Montana Synod congregations and individuals are generous when it comes to hunger. Not only do we contribute to local food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, we also give generously to ELCA World Hunger. In 2017, congregations of the Montana Synod gave $83,891 to World Hunger through the Regional Financial Services Office. And I know that many congregations and individuals sent their contributions directly to Chicago, without going through our FSO. So, thanks for that generosity.
World hunger funds, of course, support relief and development projects across the globe—in our companion synods, where we have missionaries serving, where there are disasters. But world hunger funds also support projects in the United States. We are, after all, part of the world! While the bulk of the World Hunger funding does go abroad, a portion ($715,000) is dedicated to domestic hunger and poverty issues.
If you are thinking about starting or expanding a hunger or poverty-related project in your congregation, or ecumenically or in your community, consider applying for a hunger grant. You can go to Hunger@ELCA.org. Or you can contact Pastor Jessie Obrecht (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Montana Synod’s Hunger Coordinator.
Grants are in three categories: Relief, Advocacy, Organizing. This year three grants came to the Montana Synod. One is brand new—a Laurel community garden. Another is to a frequent recipient of grants—Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy applied for a grant for care packages for the tribal Office of Victim Services. The third was give to the Montana Association of Christians, for the MAC Connect event that teaches advocacy for the poor.
Past recipients have include the Montana Food Bank Network; Family Promise in various communities; backpack programs that send food home with children over the weekends; community food banks, and more.
If you are looking for a way to help your neighbors as a congregation, think about ELCA Hunger grants for next year.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 28)
Last week I got an email from a pastor requesting a public statement on gun violence. That statement was emailed out on Friday, and the responses to it have been, as to be expected, mixed. The pastor who asked for the statement on gun violence added, in parentheses, “(We need one on sexual abuse, too.)” And we do. In 2016, the Church Council adopted a social message on Gender-Based Violence, available at www.elca.org.
For the last half-dozen years, the ELCA has been in the process of developing a broad Social Statement on Women and Justice.( A task force was appointed to represent various kinds of people, and various points of view. After a number of years of talking and studying (and putting out a study document last summer), the task force has produced a draft social statement. A copy was mailed to every congregation, and you can easily download a copy at www.elca.org/womenandjustice.
Between now and September 30, 2018, congregations, groups, and individuals are encouraged to read the draft and submit comments. After that, a final copy will be written, submitted to the Church Council, and, if all goes according to plan, submitted to the Churchwide Assembly for a vote. Now is the time to have your say.
The Synod Council will spend some time with the draft in their meeting this week. And we will have a hearing on it at our Synod Assembly in June. I encourage you to look at it in your congregations—in your youth groups and men’s groups, women’s groups and adult studies. It could be an excellent extra discipline in Lent, or maybe a way to get together informally over the summer.
Although the document may seem long, the essence of it is in the first 10 pages. After that you will find 44 pages of elaboration on the points in the first 10 pages, and a 3 page glossary.
The draft statement begins with a prologue, “Our Common Foundation,” grounding the study in Lutheran Christian theology.
Section I, “Core Convictions,” lists 7 convictions:
1. God’s intention that all people flourish and have life abundantly
2. All people are created equally and in the image of God
3. God creates humanity in diversity, including sex and gender
4. Sins of patriarchy and sexism disrupt God’s intention
5. God’s people are simultaneously liberated and sinful
6. We are justified by grace through faith, and committed to neighbor justice
7. Our vocation is to live justly
Section II is an “Analysis of Patriarchy and Sexism.” The subpoints include:
8. Patriarchy and sexism are a mix of power and privilege and prejudice
9. References to women in the statement are inclusive
10. Intersecting burdens are real
11. Gender-based violence and human trafficking deny that all are created in God’s image
12. Men and boys are harmed, too, as are gender non-conforming people
13. We are relational beings
The next section lists resources for Resisting Patriarchy and Sexism:
16. Law and Gospel
17. Christian Doctrine
18. Justification by grace through faith
19. Progress in society
The fourth section is a “Response to God’s Work:
Call to Action and New Commitments in Society, with 10 action steps. The fifth section lists action steps for the Church, in “Call to Action and New Commitments Regarding the Church. The steps include:
30. Honor and support women and girls
31. Promote scripture translation and interpretation that supports gender justice
32. Promote theological reflection that attends to gender-based needs of the neighbor
33. Use inclusive language for humankind and expansive language for God.
34. Resources to promote authority and leadership of women in the church
35. Economic justice for women employed by the church
36. Work with LWF’s “Gender Justice Policy”
The document ends with; “Hope for Justice”
“We know that the Church of Christ in every age is beset by change, but as Spirit led, is called to test and claim its heritage. We celebrate the Holy Spirit’s work in this church to urge ongoing reformation toward equity and equality for all. Most of all, we live in hope because through Jesus Christ we trust that God’s promises will not fail.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
I am fairly sure that the co-incidence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day this year has escaped no one. On the one hand…chocolate, diamonds, romance. On the other hand…dust, ashes, repentance. This stark clash is a reminder that the church’s agenda is not always the world’s agenda, and vice versa. In this case, the commercial Valentine’s Day promotes a kind of materialism, while Ash Wednesday directs us into more spiritual pursuits, into Lent.
