Our Core Mission

The demise of traditional retail stores continues to grow. The BonTon group, which had bought up several regional retailers, ended in the last year and took with it the Bergners stores in Peoria at which I had shopped all of my life, along with the Younkers stores which we had frequented in Iowa, and the Carson’s stores that were always the more glamorous sibling of these other two.
 
The first mall built in Peoria was completed in 1973 and decimated the downtown shopping area. Its anchor stores were Carson’s, Penney’s and Sears. Now the huge space that was Carson’s and then Lord & Taylor and then Macy’s now has two tenants. One is an inexpensive furniture store where one is, apparently, expected to buy a whole room at once. The other is a video arcade and bowling alley—another national chain—to which the police had to be called several times within the first few weeks it was open. It seems to have calmed down now.
 
As I still have to explain to my grandchildren from time to time, shopping and buying are not the same thing. One can spend a whole afternoon at a retail mall and come away with nothing; well, nothing that is except the memory of a really good pretzel or a scrumptious ice cream cone.
 
One can shop in the same way one goes to the zoo. I like looking at the giraffes in the  zoo, but I am not going home with one in the backseat of my car. Just so, I can look at the $500 shoes, or the sparkly prom dresses, or the latest electronic gadgets without having the salesperson wrap them up. I am doing cultural inquiry at the mall, seeing what is interesting, discovering things that I never knew existed. That was never the store’s primary focus, unless such inquiry led to my making a purchase. The music and the aroma of expensive perfume and the beautiful displays of merchandise were not there to entertain me. They were there to entice me to spend money. But entertain me they did.
 
Where will I find a place to spend a little time looking but not touching, as I was taught to do as a child, once the brick and mortar retailers are gone? Sitting on my couch with my tablet does not create the same atmosphere. Retailers had to make money or close; that was their core mission. My entertainment was not part of that business model.
What are the collateral ways in which our congregations provide value for our communities? What would they miss if we all disappeared? For most of us, we are not reaching the same numbers of people we once did. Many congregations worry about whether those who still attend and contribute will be able to financially sustain the building and the ministry.
 
If we close, our communities will not, apparently, miss actually being with us on Sunday morning for worship since they are not there now. But they will miss the idea of our churches. They will miss the sound of the carillon. Or they will miss the stability that the church family and its building have provided in the community. Or they will miss the luminaries on Christmas Eve. Or, we hope, they would miss that little hint at the back of their minds that if they really, really, really needed spiritual or even temporal help, our churches would be a place to which they could turn.
Have you found a way to build on those warm (or at least neutral) feelings your neighbors have about your church before it’s too late? Do you build on their sense that they could find welcome there? Do you fulfill their idea that you do bring stability and peace to your neighborhood? For surely our core mission is not the maintenance of our buildings and the programs that sustain a smaller number of people every year. Surely our core mission is bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ in any way we can.
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015

Read more

Making Adaptive Change

It may never stop snowing and warm up this year!  I think, at the time when I am writing this, that Chicago has only had one day without precipitation in the last 40 days. At least for Noah it was only rain for that long—no shoveling!

Perhaps you have thought, when you see those lists of closed or delayed schools at the bottom of your tv screen or have seen your friends with children wondering on Facebook how they are going to fill another snow day. . . “At least I am not the one who has to decide whether or not school will be in session.” In cities, the decision can be based on whether or not teachers can get to school and children can navigate snowy sidewalks. In more rural areas, the decision is a life or death one. Some districts have hundreds of miles of bus routes and roads on which teenagers drive to get to school. When those roads are covered with snow and ice, it becomes unsafe.

I have a son-in-law who has to help make that decision for a district in Iowa. My daughter was telling me that another superintendent had shared this thought with those decision-makers: “I would rather go to school in June than to a funeral in February.” That certainly brings the decision into stark contrast. If upset parents and bored students would remember that this was part of the decision-making (even on those days when the forecast was more dire than the reality), it might help to ease their angst that another day will be added to the school calendar at some point.

