Hope Over Hatred

In the shadow of the racist terrorist acts in Buffalo NY on Saturday, Sunday afternoon I participated in Ravenswood Presbyterian church’s 120th year anniversary celebration. The theme, “120 Years of Lifting People Up”, is from Psalm 146. It was an afternoon of singing, testimony, food, and fellowship. Ravenswood and Pastor Magdalena Garcia exemplify diversity. It is a congregation of Mexican, Guatemalan, Columbian, Cuban, and Anglo members. Worship is bi-lingual in Spanish and English.
 
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the word “diversity” is used by white supremacist as a code word for white genocide.  They write, “‘Diversity= White Genocide’ is intended to suggest that multiculturalism will mean the death of the white race.” White Replacement Theory is part of the wave of hatred moving through our society. According to the ADL, this theory is connected to many of the latest mass shootings, including the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue of Jewish people, the El Paso Walmart killing of Latinx people, the Charleston AME Church killing, and the Tops killing this weekend in Buffalo of African Americans. This racist theory is used by TV commentators and elected officials to stoke fear and violence throughout the country.
 
Our prayers are with the Taiwanese congregation at Geneva Presbyterian Church as well. Although there is only one casualty so far, the mass shooting was committed by an Asian male, who may have had a history of mental illness.
 
 Ravenswood stands as a dome of hope during this time of racial hatred. This church is a reminder that people of different racial and ethnic groups often work together to create a beloved community. When I look at Ravenswood, I see hope. It is in the eyes of the seniors, both white and brown, who were lifted up by this church as they arrived in this country over the past 120 years. Hope is seen in the eyes of the children who experience growing up with other children of different races and ethnicities as normal.
 
As an African American, I am deeply pained whenever a terrorist incident occurs against African Americans. These incidents are designed to discourage, build hatred, and place fear in the hearts of African Americans and other people of color. Ravenswood reminds me that despite these heinous acts of evil, I still have agency. I can choose hope over hatred. Their example of diversity makes me look for other pockets of light amid this darkness.
 
And this is how I cope.
 
I weep for the horror of mass shootings, while realizing that even in the midst of those shattered communities, diverse people are coming together, responding with prayers and in tangible ways. I can only imagine the ways in which people are responding in Buffalo for the healing of their community. The God who weeps is also the One who sustains us. As I preached in my sermon at Ravenswood, “God is God now! We trust in God. Our hope is in this present-working, right-now-acting God.” May it always be so. Amen.
 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

choward@chicagopresbytery.org


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The Hispanic Island

Today, I had a wonderful meeting with the Hispanic/Latinx pastors of the presbytery. It was an opportunity to learn about the seven congregations and New Worshipping Communities that service in the Chicagoland. The 2020 census shows that the demographics of the city of Chicago and the Chicagoland area are changing. For the first time, Hispanics/Latinx have surpassed African Americans as the number one minority. The change is affecting the city as well as the suburbs. For example, Community New Day is a New Worshipping Community that is reaching Guatemalan, Columbian, Mexican, and other people from South American in the western suburbs.  
 
As we shared the stories and updates from the various churches over fried plantains, pulled pork, and Puerto Rican rice, I heard the challenge and opportunity of being a Hispanic church in Chicago. Some congregations have multiple languages spoken in worship. This extends worship time and isn’t tolerated well by everyone. COVID has created the same hybrid worship experiences as in most congregations. It is complicated as serious illness and death has struck the Hispanic community especially hard. This is one reason many have not returned to in person worship. Gun violence plagues all our neighborhoods, but especially those with People of Color. One pastor shared the trauma the congregation is experiencing from the murder of a young teen who was participating and planning to join the church. Over 150 people attended the outdoor memorial service.
 
While meeting with this group, I felt both connected and disconnected. I enjoyed the food. I even enjoyed hearing different languages as the variety of cultures were expressed. However, I also felt as though these pastors were on an island, separated from the presbytery. I kept asking myself, “How can the presbytery demonstrate that we care about what happens to our Hispanic churches and leaders?”
 
I believe the answer is in the relationships that are built between churches of different cultures, class, and community. It will take non-Hispanic communities connecting with Hispanic churches to make the presbytery feel as one. The gift of the presbytery is the encouraging and nurturing of these connections through meetings, pulpit exchanges, social events, music, and food! So much can be shared through these cultural exchanges.
 
How can your congregation facilitate a cross-cultural connection? What does hospitality mean in welcoming the neighbor who is different but shares the Presbyterian name? There’s an island of pastors and churches willing to work with you to create a new shared community.
 

Rev. Craig M. Howard


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Grief and Resurrection

As we live into this Easter season of resurrection, the presbytery is also experiencing and grieving the losses of pastors and prominent members. Grief is a puzzling and unpredictable emotions we all experience. Grief is a result of loss. It comes from being attached to someone (or something) that is no longer available to us as it was before. As an internal feeling, grief is not bound by time. There is no clock for the grief process. It is as individual and unique as we are.
 
Congregations experience grief when a pastor leaves or retires. Often strong relationships are established. Many life experiences are shared. People have come to know, trust, and love their pastor. When the presbytery separation agreement must be enforced, it appears inhuman and insensitive. But it is the best way presbyteries have found to help churches deal with separation, while providing space for new pastoral and leadership relationships to be created.
 