And it’s not that Christians eschew chocolate, diamonds and romance. We are not gloomy pessimists who scoff at joy, who reject love. But Ash Wednesday is a sober time, a time when we acknowledge our mortality, when we look into the deeper meanings of life and death and even love. In Lent we practice letting go. We used to talk about it as “giving up something for Lent.” But I think letting go is a better way to look at it.
Some people give up something they normally eat or drink (chocolate, wine, desserts). Others give up lattes at Starbucks, and put the money into a hunger bank. Some congregations work together to collect items for the poor. Some hand out empty grocery bags to bring back full; some adopt a school or a shelter or a ministry like Family Promise, ELCA World Hunger, Lutheran Social Services, Campus Ministry. A Lenten emphasis like these is a letting go for the sake of others. It may not be romantic, but it is an act of love.
Letting go has its own value, as well. That challenging verse in “A Mighty Fortress” goes:
Let goods and kindred go. This mortal life also.
The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still.
His Kingdom is forever.
Commercial Valentine’s Day tells us to hold on, to acquire, to measure our worth in terms of how much we get, how much we keep. Ash Wednesday tells us to let go, to focus on the cross, to live for our neighbors and not for ourselves.
When someone came to Jesus with a property dispute (Luke 12), Jesus refused to get involved. He said “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” And then he told the story of the rich man who wanted to build even bigger warehouses for all his possessions. But God told the man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” Jesus concluded.
Diamonds may represent elegance and romance in our society. But there is another side to them, as well. Our companion synod, the Cape Orange Diocese in South Africa, is headquartered in Kimberly, where an open-pit diamond mine made Cecil Rhodes a wealthy man, but took the lived of thousands of Africans, who were enlisted to work there. To anyone who has seen Butte, the mine has an eerily familiar look. Mining diamonds takes a tremendous toll on the people who do the dangerous and back-breaking work, for minimal compensation.
In the 1940’s, the DeBeers diamond company (owners of the diamond mine in Kimberly) launched the advertising slogan, “A diamond is forever.” The slogan was intended to sell diamonds, and indeed it did. It even became “The advertising slogan of the century,” in 1999.
But here’s the thing—we don’t measure our worth in carats. A diamond may be forever, but you can’t take it with you. And that is the truth, not just a slogan, but a truth for the ages.
We live and we die in Christ’s love. And on Ash Wednesday we especially remember that. And we remember that we were dust, and to dust we will return.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Lutherans are well known for their commitment to disaster response and relief. It is said that film crews go into disaster areas with the Lutherans, so that they can record the Red Cross's arrival. And long after the news cycle has moved on to something else, long after some other agencies have left, the Lutherans remain. Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, Church World Service are the hard-working agencies that our church supports.
We are moved when we read heart-wrenching stories of disasters—children buried in rubble, nursing home patients without electricity, homes destroyed by fire, communities cut off from food and water. Our human impulse is to want to help. Contributions to our church-based agencies are absolutely crucial, and the funds go right to where they are needed most, not to overhead or administration. Disasters can come upon us suddenly, but it takes years, sometimes decades to recover. There are not quick fixes. Relief is the immediate concern, then recovery. And over the long haul, sustainability becomes the issue.
In the fall of 2017, hurricanes were particularly brutal. Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Months later there are still people without electricity, still people who struggle with food, water, housing and employment. Puerto Rico is part of the United States. And Lutherans in Puerto Rico are part of the ELCA.
Last week, David Trost, the CEO of St. John’s Lutheran Ministries in Billings, and Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, Director for Evangelical Mission for the Montana Synod, travelled to Puerto Rico to meet with people affected by the hurricane, to better understand ways that we in Montana can effectively accompany the people of Puerto Rico as they seek to recover from disaster. Look for reports from them in the coming weeks.
People from Montana and Wyoming are generous. We give generously to those who have been affected by disasters. Last summer, when fires raged across Montana, Lutherans from other synods sent assistance, along with prayers. Dick Deschamps, our volunteer Disaster Coordinator, worked with community needs throughout the season. Now there are other needs in other places. We have reached out to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, in love and in hope.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA