Always In Pursuit

(This is part 1 of a series on the mission statement of the Presbytery of Chicago)

Presbytery of Chicago Mission Statement 

Pursuing worship, service, and communities of justice, we are the Presbytery of Chicago, flourishing together by relating people, neighbors, and churches to one another in Christ Jesus.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Philippians 3:12

When running track in high school and college, I was taught to run through the finish line, not just to run to it. The goal is to run through the tape at the end. This means leaning forward and forcing the tired legs to lift higher and the fatigued arms to pump faster. This is why athletes often fall over the finish line in track meets as they are leaning forward and striving until the end.

This is also why “pursuing” is the first word in the mission statement. It means we have not finished the race, but are still running, striving, and pushing for excellence in worship, service, and communities of justice. To be in pursuit is to declare we are still becoming, we are reformed and still reforming. In what ways is your congregation striving to improve worship, service, and participation in communities of justice?

Worship, service, and being in communities of justice involves interaction with others. The mission statement values relationships and connections. Being church is communal. Being the Presbytery of Chicago is connectional. How is your church connecting with its neighbors? What communities beyond your neighborhood does your church connect with?

In addition to connecting with local communities, the mission statement of the Presbytery of Chicago must address broader issues in Chicagoland. Pursuing communities of justice is to strive and be a part of spaces that stand against racism, classism, violence, and the destruction of the environment. These are values of the Presbytery of Chicago, and to be a member of the presbytery means holding these values while connecting with others in communities of justice who share these same values. What issues of justice does your congregation address?

My prayer this Lenten season is that each session takes seriously what it means to be in pursuit of worship, service, and communities of justice. Amen.

Craig Howard

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Knowing When to Hold Them


At the past Presbytery Assembly I shared a new Mission Statement for the presbytery:

Pursuing worship, service, and communities of justice, we are the Presbytery of Chicago, flourishing together by relating people, neighbors, and churches to one another in Christ Jesus.

Our vision is simple. Pursuing, Flourishing, and Relating. It is through these activities we are the presbytery of Chicago.

I will take the next few blogs to unpack the mission statement. The goal is to have a statement that energizes our congregations and committees. The mission statement is connected to our commitment to be a Matthew 25 presbytery. The Presbyterian Mission Agency describes Matthew 25 as a bold vision. To have energizing and bold vision is important for leadership. But there is another aspect of leadership we must also consider as we exit the pandemic and live into a new church reality. This may also be a time for leaders to hold their congregations and institutions.

In the Harvard Business Review article, The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership, Gianpiero Petriglieri describes the leadership posture of holding. “It describes the way another person, often an authority figure, contains and interprets what’s happening in times of uncertainty. When a leader is holding, “They think clearly, offer reassurance, orient people, and help them stick together. That work is as important as inspiring others.”

The concept of holding is taken from studies that show that children who are held grow up to become healthy adults who can respond in positive ways to difficult circumstance. There are times parents must hold a child and create a holding environment to provide comfort and confidence in times of crises. Petriglieri takes this concept of interpersonal holding and expands it to institutional holding, which includes policies that promote equality and fairness, promotes inclusive dialogue and communication that brings people together instead of polarizing them.

Holding is what I experienced when a session crafted communication to the congregation informing them that although the congregation experienced crisis, the session is responding, healing is taking place, and the church is learning from the experience. Holding is having a staff meeting after a staff member has been dismissed to remind the remaining staff that their positions are secure, the released staff is being supported, and the finance committee is working hard to make the church or institution is financially stable. This work of holding is very important. Without it, “Anxiety, anger, and fragmentation ensue.”

As we move into the vision God is calling Chicago presbytery to become, let us move forward in unison; supporting and encouraging one another, while holding each other as become presbytery together.

Rev. Craig Howard

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Listening to One Another

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 28th at 4:00 pm, will be our first Presbytery Assembly of 2023. In my sermon to the presbytery, I look forward to discussing a new mission and vision statement. I also look forward to challenging the presbytery to live up to its commitment to be a Matthew 25 presbytery. Matthew 25 is a vision put forward by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It challenges each presbytery and congregation to focus on three aspirations:

Building congregational vitality

Dismantling structural racism

Eradicating systemic poverty

When it comes to the aspirations of our presbytery and life together, we agree that we want to be a relevant, vital church of Jesus Christ in our community and world. But once we move from aspirations to strategy, from the “what” to the “how” we discover areas of tension and disagreement.

For example, some believe that for their church to grow, they need a young pastor with children. Others may feel the church just needs to have yoga classes or other events open to the community. Still others think the church needs to advertise and market to attract more people. All of these are different ideas and strategies for the same aspiration of growing the church.

The real challenge for our presbytery and congregations is to have honest conversations with one another. Even when we can’t agree, it is important that we listen to one another and try to grasp the other’s point of view.