My Mom died April 15th 2011. Mother’s Day is the second Sunday of May. Her birthday is June 1. Each year I experience what I call the trifecta: death day, Mother’s Day, birthday. Sometimes (like this year) I don’t even think about her death day. Then, for some reason I find myself sad. I began having dreams of Mom, and it all makes sense.
 
As I prepare announcements, attend memorials and funerals during my trifecta season, I am even more sensitive to the dimensions of grief. My grief reminds me of my love. I loved my mother, and she loved me. It is because we share love that we experience grief. My grief reminds me of my connection to all people. It is a grief and love that is understood by others who have loved and suffered loss.
 
Death makes life precious. We build relationships in life, knowing that a time of separation will come. The grief is a reminder of the love. In her excellent book, Bittersweet, Susan Cain writes, “We should greet every morning with the reminder that we may not see it again. All these practices are to help us treat our lives and each other as the precious gift they are.”
 
What happens if we walk through the day meeting and greeting people as if they are a precious gift? How can we lean into the love we have for one another while we are still alive? I wonder what happens if we use this season of resurrection as a time to reflect on hope, love, and appreciation of the precious gift we are to one another. I appreciate you and the good work we are doing in the Presbytery of Chicago. Thank you for allowing me to have a share in your life.
 
Rev. Craig M. Howard
choward@chicagopresbytery.org

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‘Hallelujah, Anyhow!’ By Barbara Wilson

A few weeks ago, the world was given via video a gift of the realities of war and encouragement in the voice of Amelia, a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl, who sang Let It Go from the movie Frozen. The experience was particularly moving because Amelia sang while living with others in a bomb shelter in war torn Ukraine.
 
As I watched Amelia’s story, I thought of the many places in our world and in our presbytery, where people are living in devastation of all kinds, many without representation, access, equality or equity, let alone news coverage—and yet—the resilient human spirit takes one step at a time. 
 
So, what about us today? What encouragement do we need?  In our lives together with Christ, we are in Eastertide moving toward Pentecost. We have once again journeyed with Jesus to Calvary’s Cross and embrace the resurrection power of God’s Spirit available to all for the living of these days—and these days are exceedingly difficult!
 
We find encouragement in Psalm 150, which gives us the imperative to praise God.  Really?  Praise God these days? Does our God really understand what we the church are going through? What does it mean to praise God anyhow—no matter what?  How are we to praise God when we don’t feel like it or when its inconvenient? Praise God when the recipient of misuse or abuse, human-made or natural disasters, or the everyday, mundane minutiae? Psalm 150 assumes we know why we are to praise God and gives us the imperative to praise God: unabashedly, loudly, with instruments, everything and everywhere.
 
Yes, we know in our hearts, minds and spirits why we are to praise God. I’m wondering what would happen if we began to bring a spirit of praise to every meeting, to count our collective blessings and even name them one by one (as the song says). What if we approached our challenges with anticipation of and praying for the collective discernment the Spirit gives? How might praising God anyhow (even as we cry), help us become more encouraged, refreshed, revived, find joy again as we serve God together?

 

Let’s share our stories of praise to encourage each other.

Let’s tell of God’s tangible movement in our lives and congregations.

Let’s praise God with movement and dance.

Let’s praise God with instruments.

Let’s praise God unabashedly, loudly, with all that we are.

 

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150:6 (NRSV)


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Post COVID Church at Crerar

“We are having two resurrections today. It’s the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, and the resurrection of Crerar from two years of COVID!” I was present as pastor Lawrence Page spoke these words on Sunday to the congregation at Crerar Memorial Presbyterian church, on Chicago’s South Side. Easter Sunday was the first day of in-person worship service for Crerar since the beginning of the pandemic. Worship was joyful and full of energy, even though the participants were masked. They were asked not to sing, but that did not prevent them from shouting Amen throughout the service!
 

COVID has been a season of Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

for the living God.

When shall I come and behold

the face of God? Psalm 42:1-2
 
Lawrence reminds us that we are living into the resurrection. Many of our congregations have already begun meeting in person. The feeling of being together, fellowship, singing and worship, is being felt around the presbytery.
 
Now, as we carefully return to in-person worship, we are living into resurrection. But what does resurrection look like? Are we content to try and recreate the church we were before COVID? Are there learnings from COVID we can incorporate into a new way of being church? What does it mean to take our online presence seriously? How can we cultivate relationships with those who watch from afar? What type of leadership do we need to take us into this new church- the post COVID resurrection church? Are there changes to our of polity and liturgy that should be made to fit this changed church?
 
Lots of questions! This is the work of the session, pastoral staff, presbytery, and members of the congregation. At Crerar, the members are excited and worried. They tell me that it is great to come back together in-person. But they also realize the challenges they faced before COVID are still present with them as they return.
 
My hope is that an encounter with the risen Christ who has been changed, will change us as well. Just as Jesus gave Mary and the disciples the boldness to run and tell the story, I pray that we too will find boldness and courage to engage our world. As the resurrected church, we can become models of justice, righteousness, and peace to a divided world.
 
Hallelujah! Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!
 
Rev. Craig Howard
choward@chicagopresbytery.org

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