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.
 

The Wren House

We have had at least one wren house in our backyard for many years. Sometimes I remember to bring it inside during the winter months after cleaning it out. Some springs it still has last season’s nest in it when the wrens arrive looking for a place to give birth to and raise their babies. It hangs in a corner of my backyard in a shady space. It is high enough off of the ground and far enough away from the main trunk of the tree in which it hangs to provide a feeling of safety for the wrens. I love to hear their song—it seems impossible for such a big, energetic song to come from such a little body. We can hear it through open windows (and sometimes through closed ones because of its volume) and I hear it when I am working in the garden.

When I am away from the house I hear the regular song. But, when I get close to the house while I am weeding or pruning in my perennial garden, then the sound changes. One or both of the adults will scream at me, trying to frighten me away from their house. This screaming becomes even more intense when there are babies in the house, when the wrens feel most vulnerable about their home and its future. I have never abandoned my work because of this interaction. It does remind me to be careful—as I would be anyway—and not to bump into the house when I stand up from pulling a weed.

I always want to say to the wren—okay, sometimes I actually do say to the wren—“Settle down. I am not your enemy. Who do you think hung this house here in the first place? Who do you think maintains these beautiful surroundings in which you are raising your family?” The wrens see me as a threat when I am nothing of the kind. The only way that I would pose a threat is if I became careless and forgot they were there in the midst of the work I am doing.

Since I began Mid Council work 15 years ago, the wrens have reminded me of congregations, at times, in their relationships with presbyteries. Sometimes congregations see presbyteries as a threat—that the presbytery wants to close the church or that the presbytery wants to send a pastor with whom they will not be happy. Of course, once in a while, presbyteries have created situations for congregations that were not ideal. Often it is because they have not been paying the proper kind of attention or they have not gathered all of the information they need.

But, overwhelmingly, the presbytery is a partner to congregations. It represents the long line of Presbyterians who have nurtured faith in this place and reached out to change the lives of those within the sphere of influence of the congregation. It provides help when a situation arises that is beyond what the members of the church can manage themselves. It upholds the theology and polity on which the congregation began and which its members appreciate. It certainly does not have ill will toward a congregation but wants every congregation to fulfill its call and use its gifts wisely.

The wrens and I will continue to work out our relationship. Even though they become agitated, it will not stop me from hanging up their house each year and providing a welcoming environment in which they can raise their little ones. Our presbytery will continue to work toward the same kind of relationship with our congregations, even when it looks as if we are moving in different directions. In the end, the congregations and the presbytery have the same goal: to use the gifts we have been given in order to create an environment in which we can all work toward the day when all of God’s creatures live in hope.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 
 
 

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Friends with God.

There is a new tv show in the fall of 2018 called “God Friended Me.” I have never seen it, so this is neither an endorsement nor an encouragement not to watch it. As quickly as network shows come and go now, it may not even be on the air by the time you read this. That might be a topic for another note.
 

Audience Appeal

 
Network TV fare still relies on an audience of a certain size in order to attract advertisers so that the producers of the show make money. That means the shows must appeal to a wide audience. Shows on streaming services and even, to some extent, on cable channels, do not have the same pressure. They can appeal to a much smaller audience and still be considered successful because the producers are working in a different business model. Many of our congregations are appealing to a very select (and small) number of people. Some of these churches are not able to sustain the financial model that includes supporting a big building designed for a different time and audience. I wonder what a new business model here might be?
 

Friend or Un-Friend?

 
Anyway, back to this new show. One of the my grandsons (who is 9 ½) is fascinated by the title of the show. I don’t think he has seen it either. But, he remarks on the title whenever an ad for it comes on and sometimes brings it up out of the blue. Then, the other day, he asked me the question we all ask from time to time, “Would God ever un-friend someone?” My immediate reply in the midst of tidying up the family room was, “Well, I hope not. That is kind of the whole point of our understanding of faith!”
 

The Heart of the Matter

 
It struck me that it really is at the heart of what we believe. God’s attention to us is not based on the quality of the pictures we post or the number of friends we have. God’s interest in us is based on who God is, not on who we are. God’s love for us comes from God’s own choice, not from a response by God to something we have done.
Whether or not God uses social media is beyond my understanding. But, if God does, then I believe (and so do you) that God would never un-friend us, but is, instead, always there, ready to respond in order to give us hope that we can share with all whom we meet (and friend!)
 
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015

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State of the Presbytery 2018

Executive Presbyter Report to the Presbytery of Chicago

State of the Presbytery – December 1, 2018

 
I have been in Chicago as your Executive Presbyter for one year now. I thought it was time for a state of the presbytery report. Before coming here, I served one presbytery for 11 years as Stated Clerk and Executive Presbyter. I also served a different presbytery for eight years as Stated Clerk. In my role working for the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, I visited numerous presbyteries. I was also a member of the Committee on Ministry in three different presbyteries before I started doing Mid-Council work. In other words, I have seen how a lot of presbyteries work. Here are a few things that I have noticed about Chicago Presbytery.
 
  • Of our 89 congregations, 34 are under 100 members and, among those, there are several very fragile congregations. Huge buildings are sinking some of the congregations; in others, the congregation is serving as a landlord and has lost focus on mission and ministry for themselves. I will be bringing a proposal to Presbytery Coordinating Council in January for a different way to focus our 21st Century Funds in an attempt to bring new life into our smaller congregations.

 

  • We have financial resources which we are not tapping. I will also be bringing a proposal to revamp the Mission Committee so that it is, instead, a funding committee, allocating the funds available to the presbytery for disbursement.

 

  • We have a dedicated staff. It is also greatly reduced in numbers from what some of you remember. The work of the presbytery must rely on dedicated volunteers supported by our small staff. We continue to encourage our volunteer members of committees and commissions to claim their authority and to take on the work before them. We need you to serve in places that match your gifts.

 

  • There is an apathy or disconnectedness among minister members and other leaders alike. Part of that is driven by the demands of local mission and ministry and a feeling that, for some of our congregations, this is their last chance to remain viable. Exhaustion and depression are a part of the lives of leaders in such circumstances. The disconnectedness also comes from the hard decisions that have been made over the last few years by the presbytery. From reduction in staff who had become friends, to the sale of a camp that still lives in the memories of many people, the last few years have been tumultuous. Of course, the crime that was committed several decades ago and the price that was exacted from the presbytery for that crime lies at the heart of both of those outcomes.

 

  • Overt and subtle racism in the way we conduct our business as presbytery and congregations needs to be continually addressed. Even the crime that has driven the life of the presbytery for a decade or more has racism at its core. I have heard that people who had suspicions about the actions of a presbytery employee were afraid to come forward because they were afraid of being called racist. The true racism is treating people whom we define as being different from us as if they were objects instead of human beings. When we hold the same high standards for everyone who conducts mission and ministry in our name, we can begin to address racism. We need to examine our mission practices as well. Are we treating the children and adults who receive our mittens, or our food, or our visits for mission work in the summer as if they were in dire circumstances in order to provide us with a way to make ourselves feel good by offering this small token of Christ’s love? When we ask this hard question we begin to address racism.

 

  • We have the opportunity to address the sin that is at the heart of the American story and the story of Chicago—the sin of slavery, the racism that perpetuated it and excused it, and the fear of anyone defined as being different from us that grows out of it—in a way that many presbyteries do not. Look around this room. We sit beside people in worship or at a presbytery meeting who experience the world in a way that we do not because of the way they are perceived on the basis of race. This is the greatest resource we have—proximity to real people with whom we can have real conversations. We need to decide how to use our money well and how to use our buildings well. We also need to decide if we have the courage to stop treating other people as objects and instead to recognize in them the same wants and needs and inadequacies that we recognize in ourselves. Only then can we bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ in a way that will change their lives and ours as well.

 

 

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The Angel Tree

Here is a piece of advice for you. Do not go to Target on a rainy Sunday afternoon when toys are on sale. I did not take this advice on the first Sunday of advent and found myself in very crowded aisles.

I have heard that places like Target have stepped up their game after the demise of Toys R Us. Not only is there the toy section, but there are little kiosks throughout the store where you can pick up small toys as you walk by. They arrange their toys in a way that makes them fairly easy to find and, unlike the Toys R Us in Peoria at least, the store is clean and bright and there are people around who can help find things. As a grandparent, I often go looking for toys that I know nothing about and have to ask for help to know what category I should be searching.

But, on this particular Sunday, I found myself in a scrum of other people doing the same thing I was doing. I was racing to buy the toys that had been enumerated by children whose names and requests appeared on the Angel Tree at the church my husband serves as pastor. As I looked around at the logjam of carts and the people pushing them, I saw that there were other individuals or groups who had the same kind of lists or tags in their hands. We were braving the crowds to buy things for children whom we would never meet.

This has been part of my Christmas for a long time. I read a story by Harriet Beecher Stowe called “Christmas, or the Good Fairy” years ago. It was written around the same time as “A Christmas Carol” and has the same theme. For some reason, it struck me. I must have been worrying about buying gifts for my children who were little at the time. They had so many things already. What could I buy for them that would not just get lost in the toy pile and become one more thing for me to pick up?

About the same time another woman and I managed the Angel Tree for our town of 2000 people in Iowa. We collected the names of people who needed help; managed the tree; collected money; bought more gifts for each family; got food from the food bank and on and on. Each year we had boxes of gifts for about 40 families.

When I buy the gifts from the angel tree or packed all of those boxes years ago, I think about the people who will receive the gifts. I hope they will see them, not as charity, but as a gift from someone who is celebrating the great gift God has given to us. I also hope that, by asking what they want or need and not just making assumptions about it, we can move a little closer to seeing them as sisters and brothers in Christ, not just the object of our good intentions.

Being charitable is a part of who we are as Christians. In this season and always, may we find ways to bring tangible gifts to those who need them in a way that preserves their dignity and gives them hope in the name of one who is a gift to us all.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 
 

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Online Shopping

I had an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago with the young woman who cuts my hair. We used to spend lots more time together when I was still getting my hair colored and I have been having her do my hair for about 10 years. I have seen her through a wedding and two babies. I have had four different jobs in that time. We have covered a range of topics over those years.

We somehow often end up talking about shopping. She is the kind of shopper who seeks out bargains, knows exactly when there will be a sale or a coupon worth noting, hunts for particular items for her children across two states. . . in other words, she and I shop very differently. I think of shopping as hunting and gathering and try to get it over with pretty quickly. It is not a sport for me.

But, we discovered a generational difference in the way we approach shopping now. Although I make decisions about buying something very quickly and am not willing to put in the time to hunt for the very best price, I do think of shopping as recreation. Shopping is different from buying for me. I was telling her, for instance, that when I am in St. Louis for a regular time of teaching classes in the western suburbs there, I like to go to a very fancy mall. If I buy anything there, it might be one piece of candy at the over-priced chocolate store. But, walking around that mall is like going to the zoo for me. I look at the $700 shoes at Saks the same way I look at the giraffe in the zoo. It is interesting to me that such things exist in the world but I will never buy them. I was bemoaning the fact that with so many retail stores closing, I will miss that recreational aspect of just kind of serendipitously seeing things that I never knew existed and, especially, never imagined that people would actually purchase.

She told me that she does not view shopping the same way. She has had some unpleasant encounters while shopping lately where she felt uncomfortable. She has two small children, so just getting in and out of the car and across the parking lot can be an adventure. Going to a particular store limits her choices to what is in that store. So, shopping online for all of those reasons is the only way she shops now for the things she used to buy at the mall.

All of this has implications for our churches. People are becoming more and more accustomed to doing everything from the comfort of their own home—buying groceries, doing their banking, interacting with friends—the list goes on. If going to church used to be just one of the “errands” that people did on a weekend amongst a million other stops for which they were getting in and out of their cars, then church, for many, has gone the way of shopping and banking. People can find excellent sacred music, moving prayers, inspirational sermons, and even interaction with others around their spiritual questions online. Why should they get up, get dressed, leave behind their twitter and Instagram accounts for an hour, and find themselves with a very small group of people who have known each other for some time or with a crowd into which they can disappear? What is the value added for them in showing up at church?

