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 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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Quiet

Do you know who you are according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? I know that lots of people took assessments in the last few years in the presbytery for various reasons. Even before that time, you might have taken this assessment in a class or for your own enlightenment. It has been around for quite some time. I have even seen license plates with the four letters of an MBTI on them.

The first letter of this type indicator is either an “I” or and “E” which stands for “introvert” or “extrovert.” The way these terms are used in this designation is not exactly the way they are used in the culture at large. And introvert can still be the life of the party—they will just need to take a nap when they go home. An extrovert can still have a well-considered suggestion in a meeting—it just means that the group will need to listen to them process the thought out loud in front of the group instead of having it presented fully formed after long consideration. Introverts recharge their batteries by doing activities by themselves. Extroverts want the stimulation of other people to help them to be energized.

I read a book called “Quiet” that addresses the dilemma for many introverts in a culture that values gregariousness and group work. Pity the fifth grader who is a natural introvert who is always placed in a team with other students to complete assignments. Too bad for the thirty-year-old introvert who finds a job in an office that has no walls. Our hearts go out to pastors who are introverts (as most pastors are) who are expected to “work the room” at coffee hour between two worship services. Being an introvert myself (although near the extrovert line on the MBTI) I find coffee hour to be one of the most exhausting events at church.

The most interesting thing to me in the book was the fact that it used to be fine to be an introvert. Think about your Midwestern relatives if you had any. My great-grandparents who were farmers in Peoria County were not expected to be gregarious, life of the party type people. Their social circle was small and they had mostly known them all of their lives. But when industrialization took over and most people moved to towns and cities and, especially a corporate culture in which being able to sell the products produced was highly valued, then extroversion became the norm. Introverts came to be considered “odd” or “standoffish” and not really the right material for the job at hand.

There are not fewer introverts now than there ever were. They just need to hide their introversion and pretend that they get great joy and energy from constantly being around people. As we think about what churches have to offer to this culture, what about a place to be quiet? What about opening the building up at lunchtime for people in this bustling place to come in and eat their lunch and look at their computers in peace—no music, no clatter or dishes, no conversations overheard from other people? What about making sure there are a few spaces of quiet in our worship services so that people can pray in silence and process what they are hearing and feeling? How else might we provide the commodity of quiet—so hard to find in a busy city and an overcrowded world?
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago

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Leading with Prayer

The picture that accompanies this note has hung in my husband’s church office for many years. Do you know what it depicts? It is the elders of a congregation praying with their pastor before worship. In this picture it looks like it is probably the pastor who is praying, but in my experience, it is usually an elder or other leader who does the praying.  I got to experience this phenomenon when I worshiped at Pullman Church a few weeks ago. The clerk of session, pastor, administrative assistant, and I gathered for prayer before worship. Have you ever been involved in this activity?

When I have been a guest preacher I have sometimes been asked to let the elders pray for me before worship, or someone will offer prayer for the whole worship team—someone who is not the pastor. In congregations where this is their custom, they are kind of shocked that they have to chase me down or remind me that this has to happen before worship. They are so accustomed to it and it is so much a part of their Sunday morning routine that they do not realize that not everyone does this. I find it very comforting. It reminds me of one of the first congregations my husband and I served as co-pastors. It is a very rural church near Monmouth, Illinois. In the days we were there, Sunday School was before worship. They had a person whose title was “Sunday School Superintendent.” This is a role that is left over from the beginnings of Sunday Schools when they were not attached to worship in a congregation but were held off-site where unchurched children could be found. There needed to be someone in charge of that enterprise and in some congregations the office has stuck. At the beginning of Sunday School, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for opening exercises, birthday pennies, announcements, and prayers. This leader of the Sunday School would always pray for the pastor and for the leading of the Spirit in the worship service. 

What does it say about our theology to have the elders or others pray for the pastor before worship? (And in a kind way, not the “Oh please don’t let her get lost in the middle of the sermon again or preach for 40 minutes!!) One of the things of which we are reminded is that the worship service belongs to the session. It is their responsibility to provide for worship every week. It also reminds us that there is something beyond the pastor to which we are pointing in worship. Although many people will greet the pastor at the sanctuary door after worship with a compliment about the sermon, the point of worship is not the pastor’s performance. It is a good sermon if it has made the worshipers think more deeply or in a different way about their faith. It is a good sermon if it has moved listeners to take some action that reflects their faith. It is a good sermon (even if the pastor stumbles or goes on a little long)if at the end of it, people who have heard it thank God once again for salvation and what it means for them and the world.

