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

Leading with Prayer

The picture that accompanies this note has hung in my husband’s church office for many years. Do you know what it depicts? It is the elders of a congregation praying with their pastor before worship. In this picture it looks like it is probably the pastor who is praying, but in my experience, it is usually an elder or other leader who does the praying.  I got to experience this phenomenon when I worshiped at Pullman Church a few weeks ago. The clerk of session, pastor, administrative assistant, and I gathered for prayer before worship. Have you ever been involved in this activity?

When I have been a guest preacher I have sometimes been asked to let the elders pray for me before worship, or someone will offer prayer for the whole worship team—someone who is not the pastor. In congregations where this is their custom, they are kind of shocked that they have to chase me down or remind me that this has to happen before worship. They are so accustomed to it and it is so much a part of their Sunday morning routine that they do not realize that not everyone does this. I find it very comforting. It reminds me of one of the first congregations my husband and I served as co-pastors. It is a very rural church near Monmouth, Illinois. In the days we were there, Sunday School was before worship. They had a person whose title was “Sunday School Superintendent.” This is a role that is left over from the beginnings of Sunday Schools when they were not attached to worship in a congregation but were held off-site where unchurched children could be found. There needed to be someone in charge of that enterprise and in some congregations the office has stuck. At the beginning of Sunday School, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for opening exercises, birthday pennies, announcements, and prayers. This leader of the Sunday School would always pray for the pastor and for the leading of the Spirit in the worship service. 

What does it say about our theology to have the elders or others pray for the pastor before worship? (And in a kind way, not the “Oh please don’t let her get lost in the middle of the sermon again or preach for 40 minutes!!) One of the things of which we are reminded is that the worship service belongs to the session. It is their responsibility to provide for worship every week. It also reminds us that there is something beyond the pastor to which we are pointing in worship. Although many people will greet the pastor at the sanctuary door after worship with a compliment about the sermon, the point of worship is not the pastor’s performance. It is a good sermon if it has made the worshipers think more deeply or in a different way about their faith. It is a good sermon if it has moved listeners to take some action that reflects their faith. It is a good sermon (even if the pastor stumbles or goes on a little long)if at the end of it, people who have heard it thank God once again for salvation and what it means for them and the world.

What traditions does your congregation have with regard to helping the pastor and other worship leaders prepare for worship? Do you expect the preacher to be available to talk about problems in the preschool and the leaking radiator until one minute before worship starts? (Maybe not really very helpful. . . ) Do you help to provide a clear path between the pastor’s office or robing room or the bathroom or wherever the pastor finds her or himself just before worship so that they do not get side-tracked? If your pastor is an extrovert who wants to greet everyone before worship starts do you help the pastor bring that to a close so that worship can begin? Maybe those elders in that picture have drawn the pastor aside to help avoid all of those distractions—and the pray for the wisdom of the Spirit so that this worship service will indeed become a beacon of hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

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


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Symbols

I once lived in a place where I would occasionally drive by a Presbyterian Church that had a very large cross in its front yard made of charred wood. This was in West Central Illinois. The cross was very important to the congregation as it stood in the yard in front of their new church building. It had deep meaning and evoked profound emotions for the members of the congregation and other members of their broader community. They knew exactly what it meant, what it stood for, and why it helped them to remember a painful past in a restorative way. However, they were blind to the way this symbol of their life together might be perceived by people who were new to their community or who were from outside their community.

Perhaps you have realized that their previous building burned down. This cross was made of charred timbers that had been recovered from the site of the fire. The charred cross was, to them, a symbol of hope and of the resurrection of the life of their congregation. To almost anyone else in the United States a charred cross means something very different. It would never be seen as symbol of hope and new life but of something much more sinister and threatening and evil.

January 15 is a date that is very important to me and my family. We celebrate it every year and it has even sometimes been used as a combination or PIN code for various objects or accounts. No one in my family will ever forget that date. But it does not have this high level of importance for the same reason that it has become such an important date in so many peoples’ lives. When my fiancé and I chose that date for our wedding in 1977, we had two considerations in mind. We were moving to Louisville to start seminary a few weeks later; we needed to be married before we went. And, my best friend needed to be back at school in Oklahoma the following week and her dad suggested that it would be better to have the wedding before she went back so that he would not have to pay to fly her home. We did not know that it was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday or that the Monday closest to that date would become a national holiday a few years later. The date has meaning for us for both reasons, of course, but people outside of our family do not have the same associations with it that we do.

The place where you worship is, I imagine, full of images that are meaningful to you. Some of them could be easily interpreted by any Christian who enters that space—a cross, an open Bible, a baptismal font, a cup and chalice. There are probably other objects and images that are not as universally understood. Perhaps there are even articles that have some kind of meaning for some people in your worshiping community that are not understood by everyone who gather there. For instance, when I worshiped at Hanover Park the first Sunday of the year, I was shown something that is very important to them—a set of flags from around the world. I would not have known without being told that they represent the countries from which members of their worshiping community have come. Now those flags have the same meaning for me as they do for the congregation.

We often take for granted the idea that “everyone” knows what our important touchstones mean. Maybe as you start this new year it would be a good time for you to examine your assumptions about your worship space and deepen everyone’s understanding of those important images that remind us who and whose we are.
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago

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Happy New Year

That is always a happy thing to hear from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. For me, of course, it has a deeper meaning this year as I begin my tenure with you as your executive presbyter. I look forward to learning more about the Presbyterians of Chicago as we work together. I have been coming to Chicago my whole life, but mostly for shopping, museums, and seeing musicals in the beautiful theaters. (My first one was the Sound of Music). My mom, grandma, and I used to take the Rock Island Rocket from Peoria every December to shop at Marshall Field, Kroch’s, Brentano’s, and Fannie Mae. We would end our day with tea under the big Christmas tree at Field’s and then get on the train to go back home.

Now it will be your turn to teach me about what it means to be a Presbyterian in these parts. How is your congregation a blessing to the neighborhood in which you find yourselves? What makes your neighbors happy when they drive or walk by your building? How is your ministry in a hospital or educational institution or community organization enriching the lives you touch and how are your bringing them hope? I am anxious to hear your stories.

Here are a few of my hopes for our ministry together. I hope that we can build on the good work you have done during the two years of interim leadership and “put some legs on” what you have done together. Are we ready to use what you have learned having deep conversations with one another around tables as we move beyond conversation into action?

I hope we can continue to build a sense of community. There are so many ways for us to be fragmented into different constituencies—northside/southside; one race or another; multi-staff church/church with a part-time pastoral leader: the list could go on and on. What are your ideas about how we can see that we have much more in common than what divides us?

And, I hope that we can become a laboratory for the PC(USA) in addressing issues that cannot be ignored. We have the resources, the experience, the insight, and the ability to be a leader as a presbytery to find solutions for both the processes we need to address these issues and the ability to come up with some solutions that might work in other places as well. With what issue would you like to start? Funding of congregations and denominations (since giving as an obligation does not seem to be as appealing as it might once have been.)? Racism and the inequities it has created in leadership and resources? Congregations that have become burdened with buildings that are a financial drain and are used for only a few hours a week by members alone? Pastoral leadership that is at a loss to address the “stuckness” of many congregations? Where shall we start?

I hope you have had a restful holiday season and that you are ready to get back to work invigorated and hopeful for the year ahead as we find ways to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sue
Rev. Susan Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Chicago Presbytery


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