We are in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the northern hemisphere, it begins on January 18, the Confession of Peter. And it ends on January 25, the Conversion of Paul. Churches in the global south use a different calendar. But really, any time is a good time to pray for Christian unity, and to proclaim the might acts of God. This year’s theme comes from 1 Peter 2:9—“Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of God.”
Fr. Thomas Orians, Associate Director of Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, writes:“The relationship between baptism and proclamation, and the calling shared by all the baptized to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord was inspired by two verses from the First Letter of St. Peter…. As Christians seeking the unity of the Body of Christ we are all called to recognize the mighty acts of God in our own lives and the life of the church.”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded in 1908. It was soon after that, in 1910, the ecumenical movement began with a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Prior to that churches operated independently. Both the Week of Prayer and the missionary conference helped to promote the idea that Christians are stronger together than we are apart, and the things that separate us are less important than the things that unite us.
In the Montana Synod, many communities have ecumenical worship celebrations or pulpit exchanges to demonstrate Christian unity. But there is no reason that they have to be limited to this week. Many congregations do joint vacation bible school, joint youth groups, joint food programs, cooperative ministry for the homeless. We are truly more effective together than we are separately. And these joint activities are among the mighty acts of God that we are called to proclaim.
A lot has changed since 1908 when the Week of Prayer was founded. We, the ELCA, are a church that has formed as a result of a number of mergers of Lutheran Churches who felt that their common interests were more important than their differences. And we are in formal full communion agreements with 6 other denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and the Moravians Northern Province. So do we need a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?
I think we do. For one thing, it is a witness to those who are not Christian that we are more united than divided, that we do worship one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and that we follow the crucified living Christ. Many people judge Christianity only by the extremes that they say, and reject it as a violent and intolerant faith. We know better. And we can demonstrate it.
In addition, there are Christians across the globe who live in dangerous places where they are a persecuted minority. A Jewish friend regularly berates me for not doing more for Christians who are persecuted in the Middle East. A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity includes not just our neighbors down the street, but also our neighbors across the globe. When a Christian is executed by ISIS for being a Christian, it matters. As fellow baptized members of the Body of Christ, we hurt when other members are persecuted for their faith.
One of the ways you can be more involved with other Christians, learning their stories and hearing their proclamation is through the Wyoming Association of Churches or the Montana Association of Christians. Both organizations welcome your participation.
As Christians we stand together with other Christians because Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. And we proclaim the mighty acts of God.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Tomorrow night, January 14, Presiding Bishop Eaton is hosting a town meeting on the criminal justice system, called “Confronting Racism: A Holy Yearning.” Joining her will be an ELCA member who is a judge in Baltimore, an ELCA pastor who used to be a police officer, and an ELCA member who has been on the other side of the criminal justice system. They will talk about race and racism, and I intend to be watching. I hope you will, too. If you cannot watch on Thursday night, you can watch it later. Look for details below in this News of the Week. What's race got to do with it? A lot. People of color are disproportionately represented in our nation's prisons and jails. And people of color are much more likely to be stopped, frisked and detained. People of color are overrepresented on death row in states across the country. We can do better.
Monday, January 18 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday and a state holiday in most states. It is a time to honor civil rights activist and Baptist pastor, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a time to look back at our history, beginning with slavery, through the abolition movement of the 19th century, and the civil rights movement of the 20th century. It is a time to remember historic events, like the march on Selma, the Birmingham bombings, the "I have a dream" speech, the Memphis garbage strike, the assassination that ended the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., but not his vision, not his dream. What's race got to do with it? A lot. Although slavery ended in the 19th century, racism did not. Injustice did not. The Voting Rights Act in the 1960s made it possible, for the first time, for African Americans to vote unimpeded, by eliminating the barriers set up by states. In 2013 the US Supreme Court did away with part of the Voting Rights Act, and immediately some states began to set up barriers again. In Montana, tribes have sued to get county election offices to make same day registration available not just in the county seat, but also on reservation locations that are accessible to the majority of the people. We can do better.
In Great Falls, a former Ku Klux Klan advocate has publicly proclaimed that he has repented of his racist ways, and is organizing a tribute to Dr. King at a local Methodist church. The public is confused—is this for real? Has he really changed? Time will tell.
As Christians we believe in the reality of sin. And racism is a sin. It is not believing and acting as if God created us all in God’s image. Racism is living as if one race is better than others, and entitled to all the privileges, none of the hardships. But as Christians we also believe in repentance, conversion, metanoia. Paul went from persecuting Christians to embracing the living Christ. Is it possible to be a recovering racist? I think so.
Bishop Eaton’s webcast and the materials that go with it challenge us to look deep within ourselves, to acknowledge the racism that pervades our society, and to repent. What’s race got to do with it? A lot.
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew of Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
This is our hope.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
On January 24, the Montana Synod is celebrating Companionship Sunday. We are celebrating that we are part of a church that is worldwide. January 24 is in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We are celebrating our global mission partners in the ELCA. And we are celebrating our companion synods, the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Cape Orange Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa.
There are many ways to celebrate our global partnerships. We are providing resources for you. They include a list of resource people you can contact for speaking on companion synods either in person or by Skype. Some are local, some are not. Some are available Sundays, some are available other times. If you want to have a companionship celebration some time other than January 24, go for it.
In addition, we are providing an ELCA-produced resource called "Global Church Sunday," a litany of thanks for the Cape Orange Diocese and a litany of thanks for the Bolivian Church. All these resources are available as part of the News of the Week.
You may want to highlight global ministry by featuring the Young Adults in Global Mission program. This program gives young adults the opportunity to live in a country and work in a service ministry or agency. Young adults from the Montana Synod have served in Mexico, England, Palestine, Malaysia, Madagascar, South Africa, Argentina and more. We now have pastors who were once YAGMs. Any former YAGM will tell you-the experienced changed their lives forever.
Global mission is all about accompaniment. We walk together. We learn about one another. We share our strengths. And we share our weaknesses. We share the experience of Christ in our lives, knowing that wherever we go, Christ is already there.
So we learn about ministry of indigenous people in Bolivia. And we learn about radical forgiveness in South Africa. When we enter into conversations with Christians from other places, we learn new ways of understanding God, new ways of loving and being loved by Jesus.
On my office wall I have a collection of crosses. One is a study cross, made of a congregation's pews they no longer use. Another is made of barbed wire. I have crosses from different parts of the world-some colorful, some stark, some empty, and some with various depictions of Christ on the cross. Each cross tells the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. Each tells it with a twist, making it local. I learn from these crosses, as I learn from my sisters and brothers who practice their Christian faith across the globe.
I invite you to celebrate Companionship Sunday, and to pray for our global partners during this Epiphany Season and beyond!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA