From Sue is a bi-weekly blog thought written by our Executive Presbyter, Rev. Susan D. Krummel, Sue, and published in our e-newsletter, Presbytery Connect.
 

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

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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

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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

 


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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

 
 
 

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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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