This weekend, led by Pastor Jason Asselstine, youth from around the Synod will be coming together for a mid-winter youth gathering at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the Rocky Boys Reservation. Our Saviour’s is actually one of the oldest congregations in the Montana Synod, and it is one of the oldest Native American ministries in the ELCA. As a kid growing up in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, I knew about Our Saviour’s in Rocky Boy because our congregation supported it. We had a mosaic map of the world in our narthex, with brightly colored squares where there were missionaries that we supported as a congregation There were missionaries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America—and a single one in the United States-- Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy. Little did I know that I would grow up, move to Montana, and become very well acquainted with Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy.
The ministry at Rocky Boy has changed over the decades. The Rocky Boys Reservation was the last reservation to be set up in Montana—after much advocacy by people like the artist Charlie Russell and others. Eventually the Chippewa and Cree peoples were granted a reservation in the Bears Paw Mountains, north of Great Falls and south of Havre. When the Lutherans first came to the reservation there were few social services offered by the government. So the Lutherans provided services. In those days, if you had a need, you went to “the mission” to get it filled. “The mission” also offered worship, Christian education and many of the activities that congregations everywhere offer.
Over the years the tribal government was able to provide more and more services that had previously been provided by the churches—both Lutheran and Catholic. Our Saviour’s still provides layettes for newborns, a thrift shop, and other forms of outreach to the community. One year, when a flood destroyed buildings including the new health center, Our Saviour’s was the FEMA distribution point. The “Big Church” is often used by the community for wakes and events, and the pastor is invited to teach in the tribal college.
Grants help programming—from a sewing group to a girls group, from food distribution to Vacation Bible School and camp scholarships.
Our Saviour’s also serves the wider church, hosting immersion events and seminars for seminarians and congregations, and hosting servant groups. The Montana Synod youth going to Rocky Boy this weekend will get to learn about the Chippewa and Cree, and will also participate in a service project for a needy family. This can be a transformative experience. Keep our synod youth and their chaperones, Pastor Linda Webster and Pastor Jason Asselstine in your prayers. And consider making a visit to Rocky Boy yourself.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Later this week I fly to Minnesota for a Luther Seminary Board meeting. (Hint: there are many obligations that take bishops out of the synod that elected them.) Luther is one of 7 seminaries of the ELCA. Two years ago there were 8, but the two in Pennsylvania—Gettysburg and Philadelphia—merged into United Lutheran Seminary.
Two other seminaries, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary have been taken under the wing of larger Lutheran institutions—in one case California Lutheran University, in the other, Lenoir Rhyne University. The three remaining seminaries—Wartburg, Luther and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago—are free-standing. All of our seminaries are cooperating with each other, and with other institutions because it makes sense to do so in our interconnected world. Each seminary is striving to find faithful and creative ways to train Lutheran pastors and deacons for an increasingly complex and secular world.
I also serve on the ELCA’s Theological Education Advisory Committee, or TEAC. (Hint: bishops are expected to be available to serve on short-term and long-term churchwide boards, committees, task forces, etc.) TEAC deals not only with seminaries, but with the whole range of theological education in the ELCA—lay ministry programs like our LPA program, continuing education and lifelong learning programs like our NRIT; first call theological education; strategies for reaching ethnic communities; outreach to your adults; seminaries. Appointed by the Church Council and reporting to it directly, TEAC’s mandate is to oversee theological education across the ELCA in all its forms.
Our synod has a benchmark: Deepen faith and witness. We live out that benchmark in many ways—in our congregations, camps and campus ministries; through the LPA program; and in the candidacy process. Congregations offer Christian education to children and adults, teach confirmation and find other ways to pass on the faith. Synod and churchwide youth gatherings bring teens together to grow in faith and action. Camps help campers explore their faith in a safe environment in the natural world. Campus ministries work with teens and young adults away from home for the first time, asking questions and exploring new worlds.
The LPA program not only prepares preachers, teachers and other helpers for assisting in congregational ministry, it deepens the faith and understanding of the people who go through the program.
NRIT offers workshops and online classes for clergy and laity in the Montana Synod and beyond. This ministry of the Montana Synod has changed over the years to meet changing needs. NRIT offers a way for anyone to go deeper into theological topics.
Seminary is a more rigorous and formalized study that prepares students of any age to be pastors or deacons. There are a lot more options for seminary study today than there were a generation ago. There are traditional 4 year MDiv. Programs; TEEM programs; Distributed Learning Programs; MDivX; 2+2; 3+1, and more. There is not just one way to receive theological education training. Candidates for ministry work with the candidacy committee to determine which option is best for them, and for the church. Bob Quam coordinates our candidacy committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At its core, deepening faith and witness is not so much about personal fulfillment. It is about the Gospel, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in this time and place. Seminary boards have to deal with budgets and real estate, with policies and procedures. But in the end we are all there for one purpose—to raise up faithful and capable leaders for the church. Please keep your ELCA seminaries in prayer. And when asked to give, be generous.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA