Why Do We Do It This Way?

“Why do we do it this way?” I was reminded of this question as I looked at the sign-up sheets for the seasonal teams at First Presbyterian, Palatine. Instead of the ordinary committee structure orrotating classes, people sign up to be part of seasonal teams instead. In the traditional committee rotation, a person is nominated and voted into a standing committee of the congregation. The term is usually for three years, with the option of serving another three years (an option that is usually requested!). I wonder, why do we do it this way? When did this process become the norm and when was it written into perpetuity in our Book of Order? Who does this process benefit, and who is harmed or dissuaded by this committee membership system?
The seasonal team structure is very different. Instead of being nominated and elected, people volunteer to be a part of a team. Instead of a three-year cycle, the commitment period is based on the church season. It can be as few as 2 months or as many as 3 months. Then you’re done! A person may sign up for another team at that time or take time off.
Seasonal teams are not a solution for every church. But this type of planning represents thinking that breaks away from a traditional path. In the book, A Beautiful Constraint, Morgan and Barden write, “Today’s approaches are in effect yesterday’s approaches, based on what was appropriate then, not necessarily now. They are not simply processes, but paths made up of self-reinforcing bundles of beliefs, assumptions, behaviors, whose nature and underlying rationale may no longer be visible, and rarely questioned.”
As we slowly emerge into a post-pandemic future, how can we separate the bundles of beliefs and assumptions we depend on to do the work of the church and the presbytery and perhaps find a more relevant and meaningful way? How can we challenge the behaviors we assume are ordinary in our schools or care facilities? What would it mean to incorporate what we have learned during the pandemic into ways of doing things differently and doing different things in our future together? Let’s begin to question our assumptions as we become the presbytery God is calling us to be.
Rev. Craig M. Howard

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The Tyranny of Email

This weekend the IT service for the presbytery office will complete an overhaul of our email system. We will finally be able to sync calendars, perform sophisticated searches, and schedule when we want to send outgoing email. I am very excited and feel this change will increase our efficiency and productivity. To make this happen, email must be shut down for the weekend. From 5:00 pm Friday until Monday morning, the presbytery staff will not have access to email. Both my cell phone (773-320-4381) and Ken Hockenberry’s cell phone (847-910-4517) will be available for emergency calls.
What this shutdown amounts to is an email-free weekend and email holiday! In the book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman writes, “Email is that ingenious 20th century invention whereby any random person on the planet can pester you at any time they like at almost no cost to themselves by means of a digital window that sits inches from your nose or in your pocket throughout your working day and on the weekends too.”
According to Burkeman, the real problem with email is the imbalance between the number of emails we receive compared to how many we can respond to. Through email, we may receive an infinite number of messages but can respond thoughtfully and carefully to only so many. I find it difficult to sit and be thoughtful with a response while knowing my inbox is loading up while I’m writing. He compares working to clear the inbox like Sisyphus pushing the boulder to the top of the hill, only to see it roll down to the bottom and having to repeat the task over and over again.
One of the reasons Marilyn and I enjoy cruises (pre-COVID!) is that we are able to disconnect from the world. No phones. No emails. Very slow and bad internet. It’s a time to enjoy the sound of the water, lazy mornings, fun activities, and each other’s company. It’s a time to learn that the world goes on without us.
I’m looking forward to this email holiday weekend. Somehow, I must turn off the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and remind myself that the same God who cares for the birds in the air and lilies in the field, cares for the presbytery too. Even when email is off!

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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Charged and Installed

Tomorrow is our stated presbytery assembly. I’m excited to hear the words of Dr. Ken Sawyer as our preacher for the afternoon. In addition, the entire presbytery will be updated on the great work of our committees, commissions, task forces, and teams are doing. My hope is that you will take the time to attend and participate.

At this assembly, we will have the installation of officers, moderators, GA commissioners, and myself as your presbytery leader. In his daily meditation at the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr writes, “Despite everything that conspires to deny this truth, each one of us is of immense worth, of infinite value because God loved us . . . [Richard: As Bishop Tutu told me when I met him, ‘We are only the light bulbs, Richard, and our job is just to remain screwed in!’]” These words recognize the value and uniqueness we all have as children of God. Installation recognizes God’s anointing upon us for the particular work of this entity.

I would translate Bishop Tutu’s words in this way, “We are the lightbulbs that are installed, and our job is just to remain connected!”

Rev. Virstan Choi once said to me, “People will teach you how to be their pastor, if you are willing to listen.” The same applies to being your presbytery leader. You are teaching me how to be your leader, and what you need from my leadership. But it only happens if I listen, if I stay connected.

My charge to all who are being installed is that we stay connected to the life of the presbytery. Beyond attending and participating in the meetings of our entities, this also means listening to the concerns of our members and finding creative ways to respond. It also means questioning our ways of doing business as usual, while recognizing we are in unusual times. We have permission to show extraordinary care, while receiving exceptional grace. We are the light of the world, let’s make sure we stay screwed in and connected!

Craig. M. Howard

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Investing in Ministry Through the Mission Committee

Some years ago, I was pondering if I should go into congregational ministry. I was having lunch with S. Kim Leech, who was then stated clerk for the synod of Lincoln Trails. I asked Kim how I would know if a church is healthy or not? Without hesitation, he responded, “See how much of their budget they are spending on mission. Spending on mission is the key.”

Mission grants are one of the ways the presbytery of Chicago invests in ministry. These investments provide a return of justice, peace, and congregational vitality. Grant funds are the blood flowing through the veins connecting the entire body of the presbytery. The mission committee is the heart that receives and moves these funds to areas that are in need.

Using mission spending as a North Star would say that the Presbytery of Chicago is a very healthy church! The presbytery has a strong Mission committee that is led by Lisa Dagher and Jeff Lehn. In 2021 this committee provided grants to 23 different congregations and entities throughout the presbytery. In other words, 25% of the congregations in the presbytery received funds from the Mission committee. That is impressive!

What is even more impressive is how the funds were used. Often our congregations used mission funds to partner with another congregation or entity that is not Presbyterian. Through our congregations and entities, we were able to feed people who are homeless, evangelize teens through meals, provide books for kids, host a dental program for children returning to school, as well as promote and support mental health in a community. In addition, one congregation used mission dollars to have a church-wide retreat, while another congregation hosted several ice-cream socials as part of community outreach. Your mission dollars were used on the South Side and in the south suburbs, on the North Side and northern suburbs, on the West Side and western suburbs. We covered the entire Chicagoland area including diverse ethnic and racial groups.

In addition to grants that are open to all our congregations, the presbytery has two other grant programs worth mentioning. The Supplemental Grant program and the Small Church program help churches at critical transitions to determine their possible future. These robust programs assist congregations to take part in New Beginnings, coaching, and appreciative inquiry. 13 congregations have used these programs so far. Fantastic!

All told, the presbytery spent over $500,000 in grants in 2021. An impressive number for any organization.

It would be great to see even more congregations obtain grants in 2022! What are some ways to celebrate events in your community? How can your congregation partner with another church to help reduce poverty or engage racism in the Chicagoland area? What are some ways to spiritually nurture your congregation or reach out to your community? Does your congregation qualify for the Salary Supplemental Grant or Small Church program? If you have ideas, the Mission committee may have a grant for you! Click Here to see Mission committee grants.

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On Friday the moderators and co-moderators of each entity and group in the presbytery met for our Leadership Summit. The goal was to begin moving forward by letting go of past methods and practices, while looking ahead to what is possible. We used improv to loosen up and relax our thinking. We met in small groups to discuss the constraints of our entities and brainstorm ways to achieve our mission despite the constraints. Each small group created notes filled with ideas, and they are brilliant! They are a bountiful way for our presbytery to live into its calling for a post pandemic church. I am so proud to be your presbytery leader! The list is both wonderful and overwhelming.
This brings me to the question; how do you handle an overwhelming list? What do you do when your to-do-list is longer than the hours of the day and your priorities include lots of A items, with few items falling into the B or C category? Sometimes work seems like the perpetual inbox of our email. As soon as we answer one email, another appears. The attempt to have a zero inbox is the holy grail of time management. But we quickly learn that our efficient response to email becomes a weird signal to others to send us even more email because we respond so quickly! It all becomes part of feeling overwhelmed. Combine our feeling of being underwater at work, with a lack of time for exercise, reading, family, or play, and we can see why Andrew Root said in the book, The Congregation in a Secular Age, “Depression is an ailment of speed, the feeling of not being able to keep up.”
As we continue to live through this pandemic, I am concerned how we are handling our schedules, workloads, and daily pressures. In conversations with our pastors, I feel their sense of running behind, uphill, and getting further away from their goal of a healthy church. And life just keeps piling on.
I’ve accepted the reality that I will not get it all done. I will not achieve everything on my mile long to-do-list. I can’t be the model pastor, husband, father, son, and friend. I will have to choose what I will do, and what I will not. in the book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman calls this coming to terms with our mortality. Four thousand weeks is 80 years, or the average length of life. He pushes us to “Fully enjoy the reality in which we find ourselves. . . We recoil from the notion that this is it: that this life with all its flaws and inescapable vulnerabilities, its extreme brevity, and our limited influence over how it unfolds, is the only one we’ll get a shot at.” He challenges us to accept that we cannot do it all. When we choose anything, we are declining to do something else. This is what it means to be human, to choose.
There is solace in deciding to do something while realizing we may not do everything. There is peace in knowing that what we do may not live up to our imagined perfection. We have grace and love from a God who loves us for who we are and not for what we can do, or how much we can get done.
On this first day of the week, may we bath in God’s grace, knowing that we are judged by the life of Jesus, and not the length of our to-do-list.


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