This might be an interesting discussion to have with your session or with your friends in the place where you do ministry outside of a congregation. What is the value added for you in sitting in worship? How can you articulate that to your puzzled neighbors or coworkers when they find out that you go to church? As the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 107: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” We should all be ready to say why we worship together so that we can find new ways to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ into the lives of those in our sphere of influence.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015

 


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Cheerios & Stewardship

Are you old enough, like me, to remember when there was only one kind of Cheerios? On their website, they now list 18 kinds of Cheerios. It creates a dilemma in the cereal aisle. It also kind of begs the question: which came first, huge grocery stores or 18  kinds of Cheerios?

In the little grocery store where I went as a child with my mom and brother, 18 kinds of Cheerios would have taken up most of one aisle in a ten-aisle (and short aisles at that!) store. We have traded the customer service that we had in that store for the variety that we must crave now. After all, Cheerios would not make 18 kinds if they were not selling. So, my grandchildren do not have the experience of the butcher calling their mother by name, or the checkout clerks knowing them by name and picking up the gumball machine to turn it upside down and shake it so the plastic charms would fall toward the chute before they put their penny in!

It is stewardship time in most churches and the Cheerios phenomenon should be of interest to your session as it encourages generosity. Along with the proliferation of varieties of cereal, there has also been a proliferation of charities asking for people’s money. Gone are the days when the best way to get money to those in need was to give it to your church and expect that the session would make wise decisions about using it to help. Now, people can search online for a specific kind of charitable organization. Or, they can just surf through the Go Fund Me type pages until something strikes their fancy. They can sit on their couch in their jammies and click away until their money has gone to feed starving children or save the whales or fund something that appeals to them that might not have broad appeal at all.

What does that mean for stewardship at church? Perhaps there are a few things to consider. When I have gone to stewardship training, I have heard this: when the zoo asks for your money, they send you a picture of a baby giraffe. When the church asks for your money, they send you their budget. Which is more compelling? In other words, does your stewardship campaign tell the story of how your church is changing people’s lives?

Second, churches sometimes rely on obligation to encourage the giving of their members. At the church my husband serves, I have heard people compare it to the way they are treated by the country club. “ If you want to be a member here and have all of the privileges that go with it, pay up.” Compared to the other worthy causes competing for money, that sense of obligation may not encourage giving among people for very much longer.

Third, how easy is it for people to get their money into your church’s bank account? When I sit next to my millennial daughter in church and the offering plate comes by, I realize that she has no way to contribute. She does not carry cash or a check book. Those places to which people can give online have one click by which they can give. Do you have a similar way for people to pledge and give?

The end of the year seems like a good time for stewardship because people are sometimes more generous around Christmas and they may be thinking about the tax implications of their giving as they look at the year almost past. But it started out as stewardship time in the Northern Hemisphere, in part, because of harvest. In the first parish my husband and I served, there were still a few farmers who set aside a “Lord’s Acre.” When they took their corn or soybeans to market, they would give the church the profit from that acre—either figuratively or literally. When we see the bounty with which we have been blessed, we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing. I hope your stewardship campaign—or your own giving if you work in a place where you do not have to worry about that—will reflect the grace of God in Jesus Christ who gives us all hope.
 
 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015


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Wheel of Fortune

Whenever I am able on three evenings each week, I go to a workout class that is in a hospital in the South Loop. The hospital is a big building—12 stories tall—and there are always people in the waiting area on the first floor. The person at the reception desk is one of two women whose shift covers the time I am there. They handle their responsibilities with grace, dealing with upset family members, people who are not sure where to go, and those who should have entered the emergency room on the other side of the building. I walk past and observe these professionals at work.

Then I get on the elevator and go to the top floor. Just off the elevators is a department that has never been staffed when I am there; it is after normal business hours. There are blank desks and computer monitors where I have never seen anyone working. In the last few weeks there is a sign up that the department that used to be there has been permanently moved to another floor. I guess I never will see anyone sitting there.