In a book called “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership,” Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky remind us that as leaders we need to help our organizations to make adaptive, not technical, changes to meet the challenges that face us. Technical changes are those for which an answer already exists and we just need to find it. We might fight long and hard about the right answer, but there is already an answer.

An adaptive change is one for which a completely new approach is needed. This often involves challenging the status quo, upsetting the way we have always done things, and questioning all of the details that have given an organization its form and function. When one is really being an adaptive leader, those in the organization may not be particularly happy with you or with the direction in which you are going. The authors remind us that part of the work of a leader is to increase the capacity for pain in others. We cannot make decisions or ask questions based on whether we can keep everyone happy. Instead, we sometimes need to make decisions that are right but do not gain us acclaim.

Everyone who is in leadership in a congregation can see that there are things that need to change. But we often make our decisions based on how the most volatile or least resilient members of our congregation will react. “Oh no, we cannot change the time of worship because Joe will have to miss getting to the diner on time.” “We cannot stop pouring money into that failing food pantry because Mary’s mother started it.” “We won’t sanction a Bible study in a brewery; my grandmother would roll over in her grave and I would stop contributing to this church.” Sometimes the session has to say, “We are sorry that you are upset. We are making this decision because we believe it is the right thing to do.”

The first time there is a snow day in a school year, everyone is happy—kids, teachers, administrators, bus drivers. It is like being given an extra day in your life. By the 10th snow day, no one is happy. Parents have used up all of the baby-sitting favors they can call in; vacation plans are going out the window as days are added to the calendar; teachers don’t even want to think about how they will get the kids back on track. But a wise leader keeps his or her focus on what is important: no funerals in February even if it means school until the Fourth of July.
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015

Read more

Scrum Prayers

It is my privilege to attend installation and ordination services all over the presbytery.  The ordination and installation of officers and pastors has always been one of my favorite parts of the Presbyterian church. The fact that we are reminded on a regular basis about the vows we have each taken; the reminder that this is a ministry that is shared by those who spend their days doing something besides full-time ministry and those who are paid to be ministers; the visual impact of so many people coming forward for the laying on of hands… it reminds us of the way we honor the gifts of all those who are called to a particular, ordered ministry.  When I was a pastor in Burlington, Iowa, I was in a lectionary study group with the other downtown pastors. Lutherans, Methodists, UCC, Presbyterians—we all met each Wednesday to talk about the lectionary readings and to support one another in ministry. During the week when my husband and I were preparing for the installation and ordination of new officers, we always had to interpret that act to our friends. None of the rest of them served in a place where the members of their church boards and the volunteers carrying out their caring ministries had answered the same ordination questions as they had.

In the last few weeks I have also been reminded how that scrum of people with their hands on the ordinand moves like a living being. You have felt that when you have stood in that group. As the prayer goes on, the group begins to sway a little. Sometimes you have to be sure that you are going to be able to keep your balance as the group moves first one way and then another. I have found that bending your knees a little bit so that you can adjust to the tiny movements helps!

That scrum reminds us not only of our shared ministries within our congregations but also of our shared ministry across the presbytery, across the denomination and across time. We lay hands on one another to remind us that we are not alone. All of those who have gone before us—all the way back to the very early church—are represented in an unbroken line of authority and commitment and call. That group of swaying people reminds us of the gravity of the vows just taken as well as the support of the cloud of witnesses around us. As we adjust to the tiny movements of this living organism of elders and ministers, we are also reminded of our call to serve as a part of a larger body. No one ordained in the PCUSA serves alone. Deacons serve on a board or, if ordained to serve without a board, are under the authority of the session. Members of the session are accountable to one another and to their congregations. Ministers of Word and Sacrament are under the authority of their session or other employer and to the presbytery as it represents the whole denomination. Being a part of a body of believers who support each other, who hold each other accountable, and who adjust to the needs of the whole body is one of our greatest strengths as we work to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 


Read more

The Wren House

We have had at least one wren house in our backyard for many years. Sometimes I remember to bring it inside during the winter months after cleaning it out. Some springs it still has last season’s nest in it when the wrens arrive looking for a place to give birth to and raise their babies. It hangs in a corner of my backyard in a shady space. It is high enough off of the ground and far enough away from the main trunk of the tree in which it hangs to provide a feeling of safety for the wrens. I love to hear their song—it seems impossible for such a big, energetic song to come from such a little body. We can hear it through open windows (and sometimes through closed ones because of its volume) and I hear it when I am working in the garden.

