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.
 

Learning to Dance

My husband and I are ballroom dancers. We started taking lessons in 2003. We have not taken formal lessons for a while, although we pick up a lesson here and there when they are offered at dances we are attending. We like to dance whenever we can which, for two pastors, often means wedding receptions.

We are usually disappointed on these occasions. The d. j. tends to play really good ballroom music during dinner. Then comes the parade of special dances—bride and groom; bride and dad; groom and mom and so on. You can usually tell if the couple has taken some dance lessons or been advised about dancing in front of an audience. For instance, most ballroom dance songs last about three minutes. Most popular music is longer than that. Four or five minutes is a long time to awkwardly sway back and forth in front of your friends and family!

We have also been to weddings where the time for special dances is extended by what is known as a “Dollar Dance.” First the bride is led to the dance floor and it is usually her maid of honor who collects money from anyone who wants to dance with the bride. Then the groom sometimes has his best man do the same for him. (Kind of humiliating, I think.) Eventually all of the special dances end. By this time, the crowd has watched other people dance for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. When the dance floor opens for everyone, the ballroom music is long gone. Instead there is very loud upbeat music that is popular at the moment. We can usually try out a cha cha or a swing dance since they fit with lots of popular music, but by then it is time for two preachers to go home!

Sometimes I will have a young woman come up to me and ask me if she can dance with my husband. I always say “yes”. If only their boyfriends knew how much these young women would appreciate it if they learned how to dance!

You can learn to dance by watching others dance. People who have taken lessons can always spot these self-taught people on a dance floor. They may come close to what they are supposed to be doing, but there are “tells” that they have not had lessons. For instance, there is always a line of dance on a dance floor; couples move in a counter-clockwise direction. Couples who want to dance more slowly or who want to stay in one place move to the inside of the floor. When people are trying to dance “upstream” you know they have not had a lesson. You can also tell people who are self-taught by the “hold.” Women have been taught to put their left hand at the bottom of their partner’s right bicep (not his shoulder, not his back.) This gives more ability to turn. They also have been taught that their “frame” is not dependent on their partner’s. If they step back from their partner, their left and right hand will stay where they are in hold. In other words, they are not leaning into their partner’s left hand with their right. They are holding up their own right hand. The list goes on. All of the things that we have learned in lessons make for small changes in the way we look on the dance floor. Their main purpose is to provide for the ability to accomplish the various moves in the steps that we know.

When new members join our congregations, we often expect them to figure out what it means to be a Presbyterian or, for some of our members, what it means to be a Christian, by watching other people. The ability to do this is based in large part on the people who are being used as examples. (You could probably name one or two people in your congregation whom you hope no one is watching to decide what it means to follow Christ.) If we expect them to learn by osmosis, they may end up being perfectly happy followers, just as many self-taught people are perfectly happy dancers. But if we do not give them the opportunity to study—to engage in Bible Study, to be in a small group, to be taught how to engage in the pastoral ministry of members for one another—they may miss out on being able to accomplish these tasks more fully.

How are you challenging the newer members (and the existing ones as well) of your congregation to be continually learning about their call to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ?

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago
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This ministry is a living thing.

What do you enjoy most about being a Presbyterian? (That might be an interesting question to ask your session.) In a previous call I met with several leadership teams in presbyteries and synods across the country. There would often come a time in our discussions when it would become clear to me that I was assuming that they had a deep history as Presbyterians. That assumption was not true. For instance, with one leadership team that was planning about the transition after their long-time executive left, there were 11 of us in the room. When I asked how many of them were lifelong Presbyterians, only one other person and I raised our hands. I realized I needed to back way up from where I was to be sure that we were all talking the same language about theology and polity.

I started with drawing the chart I used to use with confirmation classes. First there was Jesus, then there was the early church, then there was the Roman Catholic Church (in this simplified version of church history, the only church there was for a while.) Then came the Reformation and three basic types of communions developed. One is an Episcopal system—there is a bishop. (Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist.) Then there is the congregational system where decisions are made by the whole congregation. Then there is the Reformed tradition in between these two. We still have a “bishop” but the bishop for us is a group of people who are ordained and who meet together as the presbytery. The way this is evident in a local congregation is that the session makes almost all of the decisions about the way the church operates. The pastor has a few decisions that are her or his own—whether or not to perform a wedding, what hymns to sing, the content of the sermon and prayers. The congregation has a few decisions about budget, leadership, etc. But otherwise the session—a group of people who have been called by the voice of the congregation and ordained to special service in the church—makes the rest of the decisions. There is a system of checks and balances with oversight of the work of a local church by the presbytery, of the presbytery by the synod, and ultimately of all of us by the General Assembly. Notice that there is never a single human being exercising oversight and care. We work together in our tradition to do the things that a single person might do in another tradition.

After I went through this little simplified explanation, I asked the people who were not “cradle” Presbyterians what attracted them to us. Why did they join a Presbyterian church? I thought I might hear things like, “My friends go there,” or “the choir is excellent,” or “the preacher makes me think.” Instead what I heard is that they were attracted to the way we make decisions; we would say they were attracted to our polity. Interesting. All of them had come from other Christian groups. They found it refreshing that, because of our theology, we listen for the voice of God through the voice of a group of people gathered for that purpose.

So, back to my initial question. What do you like best about being a Presbyterian? I love babies being baptized, I like excellent music, I want a sermon to make me think about things in a new way—you can find those in Presbyterian churches but not exclusively there. One of the things that you will not see in many other places, though, is really my favorite. That is the laying on of hands when someone is ordained as an elder or deacon or minister. When the moderator calls all of us forward who have previously had hands laid on us, it is amazing to see all of the people come forward. In some churches, the pews are almost empty. I like the symbolism of passing on this ministry from one to next, all the way back to the first followers of Jesus. We do not do this ministry alone. Many went before us and many will come after us. All of those people whose hands were on our shoulders or on the shoulders of those in front of them will support us in our ministry. I have been in a couple of those crowds lately and as they gently sway with each person’s breathing and shuffling of feet, I am reminded that this ministry is a living thing. What a wonderful reminder that in our quest to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ we are part of a living, breathing church.

 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago


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Bluebirds

I put up a bluebird house in my backyard a few years ago. Bluebirds are pretty rare and it is a long shot to expect that they might decide to choose my yard, but one can always hope. It turns out that no blue birds have ever arrived. But that does not mean that the house is empty. The house sparrows who used to make a nest in a little corner of the roof over a small porch at our house have moved into the much plusher quarters of the bird house. Two sparrows arrive every spring. I guess sparrows live for about 3 years so we are probably on a second or third generation by now. They busy themselves collecting all kinds of soft things to build their nest. Then they busy themselves making babies. (I was waiting for my grandchildren to arrive a few weeks ago and witnessed this second “busy-ness”. I was kind of glad the kids weren’t there yet so I did not have to explain this particular part of the wild kingdom!)

How many times do we plan something for our congregations or for our work as a specialized minister or for the presbytery that seems at first to be an utter failure? If we were to judge my placement of this birdhouse by my original intention, I would get a grade of “F.” It is a complete failure. No blue birds this year or last year or the year before. But does that mean there is no merit in having this birdhouse? Absolutely not. We will watch the sparrows flying in and out of the house as they wait for their new family members to arrive. In a few weeks we will listen very carefully and hear the cheering of the babies. Then we will see their little heads all peeking out of the house’s front door. And then they will all be gone, off on their own adventures.

For instance, we have several congregations in our presbytery where there are very few people left in the original congregation, the one that has the building and the history and the name. But in many of these places there are others “nesting “ in that building. Another congregation, a preschool, a community agency. . . If we judged the congregation in the usual way, we would say they have failed. There are very few people, there is hardly any money, there are very few children and youth. But look at what they are doing! They are nurturing others in ministries of various kinds. Perhaps you have an example in your ministry of a program or a plan that you devised for a particular purpose that failed miserably in that purpose. Have you looked to see if God made something else out of it? Was there an unintended consequence that had a good result? As Proverbs 18:9 reminds us, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” How will you watch today for the way God has woven together what look like broken strands to create a new way to bring hope in the name of Jesus?

from, Sue

Rev. Susan Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Chicago Presbytery


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Learning to Water Ski

I have been having fun doing the podcasts with leaders in the presbytery. If you haven’t listened yet, you can go to the presbytery website to get to the right place to hear them. I knew before I came here that the presbytery had been through some troubled waters in the last few months. Whenever there is uncertainty and when hard decisions have to be made, there is a tendency to turn leaders into caricatures. We sometimes forget that they are real people and, unless they have very deep issues, are all trying to do the very best they can based on the way they understand the situation. My main goal for the podcasts was to help “humanize” the leaders of the presbytery. I hoped that we would all get to know them a little better and see them as three dimensional, not just in their roles in the presbytery. I hope we are accomplishing some of that.