Next to this office area is a large lounge with a beautiful view to the west. You can see from miles up there. As in every hospital waiting area for the last several decades, there is a television in the corner. (I wonder how much longer public places will invest in tvs in such settings. Surely most people in such an area are now looking at their own telephones, not the tv over which they have no influence as to the content and whose content they have to share with everyone else in the room.) Here is the thing I have noticed about that tv. It is always on. I have never seen a single soul in that waiting room, but the tv is always on. I don’t know whether someone has had the job of turning that tv on for years and so they just go ahead and do it. Or, perhaps, it was turned on years ago and no one ever turned it off. I can see the screen when I leave from my class. It is always set to Wheel of Fortune.

How many things in any organization are just like that tv? It used to make sense for it to be on all day and all evening. It entertained people while they were passing the boring or terrifying hours of waiting in a hospital. Now it just fills up empty space with false laughter and challenge.

What in our presbytery is just continuing to function as if it were still fulfilling a purpose which once had meaning? What in your congregation just grinds on like a machine even though no one enjoys it anymore and, in fact, is something about which people complain? What in your ministry setting makes no sense to you but clearly is a sacred cow for someone else? Are we brave enough to point out that the emperor has no clothes, that we no longer have the volunteers to sustain a program, or that we are providing a service for which no one is asking? They are hard questions to ask, but it is also hard to move forward when we are dragging these things with us. Bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ to a busy and burdened world requires us to be nimble.

 

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

(312)488-3015

 


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Weddings and Hope

I attended a first of a kind wedding for me. I have been to and officiated at almost any kind of wedding you can imagine.  Indoor weddings, outdoor weddings, very small weddings, very large productions, weddings where the children of the couple were present, weddings that happened really quickly because a baby was on the way, even a wedding where the couple’s dog was part of the wedding party. I have had to help the bride light the unity candle because (as I realized too late) she was too drunk to do it herself. That was when I started telling the whole wedding party at the rehearsal that if any member of the wedding party showed up drunk or under the influence of drugs for the wedding I would not perform the ceremony. I once did a wedding with two hours’ notice. The man was a member of the church I was serving, The woman was a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in a nearby small town. At the rehearsal on Friday night they were told about some rules in that church that they did not like. The groom’s little sister could not light the candles because only boys could do that. The couple could not kiss at the end because it was not seemly to do that in church. And so on. They decided on Saturday that they did not want to put up with all of that so they had my clerk of session call me to see if I would do it. (I lived 25 miles away.) I told them “yes” and that we should start the wedding 30 minutes later than the advertised time so that their guests could get there from the church where they thought the wedding would be. They asked me what they should tell their guests at the other church. I told them they should say that there was a plumbing problem and we were moving the wedding to our church. Everyone who has been a pastor for any time could go on for hours with funny and sad and irritating stories about what has happened at weddings.

But I recently attended a first for me. It was the first non-religious wedding I have attended. It was not the first one I have attended at which the officiant had recently been credentialed to perform a wedding by filling out a form online. But the other one I attended had prayer and scripture lessons. This one was completely religion-free or so they thought. It sounded like something straight from Pinterest to me—kind of a blend of things someone heard in yoga class and some self-help sayings. Then the officiant said that he hoped their wedding would be blessed with joy, etc. I leaned over to my husband and said, “Blessed by whom?” At the reception the photographer was taking a picture of the couple signing the license with the officiant. I saw that they were clearly struggling. My husband went over to help them figure out who signs where. I told him he should probably remind the officiant that he also actually had to mail the license to the County Clerk if they wanted the marriage to have legal status.

The very rapid move toward having a friend of the couple get “ordained” to perform their wedding says something about the place of church and religion and faith in our society. For many couples, there is no longer any reason to go to church to get married, or having a minister remind them of God’s involvement in their lives, or of celebrating who and whose they are as they start another chapter in their lives. It is only one symptom of the marginalization of what, for many of us, is at the center of our lives.

I never really liked working for the State of Illinois or Iowa when I performed a wedding anyway. But, as we see the trend in weddings, it is another piece of evidence that it is our responsibility as congregations and the larger church to find ways to make our faith known in the world. Just because they do not need us to marry them anymore does not mean that people do not need to know that we bring hope into the world, hope that is built on something far beyond ourselves.

 

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago

312-488-3015


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