When I am away from the house I hear the regular song. But, when I get close to the house while I am weeding or pruning in my perennial garden, then the sound changes. One or both of the adults will scream at me, trying to frighten me away from their house. This screaming becomes even more intense when there are babies in the house, when the wrens feel most vulnerable about their home and its future. I have never abandoned my work because of this interaction. It does remind me to be careful—as I would be anyway—and not to bump into the house when I stand up from pulling a weed.

I always want to say to the wren—okay, sometimes I actually do say to the wren—“Settle down. I am not your enemy. Who do you think hung this house here in the first place? Who do you think maintains these beautiful surroundings in which you are raising your family?” The wrens see me as a threat when I am nothing of the kind. The only way that I would pose a threat is if I became careless and forgot they were there in the midst of the work I am doing.

Since I began Mid Council work 15 years ago, the wrens have reminded me of congregations, at times, in their relationships with presbyteries. Sometimes congregations see presbyteries as a threat—that the presbytery wants to close the church or that the presbytery wants to send a pastor with whom they will not be happy. Of course, once in a while, presbyteries have created situations for congregations that were not ideal. Often it is because they have not been paying the proper kind of attention or they have not gathered all of the information they need.

But, overwhelmingly, the presbytery is a partner to congregations. It represents the long line of Presbyterians who have nurtured faith in this place and reached out to change the lives of those within the sphere of influence of the congregation. It provides help when a situation arises that is beyond what the members of the church can manage themselves. It upholds the theology and polity on which the congregation began and which its members appreciate. It certainly does not have ill will toward a congregation but wants every congregation to fulfill its call and use its gifts wisely.

The wrens and I will continue to work out our relationship. Even though they become agitated, it will not stop me from hanging up their house each year and providing a welcoming environment in which they can raise their little ones. Our presbytery will continue to work toward the same kind of relationship with our congregations, even when it looks as if we are moving in different directions. In the end, the congregations and the presbytery have the same goal: to use the gifts we have been given in order to create an environment in which we can all work toward the day when all of God’s creatures live in hope.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 
 
 

Read more

Friends with God.

There is a new tv show in the fall of 2018 called “God Friended Me.” I have never seen it, so this is neither an endorsement nor an encouragement not to watch it. As quickly as network shows come and go now, it may not even be on the air by the time you read this. That might be a topic for another note.
 

Audience Appeal

 
Network TV fare still relies on an audience of a certain size in order to attract advertisers so that the producers of the show make money. That means the shows must appeal to a wide audience. Shows on streaming services and even, to some extent, on cable channels, do not have the same pressure. They can appeal to a much smaller audience and still be considered successful because the producers are working in a different business model. Many of our congregations are appealing to a very select (and small) number of people. Some of these churches are not able to sustain the financial model that includes supporting a big building designed for a different time and audience. I wonder what a new business model here might be?
 

Friend or Un-Friend?

 
Anyway, back to this new show. One of the my grandsons (who is 9 ½) is fascinated by the title of the show. I don’t think he has seen it either. But, he remarks on the title whenever an ad for it comes on and sometimes brings it up out of the blue. Then, the other day, he asked me the question we all ask from time to time, “Would God ever un-friend someone?” My immediate reply in the midst of tidying up the family room was, “Well, I hope not. That is kind of the whole point of our understanding of faith!”
 

The Heart of the Matter

 
It struck me that it really is at the heart of what we believe. God’s attention to us is not based on the quality of the pictures we post or the number of friends we have. God’s interest in us is based on who God is, not on who we are. God’s love for us comes from God’s own choice, not from a response by God to something we have done.
Whether or not God uses social media is beyond my understanding. But, if God does, then I believe (and so do you) that God would never un-friend us, but is, instead, always there, ready to respond in order to give us hope that we can share with all whom we meet (and friend!)
 
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015

Read more
^