From Sue is a bi-weekly blog thought written by our Executive Presbyter, Rev. Susan D. Krummel (Sue), and published in our e-newsletter, Presbytery Connect.

Viruses and Introverts

We are all managing our lives differently because of Covid-19. I have a “clean” and “dirty” bag for masks at my house, for instance. I could never have imagined such a thing a year ago.

One of the ways congregations are most affected by this kind of vigilance has to do with practices surrounding worship. If you are a pastor or session member or a member of the worship committee; or if you are involved in the health profession in any way, you have probably been in multiple meetings trying to decide what is right when it comes to worshiping in person. Of course, while the leadership is spending time on these details, some of your members are wondering if they even want to go back into the sanctuary where they can’t fast forward. . . .

For instance, how will you celebrate communion? Some people decide during flu season each year that it is better to pass little pieces of bread and cups of juice than to have communion by intinction. I have heard that you actually come into contact with more germs by passing a plate that so many people have touched. Now we are way beyond that. Who will actually touch the elements? How will those who commune receive bread and juice—or only one?

What will you do at the door after worship? The most vulnerable person there, of course, is the pastor. When I was a pastor I would sometimes have someone transfer a damp tissue from their right to their left hand so that they could shake hands with me. Thanks. I have always washed my hands immediately after greeting at the door. Now there will be no greeting at the door. People will probably be dismissed by rows or in some other way so that there is no gathering at the door and the pastor certainly should not stand there to greet people, even without touching. I think that, deep down, this has been one of the hardest aspects of all of this for pastors. They are not getting that immediate touch with many members of their congregation each week. And, if they are honest, they miss the almost constant affirmation that they receive at the door. So many weeks without a constant stream of people saying, “Good sermon, pastor!”

There will be no passing of the peace in the usual way. Maybe you will wave. Maybe you will make the peace sign. But, you will not shake hands or hug each other for some months to come. If you look at Facebook you may have seen some memes from introverts like this one: “Stay home and don’t interact with people? I have been preparing for this my whole life!”

Speaking as an introvert, the whole idea of the passing of the peace has always been awkward for me, especially as a presbytery leader worshiping in a congregation where I don’t really know anyone. It is the one thing that we are forced to do in worship. If you do not want to sing, don’t sing. If you do not want to pray, don’t pray. If you don’t stand up and shake hands with people during the passing of the peace (before our current vigilance), people will think that you are an awful snob or that there is something horribly wrong with you.

I have read that our obsession with valuing extroversion over introversion is fairly new in the history of humanity. When most people lived agrarian lives and never traveled very far from home, they were not judged by the way they interacted with strangers or those with whom they did not have business to conduct. But now we value the friendly person who “has never met a stranger.”

We all need to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves from this virus and from illness in general. In your discussions about worship practices, you are making “worst-case scenario” decisions right now. But when this has passed, you might want to think about the ways you welcome both introverts and extroverts into worship. Is everyone being treated as a unique child of God? Even now, you might begin to ask those who worship with you in whatever way you are worshiping, what is it that they value about the way you have done things the last three months and what do they miss? What do they look forward to doing again when you come back together and what do they hope remains permanently changed? How do all of our practices when we gather for worship and companionship value our differences so that we may each come to know hope in Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Even Presbyterians Pivoted

Do you know the old joke about Presbyterians and change? “How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?” My favorite answer is “Who said anything about change?” Another one I have heard is “My grandma gave that lightbulb and so we cannot change it. We will just have to put up with a dimly lit room.”

But look at what you have done in the last three months! None of us could have predicted a year ago or even on March 1 this year how much would need to change so quickly. And you did it. Presbyterians, who are known for creating committees, and making statements that do not lead to anything happening, and sitting in the same pew every Sunday for decades—even Presbyterians pivoted.

Your session has met more than any of them ever wanted to meet to make decisions about the building and worship and the staff and applying for government funding (who could have imagined that!) and what to do with the preschool and the mission program and on and on.

Your pastor figured out how to use their phone or that video camera that they hadn’t touched in years or a conference call number or the US mail to keep in touch with parishioners and conduct worship in a way that, in many cases, is reaching more people than doing things the old way ever did.

Your Sunday School teachers and staff have found ways to help parents fill the long hours at home with children by providing resources and reading them stories on zoom.

Your musicians have navigated the choppy waters of licenses and sound-mixing and microphones that work well in a sanctuary with people in it but sound like an echo chamber without those people to provide you with beautiful and inspiring music. You could continue this list for your own congregation into the myriad ways you have changed.

As we migrate closer to our church buildings, let’s not forget how resilient we have been. Keeping in touch at a distance is not the only challenge we face. The world is still not all that interested in what we have to say. People may be even less likely to get dressed up and travel to a sanctuary and dedicate two or three hours of their Sunday to worship after what they have experienced. We still have big, old buildings that are using huge amounts of our church budgets or falling into disrepair. The challenges we faced before the pandemic will be with us when we settle even farther into a new normal. It may seem like things really don’t change.

But here is what has changed. We know we are resilient. We know we can act fast. We know that we are brave enough to launch into something we do not know very much about. We know that our leadership teams and sessions can make decisions without studying something for years. That is new information to many congregations.

Don’t forget what you have learned. The whole world may seem like it has turned upside down and in some ways it has. And we turned with it. Because what hasn’t changed is the gospel and our imperative to share it in a way that changes people’s lives so that they may come to know the same hope we know in Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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If We Say We Have No Sin

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sin, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You have heard that in worship. Most Presbyterian churches have a prayer of confession every week because we need it. We know that there is evil in the world and that there are evil sentiments in us. Every week we remind ourselves of our need to confess and of the ever-present promise of God to forgive us. We have the seal of that promise in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

We have seen the sin in ourselves as individuals and as a nation burst into full bloom this spring, this week, and this day.

Pride which manifests itself in the arrogance of thinking that a virus will not find me and I do not need to be cautious to protect others and that I have nothing to do with racial animosity that leads to murder.

Greed among people like us that has led others into sin as they see what we have stored up in our barns that will not go with us when we meet or maker.

Wrath as we grow angry watching others express their anger and longing and impatience in righteous and unrighteous ways.

Envy that leads us to long for a time that seemed simpler or purer but, in fact, only hid the evils of racism and injustice and inattention to the fact that the world is a dangerous place.

Lust that leads us to crave a normal life so strongly that we risk the lives of others as we venture out; and to condemn all of those who raise their voices in anger over centuries of oppression and murder whether they do so peacefully or not.

Gluttony that made us clean out the shelves of stores of essentials because we could afford to do so, leaving others wondering how they would make it through the day.

Sloth that will be ever-present again in our complacency that will arise when this current spate of violence and protest and longing for a better way quiets down and goes back to a simmering boil.

Chicago is burning, not for the first time and not for the last time. A virus that threatens us all still roams the streets along with those who peacefully protest and those who show the true depth of the sinfulness that lurks within each one of us.

Let us pray for forgiveness for the sin that is in us, looking to the log in our own eye before we examine the mote in the eyes of our neighbors.

Let us remember that we were imprisoned and guarded by the law until faith came in the form of Jesus. In Christ Jesus, we are all children of God through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no longer male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Let us call ourselves to look to the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, confessing their own sin, moving in new directions, so that we might lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely so that we might run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.

Our call is to be a people of hope in Jesus Christ. Let us claim that hope for ourselves, let us confess our sin, let us respond to our salvation by living as new people.

“For anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Masks and Stumbling Blocks

We have come to our “meat offered to idols” moment. Remember the controversy in Corinth which Paul had to address in what we have as his first letter to the church there? That was, by all accounts, a contentious church with different parties vying to have the final word on one issue after another. (Sounds familiar, right?) There were moral questions, there were questions about whose gifts were more important for the life of the church, and then there was this question about buying and consuming meat.

Christians in Corinth were a tiny minority and like most of the Christians in the first century of the church, there were many who were of quite modest means. Many of the first Christians had to operate their households on a budget without much wiggle room. Whoever did the shopping in those households would have been looking for bargains wherever they could find them. Many households do exactly the same thing these days.

Among the other practices of religion in Corinth, there were those who worshiped gods to whom meat would be sacrificed. However the ritual of this sacrifice went, there was meat left over afterward and it was sold at a lower price than meat that had not been handled by the one doing the sacrifice. Christians were buying meat that had been offered to idols and it was confusing people. Did they believe there was some power in this meat and was that why they were buying it? Did they believe in Jesus and also in the god to whom the meat had been sacrificed? Or were they just saving money?

