How About Looting Our Churches?

I saw an interesting news article recently about a business that is based near Kenosha, Wisconsin. The business is called “Penzeys Spices” and the owner of the business also lives there. You may be familiar with this store since they have shops in the Chicago area. I had never heard of it until I was in Chicago about 10 years ago with a good friend. I did not know the area as well as I do now, but I think we were at the store in Naperville. Then when I worked in Louisville for a few years, she would sometimes give me a list of things to pick up for her at the store there since there is not one in Peoria. I did not know anything about the owner of the business.
Now I have learned that he has taken a firm anti-racist stand in public statements. In the last week, with so much unrest and with businesses in Kenosha being broken into, someone wrote to Bill Penzey suggesting that he might not have the same attitude if it was his store that was being looted. His reaction? “What if we looted our own store?” They did an inventory of the Kenosha store. They are asking their customers to suggest food pantries and other agencies that are raising money to fund change. They will then donate the same inventory that is in their Kenosha store to these entities so that they can work toward change in their communities.
It made me think about what we have inside most churches. Having been a pastor and, especially, an interim pastor who stressed about getting rid of the clutter and the items we were not using in a church building, I have looked into a lot of nooks and crannies. I know that most churches are “holding hostage” a lot of material that could be put to good use.
Do you have lots of books and unused curriculum in your building? How could you get those books into the hands of people who will actually use them or donate to them to an organization that can sell them to provide money for the good work they are doing?
Do you have a kitchen full of dishes and pots and pans and utensils that have sat idle for some time or that you know you will not be using in the same way you once did? What about providing them to a place like Facing Forward to End Homelessness or a similar group? All of those dishes that just weigh down your cupboards could be used by individuals and families starting out in their first home as they leave behind their shelter insecurity.
Are there toys (that are still safe and usable) in a Sunday School room or nursery that are sitting idle? What group in your neighborhood could put them to good use in the ministry and mission that they do?
What else can you think of that is locked up in your church building but could be put to better use by those who are making a difference in people’s lives every day?
The circumstances in which we do ministry and call for justice are different for us as we do not meet together in the same way we did a year ago. But the call to do justice and to love kindess and to walk humbly with God has not changed. How can you use what is sitting idle in your church building to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Summer Reading and Racism

What have you been reading this summer? In almost every group of which I am a part, people are reading books about the history of race in this country and the way that history has brought us to the events of 2020.
For instance, I am in a small book club in Peoria with my daughter, who lives here. We have met twice this summer sitting far apart from each other in a backyard. There are several sets of mothers and daughters; most of the women are neighbors, and most attend Roman Catholic churches here. The other night, one of them invited all of us to the online study her church is having on the book “White Fragility.” The church my husband serves has a group led by a member of the church that usually meets in a brewery. During the pandemic, they are meeting online. The young elder who is leading the group chose “How to Be An Antiracist” to study for the last several weeks.
In every committee meeting of which I have been a part in the presbytery these last several weeks, the committee members have talked informally about similar studies in their congregations. And the committees have talked among themselves about their committee work and how it can address racism. I will soon be part of a study of the book “White Too Long” that will be led by my colleague in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery for Presbytery and Synod leaders from around the country.
I will get to that book once I finish “How to Be An Antiracist.” I find the style used by the author of this book, Ibram X. Kendi, to be very compelling. He uses stories from his own life to reflect the arc of the discussion of race in this country. It has made me think about how I was taught about race as I was growing up, albeit in a very different place and time and in very different circumstances from his.
Rosa Parks staged her protest on a bus in Alabama when I was six weeks old. By the time I was in grade school a decade later, her act of bravery and political action was a part of the discussion of “current events” both at school and in the media. Wherever I first heard about her and in most of the subsequent discussions in which I heard about her act, it was presented in this way: Ms. Parks worked hard all day and was tired. She sat down in the first available seat on the bus and then when she was told to move, she was just too tired to do so.
Is that the way you also learned this piece of history? It was not until sometime in the last decade that I learned that was not the case at all. She may have been tired, but what she was tired of was racism. She was a civil rights activist and she and other leaders decided that she would be the one to take this action and force those in Montgomery and across the country to address the racism that pervades our culture. I imagined that schools were probably now teaching the truth of her act of courage.
I was surprised, then, when I was talking with my grandson a few weeks ago and the subject of Ms. Parks came up. I asked if he knew who she was. He said, “Wasn’t she the one who was tired and sat down on the bus?” I was astounded and quickly told him what I knew of the real story and told him he should look it up to see what the facts of the matter are. I could not believe that schools and the biographies created for children that he enjoyed when he was younger were still telling the story the same way I learned it 50 years ago.
As you have continued your own examination of race in this country or started that examination in a deeper way this summer, what have you learned that disabuses you of the “facts” that you were taught? How have you come to understand your own place in the racial history of this country in a different or deeper way? And, if you have not been studying the literature (books, podcasts, television offerings, etc.) that will further your understanding, what are you waiting for? There are opportunities everywhere for you to think more deeply about this topic and to see how our call to bring hope in the name of Jesus impels us to change.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Life Lessons and God