In coaching, there are three levels of listening.

Level 1: Internal Listening, where we focus on ourselves, our experiences, our opinions as they are related to what’s being said.

Level 2: Focused Listening, where we listen to the other person. Our thoughts do not enter into the conversation, but curiosity can.

Level 3: Global Listening, where we listen to what isn’t being said such as body language, the inflections and tone of their voice, their pauses, and hesitations.

So often we are stuck at level 1 of listening. But we are challenged to move from level 1 to level 3. In his effort to connect us to level 3 listening, Ron Heifetz, one of the authors of The Practice of Adaptive Challenge put it this way: “A leader needs to cultivate ways of listening to people both musically and analytically, so you can hear the songs beneath the words and detect the underlying values, loyalties and interests that are at stake and being protected.”

As we move forward and get out to see one another in this post-COVID world, let’s talk and really listen to one another. Let’s try and hear the song beneath the words and the music of the heart. May we value one another and realize that it is alright when we disagree about our aspirations and what we value. Being a Matthew 25 presbytery means learning through risk and experimentation. Through listening and hearing, we will find our way forward, together.

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Lent 2023


One of the many learnings from the pandemic is that there is a necessary toughness needed to be a pastor or church leader. And it may come with a price. If we are not careful, over time this toughness creates a thick skin, and we become a hardened and frozen botox smile. We fear sharing true feelings, lack trust in members and colleagues, and even lose touch with the God-center-seed in our hearts. Lent is the opportunity to crack the layers of thick calcium that develops while doing the work of ministry. Lent provides an opportunity to strip away folds ofhurt, pain, and grief. Lent forces us to deflate our egos as we ponder ashes. Lent brings us back to the basics of prayer and word, solitude, and service.

Thanks to the wisdom of Rev. Deborah Block at Emanuel presbyterian church in Milwaukee, for the past 10 years I’ve read a book a week during Lent. In addition to my Lenten reading this year, I’m revisiting God Hunger: Discovering the Mystic in All of Us by John Kirvan. This book grounds me. It reminds me that although I’m just an ordinary person, I have fallen in love with a God who seeks me as much as I seek God. Kirvan reminds us that, “We are seeking to replace ‘success’ as the standard of our lives with a spirit centeredness. . . It’s a reversal that requires us to turn our lives upside down, inside out.”

I am looking forward to this Lenten journey. I’m inviting the Presbytery of Chicago to journey with me. Each of our congregations have special worship services. Some have Lenten devotionals and Lenten programs that encourage the congregation to walk together. There are resources available in the Presbyterian Outlook and on the PCUSA website as well.

As we walk with God and with one another during this Lenten journey, may we be guided by these words of Kirvan: “The God we pursue is also our pursuer. What keeps us apart is not God’s distance but our flight. We need perhaps more than anything else, to stop running and let ourselves be caught.” May it be so with each of us.

My books for Lent 2023

Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation

by Linda Villarosa

The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas

by Gail Beckerman

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America

by Pekka Hamalainen

In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss

by Amy Bloom

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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You Are Amazing

A few weeks ago, I received the most unusual and delightful email. Lauren Cochran and Matt Wrzeszcz are pastors at Yorkfield Presbyterian Church in Elmhurst. They sent me a humorous video of the middle school students asking me to come to their confirmation class. Pastor Lauren first had them ask in a nice voice, “Please come to our confirmation class.” Then she had them put on a mean-mug and use an aggressive voice, “Please come to our confirmation class!! It was hilarious! How can I resist a group of 7th and 8th graderssome dressed in hoodies, others with braces, and freckled facespleading for me to come and talk to their class! We set a date and along with Lauren and Matt, I had a full day of preaching to the congregation and meeting with the middle school youth.

For that Sunday, I decided to preach as though I were speaking to the middle school young adults. My sermon was filled with affirmations, encouragement, and support. I used terms like, “You are amazing!” and “You are beautiful and blessed!” After worship as I greeted the congregation, an older man said, “Thank you for your sermon. You made me feel young again, like I was in middle school!”

I am beginning my second year as your executive presbyter. This past year has brought the typical hills and valleys of ministry. Through these experiences I’ve been impressed by the quality, professionalism, and expertise I find at session meetings, committee meetings, and when preaching to congregations. Each week of my leadership, I have an encounter that leaves me smiling and feeling joyful about the people I serve and the colleagues I serve with. You are amazing!

I’ve been playing around with a new tagline on my email. It reads, “Ministry can be fun because of people like you!” Even as we face the many challenges of doing meaningful and relevant ministry in Chicagoland, we can face them with confidence because when push comes to shove, we are presbytery together.

It is a blessing to serve a diverse and strong presbytery. I’m blessed to serve as your executive presbyter for another year.

Rev. Craig M. Howard 

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