What traditions does your congregation have with regard to helping the pastor and other worship leaders prepare for worship? Do you expect the preacher to be available to talk about problems in the preschool and the leaking radiator until one minute before worship starts? (Maybe not really very helpful. . . ) Do you help to provide a clear path between the pastor’s office or robing room or the bathroom or wherever the pastor finds her or himself just before worship so that they do not get side-tracked? If your pastor is an extrovert who wants to greet everyone before worship starts do you help the pastor bring that to a close so that worship can begin? Maybe those elders in that picture have drawn the pastor aside to help avoid all of those distractions—and the pray for the wisdom of the Spirit so that this worship service will indeed become a beacon of hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015


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Symbols

I once lived in a place where I would occasionally drive by a Presbyterian Church that had a very large cross in its front yard made of charred wood. This was in West Central Illinois. The cross was very important to the congregation as it stood in the yard in front of their new church building. It had deep meaning and evoked profound emotions for the members of the congregation and other members of their broader community. They knew exactly what it meant, what it stood for, and why it helped them to remember a painful past in a restorative way. However, they were blind to the way this symbol of their life together might be perceived by people who were new to their community or who were from outside their community.

Perhaps you have realized that their previous building burned down. This cross was made of charred timbers that had been recovered from the site of the fire. The charred cross was, to them, a symbol of hope and of the resurrection of the life of their congregation. To almost anyone else in the United States a charred cross means something very different. It would never be seen as symbol of hope and new life but of something much more sinister and threatening and evil.

January 15 is a date that is very important to me and my family. We celebrate it every year and it has even sometimes been used as a combination or PIN code for various objects or accounts. No one in my family will ever forget that date. But it does not have this high level of importance for the same reason that it has become such an important date in so many peoples’ lives. When my fiancé and I chose that date for our wedding in 1977, we had two considerations in mind. We were moving to Louisville to start seminary a few weeks later; we needed to be married before we went. And, my best friend needed to be back at school in Oklahoma the following week and her dad suggested that it would be better to have the wedding before she went back so that he would not have to pay to fly her home. We did not know that it was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday or that the Monday closest to that date would become a national holiday a few years later. The date has meaning for us for both reasons, of course, but people outside of our family do not have the same associations with it that we do.

The place where you worship is, I imagine, full of images that are meaningful to you. Some of them could be easily interpreted by any Christian who enters that space—a cross, an open Bible, a baptismal font, a cup and chalice. There are probably other objects and images that are not as universally understood. Perhaps there are even articles that have some kind of meaning for some people in your worshiping community that are not understood by everyone who gather there. For instance, when I worshiped at Hanover Park the first Sunday of the year, I was shown something that is very important to them—a set of flags from around the world. I would not have known without being told that they represent the countries from which members of their worshiping community have come. Now those flags have the same meaning for me as they do for the congregation.

We often take for granted the idea that “everyone” knows what our important touchstones mean. Maybe as you start this new year it would be a good time for you to examine your assumptions about your worship space and deepen everyone’s understanding of those important images that remind us who and whose we are.
 
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago

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Happy New Year

That is always a happy thing to hear from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. For me, of course, it has a deeper meaning this year as I begin my tenure with you as your executive presbyter. I look forward to learning more about the Presbyterians of Chicago as we work together. I have been coming to Chicago my whole life, but mostly for shopping, museums, and seeing musicals in the beautiful theaters. (My first one was the Sound of Music). My mom, grandma, and I used to take the Rock Island Rocket from Peoria every December to shop at Marshall Field, Kroch’s, Brentano’s, and Fannie Mae. We would end our day with tea under the big Christmas tree at Field’s and then get on the train to go back home.

Now it will be your turn to teach me about what it means to be a Presbyterian in these parts. How is your congregation a blessing to the neighborhood in which you find yourselves? What makes your neighbors happy when they drive or walk by your building? How is your ministry in a hospital or educational institution or community organization enriching the lives you touch and how are your bringing them hope? I am anxious to hear your stories.

Here are a few of my hopes for our ministry together. I hope that we can build on the good work you have done during the two years of interim leadership and “put some legs on” what you have done together. Are we ready to use what you have learned having deep conversations with one another around tables as we move beyond conversation into action?

I hope we can continue to build a sense of community. There are so many ways for us to be fragmented into different constituencies—northside/southside; one race or another; multi-staff church/church with a part-time pastoral leader: the list could go on and on. What are your ideas about how we can see that we have much more in common than what divides us?

And, I hope that we can become a laboratory for the PC(USA) in addressing issues that cannot be ignored. We have the resources, the experience, the insight, and the ability to be a leader as a presbytery to find solutions for both the processes we need to address these issues and the ability to come up with some solutions that might work in other places as well. With what issue would you like to start? Funding of congregations and denominations (since giving as an obligation does not seem to be as appealing as it might once have been.)? Racism and the inequities it has created in leadership and resources? Congregations that have become burdened with buildings that are a financial drain and are used for only a few hours a week by members alone? Pastoral leadership that is at a loss to address the “stuckness” of many congregations? Where shall we start?

I hope you have had a restful holiday season and that you are ready to get back to work invigorated and hopeful for the year ahead as we find ways to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sue
Rev. Susan Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Chicago Presbytery


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