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

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State of the Presbytery 2018

Executive Presbyter Report to the Presbytery of Chicago

State of the Presbytery – December 1, 2018

 
I have been in Chicago as your Executive Presbyter for one year now. I thought it was time for a state of the presbytery report. Before coming here, I served one presbytery for 11 years as Stated Clerk and Executive Presbyter. I also served a different presbytery for eight years as Stated Clerk. In my role working for the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, I visited numerous presbyteries. I was also a member of the Committee on Ministry in three different presbyteries before I started doing Mid-Council work. In other words, I have seen how a lot of presbyteries work. Here are a few things that I have noticed about Chicago Presbytery.
 
  • Of our 89 congregations, 34 are under 100 members and, among those, there are several very fragile congregations. Huge buildings are sinking some of the congregations; in others, the congregation is serving as a landlord and has lost focus on mission and ministry for themselves. I will be bringing a proposal to Presbytery Coordinating Council in January for a different way to focus our 21st Century Funds in an attempt to bring new life into our smaller congregations.

 

  • We have financial resources which we are not tapping. I will also be bringing a proposal to revamp the Mission Committee so that it is, instead, a funding committee, allocating the funds available to the presbytery for disbursement.

 

  • We have a dedicated staff. It is also greatly reduced in numbers from what some of you remember. The work of the presbytery must rely on dedicated volunteers supported by our small staff. We continue to encourage our volunteer members of committees and commissions to claim their authority and to take on the work before them. We need you to serve in places that match your gifts.

 

  • There is an apathy or disconnectedness among minister members and other leaders alike. Part of that is driven by the demands of local mission and ministry and a feeling that, for some of our congregations, this is their last chance to remain viable. Exhaustion and depression are a part of the lives of leaders in such circumstances. The disconnectedness also comes from the hard decisions that have been made over the last few years by the presbytery. From reduction in staff who had become friends, to the sale of a camp that still lives in the memories of many people, the last few years have been tumultuous. Of course, the crime that was committed several decades ago and the price that was exacted from the presbytery for that crime lies at the heart of both of those outcomes.

 

  • Overt and subtle racism in the way we conduct our business as presbytery and congregations needs to be continually addressed. Even the crime that has driven the life of the presbytery for a decade or more has racism at its core. I have heard that people who had suspicions about the actions of a presbytery employee were afraid to come forward because they were afraid of being called racist. The true racism is treating people whom we define as being different from us as if they were objects instead of human beings. When we hold the same high standards for everyone who conducts mission and ministry in our name, we can begin to address racism. We need to examine our mission practices as well. Are we treating the children and adults who receive our mittens, or our food, or our visits for mission work in the summer as if they were in dire circumstances in order to provide us with a way to make ourselves feel good by offering this small token of Christ’s love? When we ask this hard question we begin to address racism.

 

  • We have the opportunity to address the sin that is at the heart of the American story and the story of Chicago—the sin of slavery, the racism that perpetuated it and excused it, and the fear of anyone defined as being different from us that grows out of it—in a way that many presbyteries do not. Look around this room. We sit beside people in worship or at a presbytery meeting who experience the world in a way that we do not because of the way they are perceived on the basis of race. This is the greatest resource we have—proximity to real people with whom we can have real conversations. We need to decide how to use our money well and how to use our buildings well. We also need to decide if we have the courage to stop treating other people as objects and instead to recognize in them the same wants and needs and inadequacies that we recognize in ourselves. Only then can we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ in a way that will change their lives and ours as well.

 

 

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The Angel Tree

Here is a piece of advice for you. Do not go to Target on a rainy Sunday afternoon when toys are on sale. I did not take this advice on the first Sunday of advent and found myself in very crowded aisles.

I have heard that places like Target have stepped up their game after the demise of Toys R Us. Not only is there the toy section, but there are little kiosks throughout the store where you can pick up small toys as you walk by. They arrange their toys in a way that makes them fairly easy to find and, unlike the Toys R Us in Peoria at least, the store is clean and bright and there are people around who can help find things. As a grandparent, I often go looking for toys that I know nothing about and have to ask for help to know what category I should be searching.

But, on this particular Sunday, I found myself in a scrum of other people doing the same thing I was doing. I was racing to buy the toys that had been enumerated by children whose names and requests appeared on the Angel Tree at the church my husband serves as pastor. As I looked around at the logjam of carts and the people pushing them, I saw that there were other individuals or groups who had the same kind of lists or tags in their hands. We were braving the crowds to buy things for children whom we would never meet.

This has been part of my Christmas for a long time. I read a story by Harriet Beecher Stowe called “Christmas, or the Good Fairy” years ago. It was written around the same time as “A Christmas Carol” and has the same theme. For some reason, it struck me. I must have been worrying about buying gifts for my children who were little at the time. They had so many things already. What could I buy for them that would not just get lost in the toy pile and become one more thing for me to pick up?

About the same time another woman and I managed the Angel Tree for our town of 2000 people in Iowa. We collected the names of people who needed help; managed the tree; collected money; bought more gifts for each family; got food from the food bank and on and on. Each year we had boxes of gifts for about 40 families.

When I buy the gifts from the angel tree or packed all of those boxes years ago, I think about the people who will receive the gifts. I hope they will see them, not as charity, but as a gift from someone who is celebrating the great gift God has given to us. I also hope that, by asking what they want or need and not just making assumptions about it, we can move a little closer to seeing them as sisters and brothers in Christ, not just the object of our good intentions.

Being charitable is a part of who we are as Christians. In this season and always, may we find ways to bring tangible gifts to those who need them in a way that preserves their dignity and gives them hope in the name of one who is a gift to us all.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 
 

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Online Shopping

I had an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago with the young woman who cuts my hair. We used to spend lots more time together when I was still getting my hair colored and I have been having her do my hair for about 10 years. I have seen her through a wedding and two babies. I have had four different jobs in that time. We have covered a range of topics over those years.

We somehow often end up talking about shopping. She is the kind of shopper who seeks out bargains, knows exactly when there will be a sale or a coupon worth noting, hunts for particular items for her children across two states. . . in other words, she and I shop very differently. I think of shopping as hunting and gathering and try to get it over with pretty quickly. It is not a sport for me.

But, we discovered a generational difference in the way we approach shopping now. Although I make decisions about buying something very quickly and am not willing to put in the time to hunt for the very best price, I do think of shopping as recreation. Shopping is different from buying for me. I was telling her, for instance, that when I am in St. Louis for a regular time of teaching classes in the western suburbs there, I like to go to a very fancy mall. If I buy anything there, it might be one piece of candy at the over-priced chocolate store. But, walking around that mall is like going to the zoo for me. I look at the $700 shoes at Saks the same way I look at the giraffe in the zoo. It is interesting to me that such things exist in the world but I will never buy them. I was bemoaning the fact that with so many retail stores closing, I will miss that recreational aspect of just kind of serendipitously seeing things that I never knew existed and, especially, never imagined that people would actually purchase.

She told me that she does not view shopping the same way. She has had some unpleasant encounters while shopping lately where she felt uncomfortable. She has two small children, so just getting in and out of the car and across the parking lot can be an adventure. Going to a particular store limits her choices to what is in that store. So, shopping online for all of those reasons is the only way she shops now for the things she used to buy at the mall.

All of this has implications for our churches. People are becoming more and more accustomed to doing everything from the comfort of their own home—buying groceries, doing their banking, interacting with friends—the list goes on. If going to church used to be just one of the “errands” that people did on a weekend amongst a million other stops for which they were getting in and out of their cars, then church, for many, has gone the way of shopping and banking. People can find excellent sacred music, moving prayers, inspirational sermons, and even interaction with others around their spiritual questions online. Why should they get up, get dressed, leave behind their twitter and Instagram accounts for an hour, and find themselves with a very small group of people who have known each other for some time or with a crowd into which they can disappear? What is the value added for them in showing up at church?

This might be an interesting discussion to have with your session or with your friends in the place where you do ministry outside of a congregation. What is the value added for you in sitting in worship? How can you articulate that to your puzzled neighbors or coworkers when they find out that you go to church? As the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 107: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” We should all be ready to say why we worship together so that we can find new ways to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ into the lives of those in our sphere of influence.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 


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Cheerios & Stewardship

Are you old enough, like me, to remember when there was only one kind of Cheerios? On their website, they now list 18 kinds of Cheerios. It creates a dilemma in the cereal aisle. It also kind of begs the question: which came first, huge grocery stores or 18  kinds of Cheerios?

In the little grocery store where I went as a child with my mom and brother, 18 kinds of Cheerios would have taken up most of one aisle in a ten-aisle (and short aisles at that!) store. We have traded the customer service that we had in that store for the variety that we must crave now. After all, Cheerios would not make 18 kinds if they were not selling. So, my grandchildren do not have the experience of the butcher calling their mother by name, or the checkout clerks knowing them by name and picking up the gumball machine to turn it upside down and shake it so the plastic charms would fall toward the chute before they put their penny in!

It is stewardship time in most churches and the Cheerios phenomenon should be of interest to your session as it encourages generosity. Along with the proliferation of varieties of cereal, there has also been a proliferation of charities asking for people’s money. Gone are the days when the best way to get money to those in need was to give it to your church and expect that the session would make wise decisions about using it to help. Now, people can search online for a specific kind of charitable organization. Or, they can just surf through the Go Fund Me type pages until something strikes their fancy. They can sit on their couch in their jammies and click away until their money has gone to feed starving children or save the whales or fund something that appeals to them that might not have broad appeal at all.

What does that mean for stewardship at church? Perhaps there are a few things to consider. When I have gone to stewardship training, I have heard this: when the zoo asks for your money, they send you a picture of a baby giraffe. When the church asks for your money, they send you their budget. Which is more compelling? In other words, does your stewardship campaign tell the story of how your church is changing people’s lives?

Second, churches sometimes rely on obligation to encourage the giving of their members. At the church my husband serves, I have heard people compare it to the way they are treated by the country club. “ If you want to be a member here and have all of the privileges that go with it, pay up.” Compared to the other worthy causes competing for money, that sense of obligation may not encourage giving among people for very much longer.

Third, how easy is it for people to get their money into your church’s bank account? When I sit next to my millennial daughter in church and the offering plate comes by, I realize that she has no way to contribute. She does not carry cash or a check book. Those places to which people can give online have one click by which they can give. Do you have a similar way for people to pledge and give?

The end of the year seems like a good time for stewardship because people are sometimes more generous around Christmas and they may be thinking about the tax implications of their giving as they look at the year almost past. But it started out as stewardship time in the Northern Hemisphere, in part, because of harvest. In the first parish my husband and I served, there were still a few farmers who set aside a “Lord’s Acre.” When they took their corn or soybeans to market, they would give the church the profit from that acre—either figuratively or literally. When we see the bounty with which we have been blessed, we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing. I hope your stewardship campaign—or your own giving if you work in a place where you do not have to worry about that—will reflect the grace of God in Jesus Christ who gives us all hope.
 
 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015


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