassion, love, a deep sense of responsibility, a true sense spirituality, concern for all our siblings in Christ, respect for others, action to correct our misdeeds of the past. This was possibly the most meaningful and moving Presbytery Gathering I have ever attended!! I felt the presence of God’s love and the Holy Spirit’s movement among us as we struggled with an extremely difficult and sad situation.”

“Commissioners embodied, practiced, and embraced discernment of faith in action to approve relief of outstanding debt to Third Presbyterian Church.”

“Truth-seeking, Consideration, Justice, Act to Repair, Seek to Understand in spite of Personal Comfort”

“Enabling people to see the point of view of the church with a multiracial congregation and empathize with their situation and how they must feel, being treated unjustly.”

“Putting $$ where our mouths are. I was so amazed to hear all the back story regarding 3rd Pres, and was just floored. But for almost 100% of the commissioners voting to pay restitution for the wrongs done to 3rd Pres, when they purchased the build, was really inspiring. Maybe there is hope for this process to be done in many areas.”

“Genuine concern and desire to “make right” things left incomplete. High sense of “We’re in this together!”

“God’s love in action.”

“Addressing the wrongs committed by the presbytery and offering relief to those harmed…I’m proud of the Presbys action taken for Third.”

“The information and the comments different people made in support of Third Presbyterian were very uplifting and supportive. I greatly appreciated those who spoke and am glad that the motions passed.”

“It felt good to be a member of a presbytery literally putting its money where its mouth is…this is a step not the end. There are more next right things in our future”

“Kindness, compassion, caring for all, not just those like us. Awareness of white privilege. Lack of concern for the poor. Intelligence, reason. Willingness to address mistakes of past.”

“Dedicated to fairness and inclusion.”

“Love, inclusiveness and thoughtful activism were the prevalent themes of the day.”

“It is important to acknowledge when a wrong has been done and work to set things right. Saw this happen”

“exemplified Matthew 25 commitment”

“Appreciated prayers during business meeting Recognition of and validation of emotion”



“Justice, education, embodied mindfulness”

“Love, justice, forgiveness and grace.”

A second question on the surveys asked, “What did you learn about our community of ministry today?”

“I am impressed. The “reparative action” vs. “reparations” concepts is so important and takes us past the buzz word and only financial meaning of “reparations”. And to see that our ministries take us into lots of different issues and concerns that ask each of us about our core values and beliefs. Each of us can do something.”

“As a presbytery we can admit mistakes and take concrete steps to repair hurt/practice justice”

“I learned that our community is capable of facing difficult truths and doing something about it. We are also involved in lots of actions for the greater good. All this is done with the grace of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

“Feel more connected as Presbyterians.”

“We can tell the truth and do brave things.”

“I learned about the larger impact that the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery has had on a national scale. It gives me hope that churches are deeply engaged in the work of justice.”

“Lots of time, work and love goes into Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery to include the many aspects of what the church strives to be.”

“We are an open-minded denomination even though not all the church congregations are. I’m glad I am Presbyterian.”

“Let’s keep repairing/repenting/redressing, but also know that we are clearly moving ahead together.”

“We were bold. We were respectful.”

“That in the end, we are faithful to each other.”

The consensus on the night mirrors the votes: something happened in the room that night that we experienced, something we shared and connected us together.

But God did not seem to be done with us when the vote was closed and the ballots were counted.


In the weeks following the meeting, while in regular communication with Third Presbyterian Church, the Administration Team mobilized to work out the final details of the payment plan and timeline (confirming PILP’s latest numbers, tracking all checks made since the action was taken, etc) . In the midst of that work, a miracle arrived. We were delightfully stunned to hear word that while all these proceedings were going on, the presbytery had been named in a trust where an estate with no heirs was liquidated and bequeathed to a church that closed many years ago. The presbytery was named a legal recipient of that trust.

How can it be anything other than a God thing, when we take an action with $720,000 of financial implications at the same time we receive approximately $810,000 in liquid funds? I share the reaction of the Administration Team: both the timing, and the dollar amount, can only affirm all those who have sensed the Holy Spirit at work at our presbytery! How can we see this as anything else than God’s provision in the wake of your faithfulness in the reparative action?

And last Thursday on September 21st, the Vision Team approved that everything was in good order, and the lump sum payment plan was clear to be executed immediately, following through on the will of the presbytery.


As your presbytery leader, I have been clear as possible about the process we’ve been following so we are being clear, transparent, consistent, accessible, and reflective of the mission of the whole presbytery.

We have moved from a data-collection phase, to a truth-confronting phase, to a discernment phase, and have just completed the execution phase. We know move into a witnessing phase, where we tell the story of what God has done through us. I am happy to continue to be a partner with you in that work as we proclaim what our redeemer God has done and is doing through us.

“When someone prays for courage, does God give them courage, or God give opportunities to be courageous?”

Thank you, Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, for your courage to strive for justice.

Humbly submitted,

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Ryan J. Landino
Presbytery Leader of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy









  • Posted September 26, 2023 7:01 pm
    Susan Andrews

    Ryan, this is Providence, courage and excellent leadership converging to create justice and truth. Having served as a Presbytery Leader, I know the time, effort, and wisdom -and endless process-that went into this miracle. Well done!

  • Posted September 26, 2023 7:39 pm
    Carleton Stock

    Thank you for this tremendous summary of the “miracle” that happened in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy regarding Third Church! It was more than inspiring! May we respond in kind to all of the opportunities to be courageous in these wild and wonderful times!

  • Posted September 27, 2023 10:56 am
    Diane McCullough

    All glory be to God. The Holy Spirit is real and working in our lives. Thanks be to God.

  • Posted September 27, 2023 11:48 am
    Karen Dumey

    Our God is a God is a God of justice, mercy, and abundance. Praise be to God!

  • Posted September 30, 2023 7:40 am
    Ramona Williams

    I am in tears right now and so full of joy. I am grateful 🙏🏽 that GOD has allowed me to witness HIS amazing love and power. This is a story to tell now and for generations to come. I am certain if the Bible was still being written, THIS story would make the cut. I am thankful to all who was obedient to GOD to carry out his will. It’s definitely not about the money. Let’s all continue to praise HIM and tell this amazing story ❤️ 🙏🏽
    I’m thankful to be a part of Third, and Giddings-Lovejoy. Let’s continue to let GOD use us and testify HIS miracles.

    • Posted October 2, 2023 6:06 pm
      Barbara G. Willock

      A M E N ! ! !

  • Posted September 30, 2023 11:27 am
    Bernice Thompson

    Yes God is real! May we come to feel him in our soul!

  • Posted October 3, 2023 10:10 am
    Ellen Gurnon

    1 – YES! I also love the quote from Evan Almighty!
    2 – Grateful to Ryan for all the work that went into researching the history and compiling it for all to see and understand.
    3 – WOW! I had no idea about the miracle that followed on the heels of this action. Thanks be to God!

Add Your Comment