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.
 

Weddings and Hope

I attended a first of a kind wedding for me. I have been to and officiated at almost any kind of wedding you can imagine.  Indoor weddings, outdoor weddings, very small weddings, very large productions, weddings where the children of the couple were present, weddings that happened really quickly because a baby was on the way, even a wedding where the couple’s dog was part of the wedding party. I have had to help the bride light the unity candle because (as I realized too late) she was too drunk to do it herself. That was when I started telling the whole wedding party at the rehearsal that if any member of the wedding party showed up drunk or under the influence of drugs for the wedding I would not perform the ceremony. I once did a wedding with two hours’ notice. The man was a member of the church I was serving, The woman was a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in a nearby small town. At the rehearsal on Friday night they were told about some rules in that church that they did not like. The groom’s little sister could not light the candles because only boys could do that. The couple could not kiss at the end because it was not seemly to do that in church. And so on. They decided on Saturday that they did not want to put up with all of that so they had my clerk of session call me to see if I would do it. (I lived 25 miles away.) I told them “yes” and that we should start the wedding 30 minutes later than the advertised time so that their guests could get there from the church where they thought the wedding would be. They asked me what they should tell their guests at the other church. I told them they should say that there was a plumbing problem and we were moving the wedding to our church. Everyone who has been a pastor for any time could go on for hours with funny and sad and irritating stories about what has happened at weddings.

But I recently attended a first for me. It was the first non-religious wedding I have attended. It was not the first one I have attended at which the officiant had recently been credentialed to perform a wedding by filling out a form online. But the other one I attended had prayer and scripture lessons. This one was completely religion-free or so they thought. It sounded like something straight from Pinterest to me—kind of a blend of things someone heard in yoga class and some self-help sayings. Then the officiant said that he hoped their wedding would be blessed with joy, etc. I leaned over to my husband and said, “Blessed by whom?” At the reception the photographer was taking a picture of the couple signing the license with the officiant. I saw that they were clearly struggling. My husband went over to help them figure out who signs where. I told him he should probably remind the officiant that he also actually had to mail the license to the County Clerk if they wanted the marriage to have legal status.

The very rapid move toward having a friend of the couple get “ordained” to perform their wedding says something about the place of church and religion and faith in our society. For many couples, there is no longer any reason to go to church to get married, or having a minister remind them of God’s involvement in their lives, or of celebrating who and whose they are as they start another chapter in their lives. It is only one symptom of the marginalization of what, for many of us, is at the center of our lives.

I never really liked working for the State of Illinois or Iowa when I performed a wedding anyway. But, as we see the trend in weddings, it is another piece of evidence that it is our responsibility as congregations and the larger church to find ways to make our faith known in the world. Just because they do not need us to marry them anymore does not mean that people do not need to know that we bring hope into the world, hope that is built on something far beyond ourselves.

 

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015


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Shuffling

My dad smoked a cigarette after every meal. It was a ritual for him. When I was growing up, smoking was much more prevalent and accepted than it is now. He would either sit at the table where we ate and have a smoke or sit on the back porch. If we were in a restaurant, there were always ashtrays available. Just to show how pervasive smoking was, think about something you have probably seen in a church kitchen cupboard. Somewhere there is probably a stack of clear class plates with little compartments. These are called “snack trays.” (Maybe you even had some at home as we did.) There is a larger compartment for cake or whatever the dessert or snack was, there is a smaller, square compartment into which the glass tea cup fits. There is another square compartment that has a little curved ridge on one side of it. That is the place to set your cigarette down. That little square is the ash tray. My dad did not only smoke after eating. He also smoked at his desk at work, smoked while he watched tv at night and so on. Of course, he also died at almost my exact age right now of either a stroke or a heart attack with a lit  cigarette in his hand.

I am not a smoker but I still have a ritual after I eat. For me, it only happens at home. I play solitaire. I still sometimes play with a deck of cards. Sometimes I play a game on my phone. I also do this while watching tv—following in my dad’s footsteps. The fact that I have played solitaire with cards so often over so many years has made me a really good shuffler. When we are playing cards with grandkids, I am the official shuffler. One time my shuffling skills shocked some teen-agers who did not know me. I had taken a group of teen-agers from our church in Burlington, Iowa, to  Albuquerque on a mission trip. We went by train overnight. If you have ever been on the Southwest Chief in the summertime, then you know that there are lots of kids on the train, mostly boys. That is because this train stops near the boy scout camp at Raton in New Mexico. That is, apparently, the pinnacle of outdoor camping for boy scouts. On the way out there were lots of excited boys on our train. On the way back there were lots of tired and smelly teen-aged boys on our train. . .

On the way back I was sitting in the snack car playing cards with some of our girls. The girls had attracted a bevy of the afore-mentioned smelly boys. They were watching us play cards. When they saw me shuffle cards, they were impressed. When the girls told them I was their pastor, they were stunned. They had apparently never seen a pastor with card shark level shuffling skills. This was something they never thought they would encounter.

The world has a lot of assumptions about churches and their leaders and members. Those who have never been to church think we are either the silly, naïve do-gooders by which we are usually portrayed in the media. Or, they think we are hypocrites who think we are better than everyone else. Or they just think that we are old.

How can we help them see who we really are—fallen people who know that we are forgiven; people striving to understand ourselves as beloved children of God even in the face of all that the world throws at us; people who have been called to use our energy, intelligence, imagination and love in service of the gospel. If only they knew that we are real people who, in spite of that, have been convinced of our salvation and called to share that good news with the world.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 


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Friday Nights

Ah, Friday nights in the autumn. How many hours did I spend on or near a football field? Now, only a very few hours of mine were ever spent actually playing football. When I was at the University of Illinois I was on an intramural team with some of my dorm mates (I still don’t know how they ever talked me into that!) The one time my name was ever in the student newspaper was when I made the winning touchdown catch in a game. I can still remember how time slowed down as I realized the ball was coming to me. . .

Most of my Friday nights for decades were at one high school football field or another. I was in marching band for four years in high school. Then as a small town pastor’s spouse, I was often in the stands. After that, both of our daughters became cheerleaders, starting in junior high. ( I was even the coach for one of their teams one year.) The church where my husband and I were co-pastors in Burlington, Iowa, was filled with cheerleaders. I bought up every small, inexpensive thing I ever found that was purple so we would have them for “spirit gifts”—gifts exchanged for every, single game by the cheerleaders. Both of our daughters have also been cheerleading coaches—real coaches, unlike me who only organized the junior high girls until the varsity cheerleaders got there to coach them. So, we have also gone to games to watch their squads cheer. I have even attended the state cheerleading competition in Des Moines, sometimes as a mom and sometimes as an “assistant coach” to help my daughter manage her team. ( And I might say, one of those times her team won the state championship, the only team in any sport from the high school where she worked then to achieve that distinction!)

In other words, riding the bleachers through heat, rain, snow and everything in between was a huge part of my life for decades.

But now I am in a break from that. No one is coaching cheerleaders right now. My grandchildren are not quite old enough to be in the band or cheerleading squad and the boys have been banned by their mothers from playing football because of the danger of injury. I might ride the bleachers again but it won’t be on an every Friday night basis as it was for so long.

I am an expert at the sport of bleacher sitting. I know how to prepare to survive the worst kind of rainy night (the secret is to bring a garbage bag to wrap a blanket in to sit on and another garbage bag to wear over whatever else you have on.) I know how to listen carefully from the driver’s seat of the cheerleading van to hear just what is really happening with the girls in the passenger seats. (Somehow they think you cannot hear them while you are driving.) All of those skills no longer make any difference in my life. Although I enjoy a nice, quiet, dry, warm Friday evening, I still miss those days.

Every one of our congregations has something that used to enliven their ministries and about which people gained great skill sets that is now gone. What do we do with those skills? How do we honor all of the hours that went into the long ago craft sale or the sunrise service on Easter or the rally day picnic attended by hundreds? There may be ways to pass along those skills to others.