Paul wrote to Corinth about this controversy. He admitted that there is nothing special about this meat and we all know that there is only one God. But he also reminded them that there were people within their midst who were just coming to knowledge about and faith in Jesus for whom this created a stumbling block. There were also their neighbors in Corinth who were confused about this new faith in Jesus that seemed to be intermingled with the god to whom the meat was sacrificed. Paul’s advice was to stop buying and consuming this meat since such an act created a stumbling block. The basis for the decision about what to do was what was best for the whole community of believers, not what was best for one individual or another.

Have you had the discussion at your church or place of work about going back? Will you require masks? What will you do about employees or members who refuse to wear them? Will you point out the governor’s order? Will you shrug your shoulders and say you think it is stupid, too, and form a coalition to try to convince those making decisions to ignore the order about masks in public? Will you share all of the science behind asymptomatic carriers and so on?

Or will you remind church members, as well as those who work in organizations that have a Christian basis, about Paul’s admonition? We are wearing masks not so much for ourselves but as a sign that we value every member of our community. We value people who are in vulnerable groups; we value people who have to interact with multiple people over the course of a day; we value community above any qualms we have about looking silly or feeling too hot or making it look like we support one political party over another. When we wear masks in public we are showing people that a part of our faith is to value the whole body of Christ and every member of it as we continue to bring hope in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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What if???

The following is from a blogpost by an Educational Consultant named AJ Juliani. It was shared with me by one of my sons-in-law who is an educator. As I read it, I wondered how we might adapt it for congregations. My suggestions for a few ways we might do that are at the end of the original, which is in italics.

What if??? 

“If they cancel the rest of the school year, students would miss 2.5 months of education. Many people are concerned about students falling behind because of this. Yes, they may fall behind when it comes to classroom education. . .

But what if. . .

What if instead of falling “behind,” this group of kids are ADVANCED because of this? Hear me out. . .

What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing.

What if they enjoy simple things, like their own backyard and sitting hear a window in the quiet.

What if they notice the birds and the dates the different flowers emerge, and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?

What if this generation are the ones to learn to cook, organize their space, do their laundry, and keep a well-run home?

What if they learn to stretch a dollar and to live with less?

What if they learn to plan shopping trips and meals at home?

What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday?

What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals, librarians, public servants, and the previously invisible essential support worked like truck drivers, grocers, cashiers, custodians, logistics, and health care workers and their supporting staff, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now while we are sheltered in place?

What if from among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life to truly learn what really matters in this life?

What if they are ahead?”

If we cannot have in-person worship until 2021, think of all that we will have missed. Palm Sunday, Easter, Senior Sunday, Confirmation, end of Sunday School picnic, Memorial Day service in the cemetery, Rally Day, All Saint’s Day, and so many times to have communion and the passing of the peace and coffee hour together in our beloved church building.

But, what if we learn that there are people who will join virtual worship and thereby experience the love of God every week who would never have joined us in the sanctuary?

What if the members of our congregations learn not to rely on the “professionals” for the contours of their spiritual lives, but find ways to create new practices and habits that bring them into the presence of God in new ways?

What if pastors and chaplains and professors and directors of not for profit organizations get to eat more meals with their families or calmly by themselves at their own tables and discover again the need for quiet and peace; what if they discover that having an over-loaded calendar and “no time to eat” is not a spiritual virtue but, instead, a detriment to their ability to lead and to be led?

What if our churches and ministers, wherever they find themselves, are at the forefront of a new Reformation, aided by the tool of the internet, but led by the Holy Spirit to reach people who are lonely and frightened in a way we have never done before?

What if among this generation of Christians a new Miriam or Deborah, a new Lois or Eunice, a new Martin Luther or John Calvin, a new Ida B. Wells or Martin Luther King, Jr. arises, freed from the constraints doing church “the way we have always done it” to lead us into an enlivened and life-giving new expression of our old faith in the hope that we know in Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Give Yourself a Break

Ruth Bell Graham, daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, religious leader, and spouse of a famous man, once said something that may be ricocheting around in your brain in these quarantine days. Her husband was the evangelist and counselor to Presidents, Billy Graham. They had a houseful of children but Rev. Graham was not home very often. He was always off calling crowds of people to repentance, visiting with dignitaries, carrying on his ministry far from their home. Ruth Graham was often interviewed by people who were curious about the home life of this great man. I believe that she sometimes shared that it was not particularly great to be married to a partner who was not there for most of the middle of the night illnesses and broken hearts and misplaced shoes and squabbles of their brood.