What I did not anticipate was some of the benefits of having these conversations. I have gotten to spend almost an hour with each of the leaders in a concentrated conversation. That is a rare commodity these days. I have also gotten to learn about these leaders and about their interests in a way that might have taken months in other circumstances. For instance, I learned that Greg Boyer and I share a love of gardening. We spent a few minutes talking about that smell the first time you turn the earth over in the spring. Gardeners share a love of that sensation. I learned that John Chu was brought up, in part, in Great Britain and has a cockney accent that he can pull out when it might startle someone. And, I learned that Barbara Gorsky is fond of water skiing.

I asked Barbara about how she would teach someone to water ski if they had never done it before. She talked about loving to do this, especially when the student is a child. She does not start new water skiers out in the water. Instead, they put on the skis on the dock. Then they stand on the dock and hold the rope in their hands so that they can feel what it is like to ride behind the boat. Only after they are comfortable with all of this, does she get them into the water. Even there, they are not on their own. She swims behind them and buoys them up and helps them to standing on their first few tries. She wants them to enjoy skiing as much as she does. She wants them to be successful.

While she was talking about this, I was thinking about how this compares with the way we bring in new members or launch new officers in the church. Oftentimes, we have them sit in a class to learn about John Knox and the committees of our church. Or we have them sit around a table and hear about the budget woes of our church and strong arm them into signing up to lead the committees that no one else wants to lead. What if we used Barbara’s analogy of teaching people to ski, instead? How could we let new members get comfortable with their newfound faith, or their newfound commitment to the church before we expect them to act on it alone? Perhaps we could have them shadow our friendliest person on Sunday morning as they greet people before worship. Perhaps they could work alongside the person who sorts the food for the food pantry to learn about the needs of the neighbors of the church. Maybe they could sit next to someone who loves worship so that they could ask questions about the service as it is happening. How could we provide the same kind of companion training to new officers? Maybe no deacon should be expected to take the flowers to the hospital after worship alone until they have accompanied someone else a few times. Maybe an elder should not be expected to moderate a committee until they have had a chance to see how that committee works and to decide if this is where their gifts fit. We could even have elders attend a couple of session meetings between the time they are elected and when they are installed to see how this really works.

I have never been on water skis. I am not sure I ever will be J But if I ever decide this is something I want to do, I hope that Barbara Gorsky or someone just like her is available to be my teacher.

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago


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Inspiring Awe

What beautiful church buildings the Presbyterians inhabit in the Chicago area. I have not, of course, been inside each one yet. But, the ones I have visited—even if they are showing their age a little—tell a story of the care that went into their design and a willingness by their members and friends to contribute large sums of money to create a building that inspires awe.

Before I came to this call I had been in Fourth Presbyterian Church many times. Chicago was, to me, Michigan Avenue shopping, museums, the Nutcracker, Marshall Fields on State Street (I don’t think I will ever be able to call it Macy’s), an annual train ride with my mom and grandma on the Rock Island Rocket from Peoria, and, in more recent years, the annual meeting of the collegium of presbytery executives in our synod. For many years that group met in December in the old manse at Fourth Church for our Christmas celebration. Sitting inside in those homey surroundings and watching the snow fall among the lights on Michigan Avenue was always a treat. It was also awe-inspiring to see how the building was decorated for Christmas and to experience again the majesty of that beautiful sanctuary.

On Ash Wednesday this year I worshiped at Second Presbyterian on South Michigan avenue. Talk about an awe-inspiring sanctuary! It was a little dark in the upper reaches that evening but I could still see the angels and the woodwork. I was told I need to come back to see the windows in the daylight.

Just imagine the city of Chicago in the 1890’s with those beautiful, awe-inspiring buildings dotting the landscape of the city of big shoulders. They told a story of Presbyterians as people of influence and importance. They also, I am sure, told a story of Presbyterians as people with money. Did our ancestors use that money well once they got their beautiful buildings built? Did they continue their high level of giving to their congregations so that people’s lives could be changed in the name of the gospel?