But, there is also no shame in simply celebrating what once was and looking for what is next. Just as families move from one phase of their lives to another, so do churches. Spending time longing for what once was and getting stuck in those memories denies what God is calling us to do in the present. Time to put away the pompoms and the hair bows and the bright purple ponchos and look for new ways to enjoy Friday night. Time for many of our congregations to have fond memories of what was and open their hearts to whatever it is to which God is now calling them, so that they can bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ in a new way for a new time.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 


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One God

A few Sundays ago several of my grandchildren and my husband were in town. The children were leaving with their mom at noon to go on a little vacation so we took them to the Brookfield Zoo in the morning. After they took off, we decided that we would go to the 4 p.m. jazz worship service at Fourth Presbyterian on Michigan Avenue. The service was held outside and it was lovely (although the sirens were a little loud at times). My husband was going to drive home to Peoria that evening so we decided to find someplace close by to get a bite to eat before he left. We walked toward where our car was and discovered a small Asian restaurant tucked into the corner of the Whitehall Hotel. Perfect—we each ordered some appetizers to share before he left.

The woman who was host, wait staff, and generally in charge of the restaurant (I don’t think she also had to cook) came to talk with us when we were finishing up. Her English was far better than our familiarity with her first language, but it was still a little bit of a broken conversation. She asked if we lived nearby. (I had heard her greet a few people by name.) I said no, that we had just been to worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church next door. She asked us what kind of church it was and then she made the sign of the cross on her hand. She asked if it was that kind of church. We said, yes, that was right. She then said, “I am. . “ and she put her hands near her face in an attitude of prayer. My husband said, “Buddhist,” and she said, “Yes, the Buddha! My husband and daughter are (and then she made the sign of the cross on her palm again) but I am Buddha.” She then let us know that she is happy when anyone worships in whatever way they choose and we let her know we felt the same way. It was a lovely ending to a beautiful afternoon.

When I was in a theology class in seminary, we were talking about other world religions. One of the other students kept referring to “their gods.” The professor finally stopped him and said, “Exactly how many Gods do you think there are?” In our little encounter in a small restaurant on a Sunday afternoon we were reminded of the answer to that question. The joy on the woman’s face when she told us about her family’s faith and hers reminded us that there is only one God who loves us and intends that we live full lives in the knowledge of that love. When we share God’s love, we bring hope to those we meet and, for us, that hope comes through our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015


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What is your purpose?

I am sometimes asked about the purpose of a presbytery, or more broadly, the purpose of a denomination. If you have read any of these little musings, you know that I think in metaphors. One struck me the other day that is a way I will answer this question.

I was driving in my hometown where I still have my permanent residence and where my husband is a pastor. I was at a very busy intersection which is where the church he serves is located. I have been familiar with this intersection my whole life. Oddly enough, the church that my husband serves has a preschool of which I am an alumna. I spent many happy mornings there when I was four years old. I even have a very vivid memory of one of those mornings. Another girl and I were punished for talking during rest time. Our punishment was to sit at a little picnic table in the hallway while the other children rested. I still remember thinking that was a silly punishment since what she and I did was continue to chat, this time by leaning under the table and whispering!

Anyway, the intersection is very busy now, one of the busiest in Peoria. There are traffic signals, multiple turn lanes, often there are police officers nearby. While I was there the other morning, though, there was very little traffic. It was raining hard and it was early on Saturday morning. I was stopped at a red light, but could have safely made the left turn I needed to make. There were not other cars in sight. (I waited,  of course.)