Apparently one interviewer asked Ruth Bell Graham if she had ever contemplated divorce. After all, having a mostly absent husband and such a busy household might lead some people to decide they needed to move on. I imagine the interviewer was trying to catch Ruth Graham in saying that she had thought about divorce, thereby undercutting the conservative teachings of her husband. Mrs. Graham’s response was classic. She said, “Divorce? No. Murder?. . . . ”

Perhaps you already knew that quote and it has come to mind for you in the last 425,000 weeks—no, wait, that might be an overstatement—that you have been stuck in your home with the same other beings. Maybe your human domestic partner about whom you were just having such warm feelings in January is now driving you crazy along the lines of “if he cracks his knuckles one more time. . .” Maybe it is your children, those little darlings whom you could not wait to bring into the world or into your family, who are pushing every button you have just to see your head explode one more time before dinner. Maybe it is your pet who keeps staring at you when you sit in “their” chair or who purposely puts a paw in the water dish and flips it over right in front of you just to make their point. Maybe it is your houseplant that has always loved that sunny window but is now turning yellow and dying (you are watering it too much!) no matter how kindly you talk to it. Maybe it is the dust bunnies under your bed that, no matter how often you shove that Swiffer under there, just seem to escape your best efforts. “Divorce? No. Murder?. . .”

Give yourself a break—literally. Find a way to shut them out for a while: headphones, a walk outside if you can, locked bathroom door. Remember, even Jesus could not stand to be around the same 12 guys and the women who were part of his entourage all of the time. Sometimes they seemed so dense, not understanding what he was trying to tell them, and he just had to walk away. He let them get in the boat while he was alone with his own thoughts. He went away from them to pray. Even at the end, he wandered to the other end of the garden to be alone for a moment and they could not even do what he asked.

Be easy on yourself. You do not have to learn a new language, read every book on your shelves, start lifting heavier weights during your workout, or even get dressed every day. If you turn off your bedside light at night and everyone else (plants, dust bunnies, pets, human beings) is snug in their beds, it was a good day. Remember, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, not even our impatience, or grief, or longing for a different time. God is with us.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Mad at God? God Can Take It

When I was in seminary, I especially loved Hebrew class and all of the other classes associated with it. Maybe it was because I took Hebrew before I took Greek. Maybe it was because I especially liked the professor, Johanna Bos, who had just come to Louisville Seminary at the time. In any case, I enjoyed my time working with Hebrew. A few years ago I was in a book club in Peoria that was mostly women from the Jewish temple. When I walked into one of their homes and read the little wall hanging that she had embroidered in Hebrew right inside the door, she was very impressed. Of course, it was the Shema, probably the only thing I could still read in Hebrew. 🙂 

When I did my Hebrew exegesis class, the assignment was the book of Ruth. I got very interested in the book and its structure. In fact, I wrote a paper with the theory that it had originally been performed by a younger woman and an older woman as a four-part short comedy. There are three main characters, but only two of them appear in any scene. One woman could have portrayed both Naomi and Boaz since they do not appear together. Now, you might wonder about it being called a comedy. I learned as I was researching my theory that the classical definition is something like this: “… amusing and satirical in tone, mostly having a cheerful ending. The motif of this dramatic work is triumph over unpleasant circumstances by creating comic effects, resulting in a happy or successful conclusion.” That is exactly what the book of Ruth is.

Here is the story: Naomi and Elimelech, her husband, are having a perfectly nice life in Bethlehem until there is a famine. This drives them and their two sons to immigrate as refugees to Moab where they establish themselves. The two sons marry Moabite women. But then tragedy strikes again. All of the men die, leaving three widows in one household. Naomi decides to go home to a house she owns in Bethlehem. She wants her daughters-in-law to go home to their own mother’s homes so that she will not have to take care of them. Orpah complies. Ruth does not. Instead, she tells Naomi that she is going with her. This is the famous “whither thou goest” speech. Naomi reacts to this profession of devotion by shrugging her shoulders and turning her face toward Bethlehem.

