Running The Race

The pandemic has caused havoc in the lives of our pastors and leaders. Many are suffering from, and that is leading to a great resignation among clergy. The recent SCOTUS decisions around gun laws and the huge loss of women’s rights have ratcheted up the tension in an already anxious church and social environment. There is now a greater need for pastors and leaders to adhere to time boundaries and take all their vacation and continuing education time.
 
I ran track in high school and college. Although I was a sprinter, my primary event was the 440-yard dash, or quarter mile. (This dates me since the sport of track now uses the metric system and my event would be referred to as 400 meters today!) Anyone who has ever run the quarter mile knows that it is a brutal race and that is an all-out sprint from start to finish. Well, at least that is what it is supposed be. During the last 100 yards is when the pain kicks in. The knees of the runner lose lift, the posture leans back, the arms just can’t reach higher than the waist. We call this “the monkey on your back”! And one had better not stop and sit down immediately after the race. If so, cramps form in the calves, thighs, and stomach. Even when exhausted, an easy job is required to allow the body to cool down.
 
The key to my success in the quarter mile race was pace. Most runners like to go out fast and then coast as their energy gets depleted and pain sets in. My strategy was to do a perfect split: the same speed for the first 220 yards as the second 220. This took enormous discipline and control. And this is how I have learned to work in my professional life.
 
I am looking forward to some vacation time in July. It is an opportunity to attend a family reunion, catch up on reading and grilling, outsmart the racoons and squirrels in our backyard, and just relax.
 
Good leaders maintain good boundaries on their time. This means a consistent day-offs and clean breaks from the work of ministry with vacations and continuing education.
 
When I get away, it is a break for me and a break for those who work with me! My staff needs to function in case I get hit by a bus (God forbid!). It is important for the church to be able to function without the pastor or head-of-staff. This is an opportunity to hear God speak a different message, and for people to learn what they are capable of and expand their limitations.
 

Let us model healthy boundaries for one another. Let’s pace ourselves so that we can run the entire race. May we encourage one another to rest, play, and rejuvenate through frequent breaks.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

 

 


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Traveling to the Southside

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Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road 
Only wakes in the sea.” 
― Antonio Machado

Participating in the kickoff rally and march Friday night was fun, exhilarating, comforting, and heartbreaking. This first-time experience for me was buffeted by friends and fellow travelers. The presence of Beth Brown, Joe Morrow, David Neff, and members of their congregations allowed Presbyterians to say, “We’re here!”

We marched in areas of the city where lives have been taken and children have been killed by gun violence. I learned that the presence of these marches on Friday nights during the summer, create safe space for the community. Kids come out to play. There is rope jumping, ball throwing, laughter, and smiles. Just showing up brings peace to troubled communities.

The most moving moment of the rally was the reading of those killed in Chicago from gun violence from June 2021 to June 2022. They only read the names of those under the age of 17. It took four readers to speak the names of the 62 children lost. Each reader then ended with the name of their own child who was killed. Heartbreaking.

Every step we took in the march was in the bounds of the Presbytery of Chicago. As I listened to the pain and passion of the rally and then walked the streets of the Southside, I was acutely aware that I would be preaching in North Shore churches over the next two weeks. These churches, too, are in the Presbytery of Chicago. How can the presbytery become a platform of connection for these two different worlds that desperately need one another? As a connected church, how can very different areas and communities relate to one another?

Our connectional church is what Presbyterians bring to the conversation. The brilliance and depth of our resources when properly applied can make a difference in Chicagoland. May we have the courage to step out on this new path. May we be willing to become travelers from the North Shore to the Southside, from the north suburbs to the Westside. May we create new pathways, back and forth, sharing, learning, and loving what it means to be the family of God.

Rev. Craig Howard


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Breaking The Silence

It began with 10 people killed in a Buffalo supermarket. The shooter drove hours to target this location in the heart of the black community. The intentionality, the powerful weapon that causes mass death in minutes, was all too familiar. Like most Americans, and especially as an African American, my heart was broken. While still wrapping my head and heart around the Buffalo massacre, the Uvalde school shooting happened. 19 children. 2 teachers. The ineptness of the police. The horror of little bodies destroyed beyond recognition by exploding bullets. I cried for days. I’m still crying.

Yet, I was silent. I was silent because I live in Chicagoland, and the weekend following Uvalde, there were 50 people shot in Chicago. I was silent because Chicago is the reference for anti-gun detractors. Chicago is the national example for why gun legislation doesn’t work. I was silentbecause I am the presbytery executive, and the church that I serve and love is not officially present in conversations about legislation, policing, or other steps to end gun violence in Chicago. I was silent because I didn’t know what to do. What can I do? I’m only one voice. My silence led to despair.

I reached out to Rev. Beth Brown of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. Beth had sent a request that we publicize an event being held June 22nd at the Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverside. This clergy “Die-In(instead of “sit in”) is a public demonstration against gun violence. Beth said, “Craig, sometimes we just need to show up.” I understood showing up to mean I will have to bepresent. But I also heard “we” to mean the Presbytery of Chicago has to show up. We must find a seat at the table of justice.

 Beth also mentioned that this Friday, June 17th will be an anti-violence rally at St. SabinasChurch, on Chicago’s Southside. This rally is to kick off the Summer of Peace marches. Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabinas said, “Brothers and sisters, we can’t just get overwhelmed and angry; we must take action.” I plan to participate in this event. Being at these events involves getting out there and taking a risk. Risk taking and experimentation will be a critical part of ministry for the post-COVID church.

 Furthermore, beginning today, the Connect will have a section for social justice. This will contain activities that Presbyterians can participate in around Chicagoland. They will include anti-racism, ecojustice, and anti-violence activities. My hope is that the presbytery will be involved in justice at several levels, from marching to writing, from dramatic protests to prayer.

 Simultaneously, we will still create New Worshiping Communities, support our small and large congregations, attract and install excellent pastors, and provide teaching and learning opportunities for everyone. The presbytery can continue to do these things while participating in justice in Chicagoland.

 May the Presbytery of Chicago live into the Biblical narrative of God’s shalom, Jesus’ Kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit’s leading. And let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 Rev. Craig Howard


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Three Questions for the COVID Church

The challenges that face our congregations in this COVID-post-COVID era are multiple and complex. For example, now that it appears hybrid worship is here to stay, how do we cultivate, nurture, and include the online members? As society moves toward a cashless society, are we ready to take seriously online giving and its theological and liturgical implications? In addition to pledges and tithes, what role does planned giving, donor advised funds, IRA donations, etc., havein our overall stewardship program, especially with baby boomers? How do we approach the racial and class disparities that COVID has made bare? How do those congregations that are rich in resources help those congregations that are in need?

 

In his article, “Sacramental in Action and Being”, which can be found in the book, We Shall Be Changed: Questions for the Post-Pandemic Church, Greg Garrett raises three questions about the COVID church that I would like to share with you.

 

First, what does it mean to be the church? The time of COVID has been a time of quarantine for some. This unexpected and unwanted alone time could also be a time of prayer, meditation, and introspection. He asks, “How can the church direct our attention to our life of prayer?” Perhaps this is also a chance to do some reading that has been put off because of our busy-ness, take time to journal, or just take a nap!

 

Second, what does it mean to think like the church? We are all captive to the media around us. Much of what we see makes us react with anger or disgust. Garrett writes, “I’ve had to remember what the church teaches about how to respond to human events. I’ve had to remember that I am called to compassion and not to simply rage. . .” When I see the violence in our community and our nation, I am still learning what it means to think like the church and not be swept up with media pundits and social media influencers. This means seeking justice with righteousness and forgiveness with repentance. 

 

Third, what does it mean to be the church in community? If we agree with Garrett that we discern best in community, we must conclude that being in our heads too much may not be a good thing! Online worship can be a community building experience, especially if it is done with people we know. Garrett rightfully observes, “I feel most connected online to those with whom I already feel connected, and least connected to those who don’t share a personal history with me.”We are challenged to faithfully seek community and be committed to people we know, and who knows us.

 

How to be? How to think? How to live together in community? While these are questions for the church in any era, they are especially important to us today.

 

Rev. Craig Howard

 


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More Grief – and Anger – than Gratitude by Ken Hockenberry, Stated Clerk & Business Manager

 

“More Grief – and Anger – than Gratitude”

Dear Ones,

After writing last Monday (May 23) about the COVID-19 Remembrance Vigil (a meaningful, comforting event for so many), the very next day (Tuesday, May 24) we all heard the news of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.  The Remembrance Vigil at Church of the Cross in Hoffman Estates took place the very next day, Wednesday, May 25th.

The theme we used for the Remembrance Vigil was Grief and Gratitude – the grief we all feel over the deaths of more than 1 million people in the US from COVID-19 (over 38,000 in Illinois), and the gratitude we feel for the essential workers who saw us through – and still see us through this time of pandemic.

On top of that collective grief and our need to lament, we were then confronted with this awful, gut-wrenching news of 19 young children and 2 elementary school teachers who were killed by a teenager with a military style weapon.  The teenager also shot his grandmother, severely injuring her – and injured 17 others.  The teenage shooter was then killed.  Two days later (Thursday May 26) the husband of one of the teachers who was killedhe died of a heart attack, leaving 4 children without either parent.

So today (Friday, May 27) – honestly – I’m feeling much more grief that gratitude.  

Yes – I am still grateful for the essential workers, who continue to serve us and help us through this pandemic.  I am also grateful for police and special force officers who risk their lives and were eventually able to stop this teenager from killing more children.  But today my level of grief has increased 19-fold, and along with this grief, a feeling of seething anger.  

I am angry that an 18-year old teenager can buy a military style assault weapon, when that same 18-year-old teenager could not legally buy a can of beer.  I am angry that anyone can buy amilitary style assault weapon, and angry at a US Congress that allowed the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban to expire with hardly a thought or care about the implications of that non-decision.  And I’m angry that we do not have Universal Background Checks as a requirement to purchase any firearm.   I suspect many of you are angry as well.

May the Holy One transform our anger into action – as we pray, and vote, and pursue the ways of love and justice.

Ken Hockenberry – Stated Clerk & Business Manager


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