The traffic lights, the lane markings, the speed limits are all the result of the experience of people over time at that corner. Traffic engineers have designed all of these things so that everyone who uses that corner can safely proceed. They are very much like our constitution (the Book of Order) and our General Assembly and presbytery. The collected wisdom has been brought together, tempered by experience, and provided to us to help us carry out our ministries. The traffic engineers do not tell us why we are driving through that corner. They do not regulate the way we carry out the tasks of our day. But, they have provided the basic rules by which we will all make it through that corner safely

Just so, each congregation makes its own decisions about how to carry out its ministry within the basic parameters set by our denomination. These are not arbitrary or punitive parameters. They may seem like they do not apply to us, just as I could have proceeded safely through the corner. But they help us to operate in a way that we can all understand and which has prevented some problems in the past. They are our collective wisdom about how to respond to God’s call. We are not left alone trying to find a way forward. We have these outlines to help us as we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue) Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago 312-488-3015


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#CongregationGoals

Does your congregation have enough people around on any given Sunday? When you meet for worship, are you satisfied with the crowd? Many of our congregations would answer “no” to those questions. There are lots of places where the sanctuary could easily seat more people, where the coffee hour could accommodate more sippers and snackers, where the Sunday School classrooms could easily echo with more little voices.

What are you doing about it? Sometimes the answer is that we are unlocking the doors on Sunday morning and making sure the sign in the front of the church has the right time of worship. Maybe we put a funny slogan on the sign to attract attention. Maybe we tie balloons to the sign so that people know we are still open. Maybe we make sure to post on facebook every week about something interesting. All good ideas. All pretty passive.

When I have listened and read about the new church project that is being funded by the presbytery on the south side of Chicago (Next Ministries) I have been struck by the fact that there is nothing passive about it. Michael Miller, the pastor leading the effort, is receiving coaching from experienced church planters. One of the benchmarks they are having him use measures the contacts he and others are making every month, with a total goal to be met by the time the church launches in the fall. By that launch date they are to make 18,000 positive contacts. That is, 18,000 different people in the target area should have a positive experience of Michael or of the advertising about the church. They are to have 1,800 connectional contacts. These are people who know Michael’s name or the name of the church and whose names he knows. They are to have 600 relational contacts. These are people about whom Michael and others know something. They would be able to say, “Congratulations on your graduation” or “I hope the surgery went well.” Finally they are to have 200 ministry contacts. They want to have 200 people there on the day they launch worship. They have plans for community events throughout the summer to help them meet their goal.

Those are ambitious goals. Here is what has struck me about these benchmarks. EVERY CHURCH COULD SET BENCHMARK GOALS LIKE THIS. What if your congregation set a goal right now for how many new people you would like to have in worship on World Communion Sunday? What if you usually have 25 people in worship and you hope to have 35? That would be 10 ministry contacts. In order to get that, you would need 900 positive contacts; 90 connectional contacts; 30 relational contacts. All of these would be with people who do not already know your church. You can do the math for your own church.

How do you react to such a proposal? Does it make you tired just to think about it? All of that effort for 10 more people? There used to be a day when unlocking the doors and making sure people knew what time we worship was enough. Those days are gone. It takes great effort to sustain and grow a congregation these days. Are you ready to roll up your sleeves?

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015


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Two Seasons

You have undoubtedly heard the expressions about certain places having only two seasons. For instance, sometimes it is said that Minnesota has two seasons: shovel and swat. There are also the expressions about almost any place in the country having two seasons when it comes to road repair. After spending seven months driving around Chicago far more frequently than I have in the past, I would say that Chicago has two seasons: pothole and construction. (Although they are, of course, not mutually exclusive.) Both seasons give drivers and riders something to complain about. Either you worry about dodging the potholes without breaking an axle, or you worry about sitting in long lines of traffic while repairs are made. Just outside my office window as I am writing this, the Jane Byrne interchange is nearing completion. Drivers on the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower will be happy when it is done, as will anyone who wants to walk or drive across Van Buren Street. It has been fascinating to watch the various phases of construction. So many talented experts putting their knowledge to use in each phase of the project!