As they draw near to Bethlehem, some of the women there see Naomi and a stranger approaching and debate whether this could be their friend who has been gone for so long. As she hears them, Naomi says “Don’t call me Naomi (which means sweetie) but call me Mara (which means bitter.) She then rants about how God has left her totally empty. “I went away full and have come back completely empty.” (Of course, Ruth is standing right next to her while she says this. Talk about being patient!)

The two women eventually pull themselves together and realize that there is a law requiring a male relative to marry Ruth that will save them. Naomi and Ruth maneuver in such a way that this takes place and a baby is born to the union. Naomi ends up praising Ruth saying that she has turned out to be better than seven sons would have been. And, of course, Ruth is the great grandmother of King David, which makes her the great-great-great. . . .-grandmother of Jesus. Talk about a happy ending!

Here is why I have been thinking about this story now. Naomi is about as mad as one can get at God when she gets back to Bethlehem. And God can take it. She is not punished for her anger; she is not excluded from the plans God has for this family; she is not banished. She is allowed to rant and rave about her anger at how her life has turned out, even blaming God for it and she is still part of God’s good intention for the world.

Do not be afraid to be mad at God about all that you have lost in the last few weeks, about all that has changed so dramatically, about all of the pain and suffering in the world. God can take your anger. It will not exclude you from the family of God. And all of the loss and grief and dread do not mean that God’s good intention for the world cannot be realized. In the midst of this we are still the beloved children of God who can be angry at God or praise God—perhaps both in the same breath—and be able to hang on to the hope we know through Ruth’s boy, Jesus.

The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Does this Easter Still Count?

My husband and I are spending time each afternoon in visual contact with our grandchildren—we started on Facetime and have migrated, like the rest of the world, to Zoom. So far we have played Uno, Crazy Eights, War (card game), Charades, Family Feud, and Madlibs (I found an App.) Just a little warning about playing Madlibs with Middle School boys: You may hear about bodily functions we do not usually mention in church.

On one of our calls the week before Palm Sunday, my oldest granddaughter suddenly realized we are not going to be together for Easter. We usually find a time to do an Easter Egg hunt on some day near Easter if not Easter itself. Many pastor’s kids and grandkids are familiar with the phenomenon of “The Easter bunny had to come this evening because he is too busy tomorrow when it is really the preacher parents or grandparents who cannot quite fit in the frivolity.” For some of the last few years, our agnostic next-door neighbor has hidden the treasures in our backyard while we are at church. For the last two years, the kids have worked in teams and hidden things for each other. No hunting this year, no shared ham, no cheesy potatoes for twelve, no cake with green coconut and jelly beans on the top decorated by little hands. My youngest granddaughter reiterated the realization: “This will be the first time we have not been together for Easter.” Way to rub it in, Alice!

So much of what we associate with Easter will not happen this year. No long line of people you have not seen for a year waiting to get into the sanctuary. No Easter lilies filling the sanctuary and then delivered to shut-ins (or maybe you have figured out a way to do that.) No fancy dresses with new white patent leather shoes. No reminder by the preacher of the good news of the resurrection and the women who were the first preachers.

The question, then, is this. “If a savior is resurrected and we don’t get to celebrate it the way we usually do, does it still count?” If we do not employ all of the tricks and traditions we have used in worship for five or eighteen or forty years to make Easter more real, and to lure those strangers back for another week, will Easter still happen? If we cannot count the people in the sanctuary and imagine that they all feel connected to this congregation in a new way after our beautiful service, did the resurrection really happen?

The truth of the matter is that the good news demonstrated in a once and for all time way on Easter morning has never depended on us making it happen. The resurrection is proof that God is in charge. In fact, the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, rose for us, reigns in power, prays for us. Because we have faith in him we can approach God with confidence. The resurrection and all it promises do not require our participation to make them happen.

Instead, this is what the Lord requires of us: To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. What we are required to do to make the resurrection real does not involve bunnies or eggs or lilies or sanctuaries full of people. What it requires of us to make it real is to live as freed and forgiven people sharing the hope we have in Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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