We have entered one of my least favorite seasons of gardening—watering. It has not rained in my garden for a week and there is no prediction of rain for at least another week. I have perennials and they are pretty hardy, but even they need a drink of water once in a while. The water from the tap is not really that good for plants, what with the added chemicals and so on, but it is better than nothing. I hate having to drag the hose around. It always seems to get its muddy underside on my clothes. The only creatures that are happy about the sprinkler are the birds who take a bath in the unexpected shower.
Today, while I was moving the hose as carefully as I could, I knocked off these pink hydrangea blossoms. They will only survive in this dish of water until our kitten finds them, but at least I am trying to give them a little more life. As I brought them inside, I was reminded of an incident from my childhood.
We had one of those mean next-door neighbors that you might have had growing up. If the ball went into her yard, we were not allowed to go get it. She had some lilac bushes beside her house that were beautiful in early spring. They were loaded with blossoms every year. We were under strict orders from her not to pick any of the flowers or even to touch them. One day, I could not resist. I think I must have been about five years old. I made sure no one was watching and snatched a blossom. I immediately felt guilty and ran into my house and hid behind the bed with the flowers clutched in my fist. My mom knew something was very wrong and followed me into my room.
Now, my mom was a school teacher, team leader of the Language Arts Department at a high school, and an elementary school principal. She was a good and tough teacher. She taught at the same school I attended for a couple of years. One day I was standing at the drinking fountain at recess behind a couple of students from her class who were complaining about Mrs. Davis making them diagram sentences. They were a little surprised when they turned around and saw I had overheard them. I saw her wash out my little brother’s mouth with soap a few times—you know, that kind of mom. So I did not know what to expect.
What she did was talk very quietly to me as I was now hysterically crying and help me to calm down. I think I kind of blurted out what I had done, with the evidence still clenched in my fist. She asked me to open my hand and show her the flowers. She told me that now that we were in this situation we should not waste the beauty of the flowers. We found a dish (like the one in this picture I imagine) and floated the lilacs in it so we could at least enjoy their beauty. I am pretty sure I was also made to go over and apologize to the scary lady next door; I think my mom went with me. That part is not as vivid in my memory as is the gentle way my mom addressed my transgression.
I think it has influenced the way I understand our relationship with God. “It was wrong. You must apologize. And let’s see what we can do with these broken pieces with which we are left.” She is also the one who had the little saying on her desk that has informed my faith and my ministry: “What you are is God’s gift to you; what you make of yourself is your gift to God.”
The parental or authority figures in our early life help to form our understanding of who God is. I hope that you, also, had someone whose interactions with you helped you to form a solid foundation on which to build your faith so that you can celebrate hope and the promise of hope even in frightening and seemingly hopeless situations.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Feeling Discombobulated?

Have you had to look a couple of times at your calendar in the last week or so? When we started the stay at home order in March and some people were saying that it might take us into the summer, I thought they were out of their minds. Now here we are, five months later with a few changes, but not enough. There still is no safe way for us to put the lives of our congregations back together the way they were before the virus struck. 
There is also no legitimate way to put our congregations back together in the way we thought about race, about violence and injustice against People of Color, about our own history as people, as congregations and as a denomination around the issue of race. We can’t sing together or eat a doughnut after church from a serving plate.
The singing and doughnut-eating made us feel happy in our cocoons. Did it invite others in our communities to experience the gospel in a life-changing way? For most of us, the answer is “no” since they have not chosen to be part of our gospel sharing endeavor.  We can’t forget that our denomination split over slavery in 1861 and did not come back together until 1983. That reunion did not address the evil of slavery but instead acted like it was really an issue of states’ rights. In Chicago, we have not addressed the way the city and our churches reacted to the Great Migration or the redlining that followed or the inability of African American families to build generational wealth because of unequal treatment by banks. . . . the list goes on and on.
We have been discombobulated by the events we have witnessed since March 15. The news about race relations in the United States, I imagine, has been startling to most of us. If you are white, did you know in such detail what happens in far too many encounters with the police? Did you know African American farmers cannot get the government loans that make farming in the 21st Century possible? Did you notice that the people who make such small wages and who are now deemed “essential workers,” risking their lives to sell us our groceries or that essential latte are often People of Color?
And if you are a Person of Color, perhaps you have been surprised by the numbers of people who have protested; by statues of those who sought to destroy the United States and to preserve chattel slavery being taken down by governments; by the names of sports teams being changed because powerful companies have finally insisted upon it. It may be too little, too late, and still be surprising.
We face these questions in ways we may never have faced them while we feel untethered from our faith communities. You might have once sat in a Sunday School class and talked about some of these issues. It is just not the same on Zoom. You might have sat in your beloved sanctuary and heard your pastor preach to you about these issues and then had a chance to immediately engage with her or him over a cup of tea. Just not the same on the phone.
I like the word “discombobulated.” I think it describes the way we often feel – not sure what to do next. Not happy about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I think of it as the reaction that is just short of total panic. We are not quite running in circles like a headless chicken, but if we cannot find a way to end our discombobulation we may react as if our brains have been separated from our bodies.
Here is one of the things I like about the word “discombobulated.” You rarely hear someone use the word “combobulate.” As in, “How are you today?” “Oh, I am feely fully combobulated today.” Here is a definition of combobulate: To bring something out of a state of confusion or disarray. To manufacture by some unusual or novel means.
Perhaps that is the role of the church in these times. Perhaps what we are called to do is help the world to combobulate itself. There is a path forward out of the disarray and confusion. Our faith teaches us that. It also teaches us that we do not need to be able to see every step of the path to know that it is there. There also is the truth that we need unusual and novel means to help forge that new path.
The Israelites left the horror of Egypt only to long for it when the new path was so weird and different. The early church went back to their old jobs after the Resurrection because they could not imagine the way the world had been turned upside down by the renewal of the covenant between God and humanity in such a stark and sudden act.
So, be brave. Use the gifts God has given you. Find a way to combobulate yourself and your congregation in such a way that we can start to combobulate the world around us. After all, our call, at its heart, is to bring hope in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Using the Simple Machines of Ministry

Sometimes when I am gardening, I am reminded of fifth-grade science class. For some reason, I have a vivid memory of learning about simple machines. Can you name all six? They are the pulley, the lever, the wedge, the wheel and axle, screws, and the inclined plane. I have probably used all of them at some point in the garden except maybe the pulley. I have never had to rig a block and tackle over a tree branch to lift something heavy! When there is something very heavy to be done, I either enlist my husband, who is a reluctant gardener at best, or decide that the heavy thing is right where God intended it to be. Just before writing this, I was especially using the lever and the wheel and axle—both great ways to accomplish something that I could not do with just brute strength.
What are the “simple machines” of the life of your congregation, the devices that you use to accomplish the work that God has set before you? Perhaps the analogy to simple brute strength in the garden would be just unlocking the church door (in more usual times) or just putting your service on your Facebook page in these times. You are accomplishing the central function of a PCUSA congregation; you are providing for the worship of God, the witness to the saving love of Jesus Christ, and calling upon the strength of the Holy Spirit. But what more could you accomplish if you used the “simple machines” that many congregations have used in the past to amplify these efforts?
Did your congregation ever have a “visitor” or “friend” Sunday when you encouraged your members to bring people with them to worship? What is the equivalent for that in these days? Have you maximized your use of all of the social media platforms to which your congregation as an entity and each of your members have access? Are all of your members and adherents using their own social media influence to invite people to worship with you virtually and to become involved in your mission outreach?
Have youth and children’s ministries been an important way for you to reach new people? How are you still enhancing the faith journey of those kids and their families now? What resources are you providing to them and what opportunities do they have to process what they are facing? Especially in these next few weeks, when they face decisions about return to school buildings, they need to have a grounding in their faith to help them to manage their fear and anxiety and hopes for the future.
Did you have a “spring cleaning” day to clean up around and inside your church building so that it is inviting to members, friends, and newcomers alike? When I walk around my neighborhood, I see a couple of houses where it is clear that no one is living. The yards have a neglected look and give me an idea about what the houses might look like inside.
We want people to know—even now—that our church buildings are a place where there is vibrant life and where they will find welcome. Perhaps the virus-times equivalent of this is your online presence. Is it vibrant and an indication of ongoing ministry and mission? Maybe you could ask a friend to start from google and see if they can figure out how to access your worship service and any other opportunities you are providing.
We have managed the lives of our congregations for—wait for it—four long months now in this new reality. Much of what we did in the first few weeks was by simple brute strength. Pastors and other leaders just figured out what they could do with the knowledge and skills they or others already had. As the weeks have gone on, we have begun to remember that there are “simple machines” to be used—the good experiences we have had in the past that introduced people to the gospel that can be adapted for these new times.
We are all adapting in every aspect of our lives. The one thing that has not changed is the truth of which we are reminded by the writer of the book of Hebrews. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Our charge is to continue to bring hope in his name in whatever way we can.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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