What collective story are the Presbyterians of Chicagoland telling today? What do our neighbors know about us from what they can see on the outside of our buildings? Do they get a sense of who we are by the way we interact with them? Do they even know that we are there?

I was in Barrington recently (another beautiful building) and drove by the campus of Willow Creek which I had never seen in person. I was telling someone about that and they told me this story. One of the pastors walked into the parking lot at the church one day (it really looks more like a small college campus). In the parking lot the pastor saw a distressed man and asked if he needed help. The man said his cat was lost and so the security staff was called to help look for the cat. In the midst of this, the man said, “What is this place, anyway?” He lived close enough to the church to think his lost cat might be there, but he had never been enticed to find out what this place was.

Our beautiful buildings tell a story about who God is, how we worship God, and the importance of the church in the lives of its members. What story are they telling to people who pass by them every day? How do we take that sense of awe and wonder into people’s lives in such a way that they will know for sure that our intention is to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ?

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago

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The Empty Muffin

A few Sundays ago I was in worship at the church my husband serves. One of my grandsons was sitting between me and his mom. He leaned over and asked her if next Sunday would be Empty Tomb Muffin Sunday. She looked in the bulletin then looked on her phone at the minutes of the Christian Education meeting she attends. Nope, it was going to be on Palm Sunday.

Now, you know, of course, what the empty tomb means. But perhaps you are not familiar with the muffins based on the theme. I have helped with these a few times at this church and they are a sticky, gooey, delicious mess. Here is what you do. Separate crescent shaped tube rolls into their eight triangles. Dip a large marshmallow in butter and then in cinnamon and sugar. Place the marshmallow in the center of the roll and roll the dough around the marshmallow so that it is completely encased (this is very important). You may need to use a little of the butter to help seal the edges. Place the rolls on parchment paper and bake them as indicated on the container. You have probably already figured out what happens. While they are baking, the marshmallow melts but it melts slowly enough that the roll holds its shape and leaves an “empty tomb” on the inside.

The children love the rolls and love the story that goes with it. A couple of years ago I was helping out on this day and the young teachers had thought making the rolls would take the whole Sunday School time. It did not. So, I improvised (this was not my first time at the Sunday School rodeo.) I grabbed a big basket and placed it in front of a large table. I had the children tell me about the big rock that was rolled in front of Jesus tomb. Then we rolled the “stone” away. The children took turns being inside the “tomb” and “disappearing” while the rest of us retold the story. By the time I pulled the basket away, they had slipped out from the side of the table and the “tomb” was empty. These kindergarteners and first graders did not grow tired of taking their turn.

“Look! The muffin is empty!” “Look, our friend has disappeared and the “tomb” is empty!” The story of the savior of the world winning out over evil, being resurrected as he said he would be, showing once and for all God’s intention of love and salvation and new life for the world should never grow old for us as well. When you read this note, another Easter will be behind us. You may be pretty much passed out on your couch. Perhaps you are trying to figure out what to do with the lilies that no one picked up yesterday. Maybe you are wondering why they weren’t quite as many people in worship as you had hoped. Or, maybe you are working feverishly to find contact information for all of your visitors so that you can make a further invitation to them. Whatever your Easter Monday and the week ahead hold, never forget the wonder of the empty tomb. When all looked as if it were lost, when it seemed like the only smart thing to do was either hide or go home, when the sun had not yet risen—that is when the great good news became evident. We must never lose hope. For we know the great good news of Easter and we are charged to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ wherever we may be.
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago

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Staying Power

I recently attended the NEXT Church Conference in Baltimore. There were several other members of Chicago Presbytery—attending and leading and as part of the leadership of this group. The conference has been held for several years now—maybe as many as 7?—and I have been to four of them. There are thought-provoking keynotes, interesting workshops, and, as always at big Presbyterian gatherings, worship that inspires and challenges.

There are also presentations called “Ignite.” These have greatly improved over the years that I have been attending. In the past, several of them felt like they were advertisements for someone’s business venture. There was nothing like that this year. The title tells you what these presentations are designed to do: ignite the attendee’s own thinking about their own ministry.

This year that was exactly what two of them did for me. They were presentations about ministry being done in Baltimore—sometimes by churches and sometimes by other kinds of not for profits. You know that Baltimore has been a troubled city in the past few years. Violence of many kinds has revealed a deep sense of hopelessness among many of its citizens. The two groups who presented talked about helping ministries—addressing the multiple issues of other citizens of their city as a way of being of help. That sounds like a lot of what Presbyterians do on a routine basis. We send money here, send a one week mission trip there, volunteer at the soup kitchen one Sunday afternoon a month, have our children make something to send to someone who is lonely.

Here is what struck me about the presentations. They both talked about staying with the individual being helped until the problem was solved. In each case, there is a group of people (in one case it was called a family) that stayed with a person who was experiencing homelessness and unemployment and other issues that led to hopelessness until the person was on his or her feet. It is not “parachuting in” to help for a minute; it is not “volunteer tourism” that makes us feel good but leaves problems behind. It is seeing the person in need as a whole person with gifts and hopes and the image of God on their face.

When my husband and I saw “The Book of Mormon” a few years ago, the audience all around us was laughing uproariously since much of the show is very funny. I realized my husband (who sometimes laughs so loudly in a movie that I want to move to another seat) was getting quieter and quieter. Afterwards he said it made him sad. It reminded him of his three trips to Kenya where his church has started a home for street boys. Each time he has left one or more of the boys has asked if he could come with my husband. That has not been possible or practical. That is the barb, the indictment of well-meaning Christians, that is a part of the show. We feel good when we come home from the soup kitchen or mission camp or clothing closet. But the same people will need those services again next week because we have not made a lasting change for them.

What if your congregation found a way to make a lasting change for the people to whom they are drawn in mission? What would it look like? What if the presbytery stopped giving a little money here, a little money there, and truly adopted a mission strategy that had us staying with people until the problem they are facing was solved? What might God be calling us to do?

 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago

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Snow Covered Magnolia Tree

My backyard in Peoria will be full of color in a month or two. There is a magnolia tree, a red bud tree, lilac bushes, a Bradford Pear tree, a weeping peach tree. There are also daffodils, snowdrops, some tiny blue flowers that bloom in mid-spring that were there when I moved in. There are a few tulips left that the blankety blank squirrels have not found yet. . . My opinion about planting trees, bushes, etc. is if it does not bloom, it is not worth it. (Kind of like my opinion of dessert—if it is not chocolate, why bother?)

But here’s the thing. I only know that the backyard will soon be in full bloom because of my experience of it in the past and because I was involved in completely re-making the backyard since I moved into this house 12 years ago. This is also not my  first garden, nor my first time observing gardens. One of my grandmothers had a beautiful garden near a shopping center. Sometimes as a child with I would be with my mom when someone would mention the beautiful garden there and we could proudly claim a connection to it. My other grandmother had a beautiful rose garden. When we would visit my aunt in the summertime, we always got a tour of the garden. My mother, while not much of a gardener, was a teacher. She used every opportunity to teach. So, a walk in the woods was also a time to identify trees and wildflowers and talk about their characteristics. As I became a gardener on my own, I learned which zone my garden is in, I learned to read see packets and labels on plants and trees, I figured out what looked good together. The beauty that will show up in my backyard starting in just a few short weeks is not an accident.

If a person who knew nothing about plants or a person who had never seen my yard in the spring walked out onto my deck today, they would not be able to envision the color and joy that will be there soon. They would not be able to see the possibilities.

Many times our congregations are like a backyard in Illinois near the end of winter. People who have experience there remember the times when there was joy and laughter and beauty and deep reverence expressed through the ministry of that church. People who have experienced the rebirth of a struggling congregation can see the potential. People who have watched one congregation die and another congregation take over their spot on a busy corner can look for the possibilities in the neighborhood. But those without experience of that congregation or that neighborhood may see only dwindling numbers and gray heads.

Sometimes our own spiritual lives find themselves buried under the dirty snow of late winter as well. Pastors who have given everything they have only to see their efforts met with resistance or indifference get worn out. Session members who have struggled over the budget and building may burn out. Members who want things to be the way they were and cling to those habits so closely can feel betrayed when a necessary change comes along. It can feel like two feet of slush with no hint of a daffodil in site.

Lent reminds us that there is a lot of slush and snow to get through, but that Easter always arrives. Part of our Lenten journey is to watch for the signs of hope, to watch for the ways that we can get our feet firmly underneath us again, to get a picture of that magnolia tree in full bloom even when we can only see the buds.
 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago


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