The We Church Living in an I World by Craig Howard

I’m sitting in my sister’s kitchen as she is getting breakfast together for my then young nephew. She asks, “Do you want Captain Crunch or Frosted Flakes?” And then, “Do you want toast or English muffins?” I’m in shock. It’s not because of the overdose of carbs for breakfast, but that she is giving my nephew a choice. Growing up, my experience around breakfast was my mom saying, “Here’s your cereal. You’re gonna eat it before it eats you!” Those were my choices! Choice would characterize my nephew’s generation in a way I could not have imagined.

I grew up in the “we” generation. The news came across CBS, NBC, or ABC. WLS was the primary radio station (WVON for African Americans) and there were a few others. But most played the same music. They decided what we would watch or listen to. We all watched and listened to the same thing.

Fast forward to my nephew’s post 1960s generation. He chooses from cable TV what he wants to watch and when. He chooses from satellite radio from hundreds of stations exactly what fits his taste. I’m simplifying a major point. The American culture has shifted from “we do” to “I want.” From a unified way of thinking and believing to an individual way of choosing and being in the world.

In his latest book, Countercultural: Subversive Resistance and the Neighborhood Congregation, Gil Rendle takes a deep dive into the cultural divide of “we” versus “I.” Gil argues that the church is a “we” institution living in an “I” culture, and that the church is challenged to move society in the direction of a healthy “we.” Gil wonders if the church can find spaces where we all can live. “ In the search for a shared story, in which all can live, congregations, at their best, welcome all seekers, and intend to include with them all the differences they bring.”

Is there a story we can all claim and live into as Church? Is there a story that opens pathways to bring us together and not solidify lines of division and separation? Perhaps it is the story Gil recounts Karl Barth saying when asked to sum up his life in one sentence. Barth replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

What is the unifying story of your faith that connects you the Church?

Rev. Craig Howard

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For Memorial Day weekend, I am going to Canada with my daughter on our first Daddy-Daughter trip! I’m excited to spend a few days with my daughter. I am also anxious over the time I’ll be away from the office and work of the presbytery. I look at each day and think of all I could accomplish instead of how I might enjoy time with my daughter.

Since right before Easter, my schedule got a super boost. I can tell when the calendar and schedule is overwhelming. It’s when I’m in a Zoom meeting, while taking a phone call and writing an email at the same time. The other sign is when appointments are back-to-back-to-back, without time in between to think about what went before or what is coming after. Being busy is exhausting, but it is also a badge of worth and value in our society.

In his article “The Busy Trap” (New York Times, June 30, 2012), Tim Kreider writes that “People who talk about being busy are often boasting in disguise. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” Kreider sounds a bit harsh, but he is making a point about busyness and responsibility. It reminds me of what I learned about dieting and eating. Everything I eat, I put in my own mouth! No one forces it upon me. The same can be said about my schedule.

To slow down, to be idle, goes against my internal parent and memories of childhood of being scolded if I were caught daydreaming. But for Kreider, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice. . . The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” Idleness can be the source of vision and inspiration. Idleness can be productive.

Kreider makes one more statement about work and busyness. It affects how we are in relationships. He writes, “But I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. Life is too short to be busy.” Amen, Mr. Kreider! Amen!

Rev. Craig Howard

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Those Answering The Call to Ministry By Ken Hockenberry


So far in 2023 our Presbytery has participated in four Installation Services for Pastors and Associate Pastors – and there are more to come:

Matt Lang was installed as Pastor of First in Homewood, and Calvary United Protestant in Park Forest (Feb 26).
Jim Cochrane was installed as Associate Pastor at First in Lake Forest (Apr 16).
Kat Hatting was installed as Associate Pastor at First in Wheaton (Apr 30).
Kara Smith-Laubenstein was installed as Associate Pastor at First in Wilmette (May 7).

The “more to come” include:

Holly Hoppe is to be installed as Pastor of St. Luke in Downers Grove (May 21).
Elias Cabarcas Arroyo is to be ordained and commissioned as Pastor / Evangelist of Dia Nueva, our latest New Worshipping Community, in Hanover Park (Jun 4).
We had a similar streak of six ordinations and installations last fall (2022) – all of which means our now Past Moderator David Thornton, current Moderator Barbara Gorsky, and current ModeratorElect Jim Davidovich have all been very busy over the past 10 months.

These services of worship are uplifting for those attending, and encouraging to these congregations and these new ministers. These events are clear signs that the Holy Spirit is still at work in our congregations, calling women and men to the ministry of word and sacrament.  

This call, however, is not for ministers only. Part of the liturgy we use at these services includes the words: We are all called into the church of Jesus Christ by baptism, and marked as Christ’s own by the Holy Spirit. This is our common calling. We are all called to be disciples and servants of Jesus Christ. Some are called to particular service, and to particular forms of ordered ministry, as ruling elders, teaching elders (ministers), and deacons.

Such a statement lifts up our Reformed understanding of the priesthood of all believers. All are called, all are invited to engage in mission and ministry. Some, yes, are called to particular service – but the essential call of God is to all of us, who are part of God’s family by baptism. All have been gifted with the Holy Spirit – including you.

May we all seek to live out this common calling, to demonstrate the love and justice of Jesus Christ, as the Spirit leads.
Ken Hockenberry
Stated Clerk

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Painting a Beautiful Tomorrow

Presbytery of Chicago Mission Statement 2023

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.

Anat Shenker-Osorio is a communications specialist and highly sought after political consultant. In the book, The Persuaders, she talks about using images instead of words when helping people understand a policy. For her, Climate Change becomes clean fresh air to breathe and water to drink. Classism becomes paying people enough to provide for their families. Get the idea?Shenker-Osorio likes to say, “Sell the brownie, not the recipe,” and “Say what you’re for,” and “Paint the beautiful tomorrow.”

I wonder what is “the beautiful tomorrow” your church is painting? What does your church or institution look like in flesh and blood? What does the mission statement of the presbytery look like if we could visualize it?

Playing around with the mission statement of the presbytery, I came up with the following.

Pursuing worship looks like this:

Where people leave better than they arrived.

Where learning is met by action.

Where all generations find home.

A church flourishing in community appears like this:

The church in community means to calm and excite, to lead and to follow, to show all what it means to be a member of God’s family.
When people hear us say Jesus,” they smile because they know we care and love them for who they are.

As we meet and make difficult decisions, we know other churches in the presbytery support us, will help us, and encourage us.

These statements are only the beginning of painting the picture of a beautiful tomorrow. What about your church? Try closing your eyes and seeing the people in worship. Visualize the people in the community and see the community coming in the church. Now see people exiting the church and going into the community! See their smiles? See their laughter? See their connections and caring for one another? Feel their hope? Let’s make that beautiful tomorrow happen!

Rev. Craig Howard

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Focusing on What We Have In Common


Presbytery of Chicago Mission Statement 2023

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.

I had a wonderful day preaching at First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville on Sunday. The gracious and hospitable congregation ushered in worship with singing, clapping, strong liturgy, and lots of children! Worship was fun! Afterward I had lunch with two session members. We discussed their anti-racism work and their work on gender-equality. Both efforts are strong, challenging, and difficult. But Libertyville has the spirit and stamina to keep at it. I’m very proud of what this congregation is doing.

What became clear in our conversation is that there is similar work being done in other congregations in the presbytery. Similar, but not exact.

In the new mission statement of the presbytery, churches are challenged to be connected to one another. It is great when congregations reach out to one another and find common ground and ways to work together. Perhaps the presbytery can play a more significant role in connecting congregations while amplifying the mission and ministry they are doing. The challenge will be to connect congregations who may not share the exact same values and mission but have enough overlap to work together on projects. How do we create space for difference as we work together in ministry?

In the book, The Persuaders, Anand Girdhariadas interviews Loretta Ross and talks about her concept of Circles of Influence. Ross breaks down relationships based on the percentage of values groups have in common. She talks about the 90 percenters who share much more in common than the 50 percenters or even the 25 percenters. But one mistake all these groups find themselves doing is focusing on what they don’t have in common. “Instead of focus on vast areasof overlap, they fixated on the divergence. They spend too much time trying to turn people into 100 percenters, which is unnecessary.” Groups must learn to work together in areas they overlap, and not find division in other areas.

What does this look like in the Presbytery of Chicago? For example, what if the people who focus on Creation Ministry could also connect with those who focus on anti-racism work? What if those focused on church vitality and church growth also connected with New Worshiping Communities? These groups do not share 100% of mission with one another, but they have enough in common to support one another and move the dial on their work.

What ministry and mission do you have in common with other congregations or organizations in the presbytery? How can connections be established with churches that may not be perfectly aligned, but have enough in common to support one another in ministry? Perhaps the greatest challenge is to focus on what we share and have in common and focus less on areas of conflict or separation.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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