It occurs to me that many of our congregations are like the roadways around Chicagoland (and everywhere else in the country at this time of year.) The roads were planned and constructed by traffic engineers and craftspeople plying their trade in order to meet the demand of the time. When I used to drive in more rural areas, I was often on old stagecoach roads like the M & M trail that once connected Monmouth and Moline; or the Galena Trail that connected Peoria and Galena. All of those cities were meccas of population and industry at one time—in the early days of the state they were larger and more industrious than Chicago. Those old stagecoach roads were cleared of trees and brush when they were first used because they were in the best place to drive a stagecoach.  Now that they are paved, they are still drivable but they are not the fastest routes. Very few people use them now. We have congregations that once had a vital ministry in a particular area but now see few people on Sunday morning. The population has shifted or moved away. Sometimes the church building is very hard to find. What once made sense does not do so any more.

We have other congregations that are more like the interstate highways in and around Chicago. They also were laid out in the place where traffic once needed to travel and still needs to travel. But the needs of that traffic have vastly changed. There are so many more cars. There are more and heavier trucks. There are people in a hurry. In order to accommodate this change, the roads need to change. They need to be wider. They need to be smoother. They need to have excellent signage. The toll plazas have changed from “stop and hand someone a dollar bill” to “have your transponder in the right place so that you can keep flying down the road.” These roads, like so many of our congregations, are still accomplishing the same basic task as when they began, but they need to be continually updated in order to meet the demand of the times.

Which do you complain about more—the potholes or the construction to fix them? Which annoys you more at church—the programs or facilities or worship that does not seem to be a vehicle for sharing the gospel for the 21st century; or the changes introduced by your pastor or your session or your staff? If the church is like our roads, maybe the  choice is the same. Would we like to continue to creak along with a congregation that needs repair and updating because it is familiar to us; or would we like to go through the stress of changing so that more people can hear and believe the gospel? Neither path is easy. We are called as leaders to continue to listen for God’s guidance as we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

Rev. Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015


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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Have you seen the documentary about Rev. Mr. Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It made me very proud to be a Presbyterian minister. My husband and I went with some friends. As we were leaving the theater, he and I were standing outside waiting for our friends who were delayed leaving the theater. I ran into an acquaintance whom I know from the place where I work out. (Work out friends are kind of like kindergarten friends, I have found. You might have a nice conversation and even know something about their lives but if someone asks you their name, you are like a kindergartener reporting a playground encounter. “She is my friend, and we had a very happy conversation today.” Your mother asks, “What is your friend’s name?” “I don’t know. . . “) Anyway, after seeing the movie I did something I don’t often do with casual acquaintances. She was there with friends from her work at the public television station in Peoria. When she put herself in that context, I told her that my husband and I are both Presbyterian ministers. I don’t often do that in casual conversation because you can either see people trying to think back over conversations you have had and trying to remember if they have cursed in front of you; or they ask you some deep theological question they have always wondered about. In this case, I was proud to stand with Rev. Rogers.

There is a scene in the movie when Mr. Rogers invites the police office character to join him in an activity. The story on the show is that it is a hot day and Mr. Rogers is cooling his feet off in a little swimming pool. He invites the police officer to do the same.  The officer sits down, removes his shoes and socks and enjoys the cool water. There is a long shot of their four feet in the pool together. It happens that the police officer is African American. The larger context in the late 1960’s had to do with integrating swimming pools. In various places across the country white people were objecting to this practice. In the documentary, they show a scene from a newscast. There is a pool at a motel where black and white adults are swimming in the same pool. The motel owner objects and throws bleach and cleaning chemicals into the water while the people are still in it. Our colleague Rev. Rogers decided to address that issue on his program which was designed for very young children. He never said anything about justice or prejudice or white supremacy. He simply invited his friend to partake in a pleasant activity together on a hot day.

How do you address the issues of 2018 in your practice of ministry, whether as a Minister of Word and Sacrament or as an elder or deacon or Sunday School teacher or choir member or faithful worship attendee? What approach do you use to show your understanding of the heart of our faith that we are all saved always and only because of who God is, and not because of who we are? How are you bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ ?

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015


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