-from the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
"As the Conference of Bishops, we call our worshiping communities to pray for raising up leaders for this church. We ask that the petitions of every worship service include a plea that new lay leaders, deacons and pastors be identified, invited, encouraged and supported in responding to God's call to ministry." [adopted March 4, 2017]
At its March 2017 meeting, the ELCA Conference of Bishops claimed identifying, inviting, equipping, and supporting leaders and cultivating vital faith communities as two of the highest priorities for our work together. Active attention to these two priorities is essential for the church's faithful participation in God's mission of hope, healing, and reconciliation in changing, challenging times.
This call to prayer also aligns with Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's leadership initiative, announced in November 2016, which intends to inspire ELCA leaders to seek out and encourage gifted people in their congregations, communities and networks to consider a call to the ministry of the gospel, supported by growing levels of scholarships for seminary tuition.
The harvest is, indeed, plentiful. We need more laborers, lay and rostered, to provide the ministry and leadership that will, by grace and in the power of the Spirit, assist the church in moving forward faithfully and energetically into God's unfolding future.
Will you join us in prayer every time your worshiping community gets together, and in your own personal and family prayers, asking the Lord of the harvest to raise up and send out laborers into the harvest? And will you consider becoming an answer to that prayer by inviting someone who seems to have the appropriate gifts to consider becoming a pastor or deacon, or by prayerfully considering that call yourself?
Here are a few prayers to consider using, provided by members of the Conference of Bishops:
Christ Jesus, head of the church, raise up from among the baptized pastors to preach your word and administer your sacraments; deacons to serve all people and bear your gospel to the world; and congregational leaders to bring vision and vitality to your people. Grant us the grace to identify those in our midst you are calling, courage to name their gifts, and opportunities to gently nurture and support their discernment. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
O God, you make your love known in Jesus Christ. We thank you for loving your church so much that you send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of children, women, and men so that they know themselves called to be pastors and deacons and leaders for congregations and the church. Bless your church with an abundance of leaders. And as we are bold to believe that you will raise up pastors, deacons, and leaders from this congregation, ready our hearts to nurture their faith, celebrate their call, and support their preparation for ministry. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
O God, you so love the world that you sent Jesus, and our world so needs your love. With the whole Church we implore you to call forth pastors, deacons, and congregational leaders to lead us in bearing Christ to all the world so that the world may know your love. We pray especially for those in this faith community the Holy Spirit may be nudging to public ministry in the church and Christ-like service in the world. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
Lord Jesus, we pray for congregations in the call process and for the pastor you will send them. We pray for those outside the church who will come to know Jesus through ministry in his name and for the deacon you will send to serve them. We pray for our congregation's future and for the leaders you will call forward to guide us. Embolden us to invite those in whom we experience gifts for these ministries to prayerfully consider your calling, and give us generous spirits to support them. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
We give you thanks, O God, for the children in our midst - especially those in elementary and middle school. We pray that as they grow, they will hear your voice calling them into your service - in the church, in the world, for the sake of their neighbors. Help them to imagine being pastors and deacons, church council leaders, Sunday school teachers, mentors and community leaders. Give them courage to say yes to your call, O God. We pray in gratitude and boldness in Jesus' name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen, Bishop
Indiana-Kentucky Synod, ELCA
Chair, ELCA Conference of Bishops
"Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)
In 2011, the ELCA Church Council adopted a social message on Mental Illness. The purpose is clear: "This social message hopes to proclaim the gospel's powerful news and offer up the body of Christ as a sign of healing and hope. It also intended to raise awareness in the church that mental illness, which is so often hidden away, is present in congregations and communities, and is a major public health issue. Additionally, it hopes to illuminate some of the effects that mental illness has, both on individuals, and on familial and social networks."
"The mental and emotional pain of mental illness could be one of the most far-reaching issues the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America encounters. In their lifetimes, one-half of Americans will have a serious mental health condition, but fewer than half of them will receive treatment."
"A mental illness can defined as a health condition that changes a person's thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning."
The church is in the business of healing, and of advocating for those in need. Jesus cured people who were possessed by evil spirits. We refer them to trained professionals. And, at our best, we welcome them into our community life. They are us.
Who is susceptible to mental illness? Anyone is. Yet despite years of efforts of public education to demystify mental illness, there is still a stigma in many places, and shame. Consequently, many suffering from mental illness find their experience exacerbated by loneliness and isolation.
Over the years, society has taken different approaches to mental illness-exorcism, banishment, punishment, mass institutionalization, therapy, drugs. In recent times, there has been a move to de-institutionalize many people who had been institutionalized under the previous protocol. That trend, combined with diminished community resources and increased need, has resulted in a near crisis in community mental health.
Increasing numbers of veterans with PTSD, people living in poverty, drug and alcohol addictions add to the crisis. The church's message states clearly: "The cost of not treating mental illness is enormous, and comes in many forms. The cost comes in terms of destroyed relationships and overwhelming stress, social humiliation, human dignity and, in fact, human lives."
Some of the barriers to treatment include: stigma, coverage, access, and funding. Rural areas, in particular, lack resources for treatment of mental illness. "More than three quarters of the counties in the U.S. experience severe shortages of mental health providers, and the more rural the county, the more likely this is the case."
"The church can be a powerful and welcoming place for people who are in recovery and experience healing, as they return to tell their stories of hope. The church can be a locus for proclaiming the good news of healing of body and relationships, not just to people living with mental illness, fur from people living with mental illness."
"By answering its call to enter into the companionship of suffering, the church eases the isolation and alienation experienced by those who suffer from the effects of mental illness."
The church can educate on mental illness-that it is not the result of sin and the sufferer is not to blame, nor is his or her family. The church can help de-stigmatize mental illness, and welcome people with mental illness and their families into the church. The church can accompany those who suffer. The church can advocate for funding of mental health from governments.
"The ELCA, by virtue of its teaching about healing in its health care statement, offers an understanding of mental illness that is both hopeful and realistic. Treating mental illness requires care and attention, a sense of hopefulness, and a realistic sense of what is possible."
May is Mental Health Awareness month. It might just be a time to look at this statement, and maybe bring in a mental health professional for some education in the congregation.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
This is the sixth in a series of reflections on the Social Messages adopted by the ELCA Church Council over our history. The messages can be found at www.elec.org/socialmessages, and these reflections will be archived at www.montanasynod.org.
"Come to me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. I will give you rest." Jesus
"The Church is the inn and the infirmary for those who are sick and in need of being made well." Martin Luther
Montana and Wyoming have the unfortunate distinction of rating high in per capita suicides, usually in the top 3. There are a number of factors that put our populations at risk-isolation, lack of mental health resources, availability of firearms, high rates of alcohol and drug use. Some of the groups most at risk include American Indian youth, veterans, those with chronic health issues or disabilities, and youth in general.
The ELCA Church Council's Social Message on Suicide Prevention, adopted in 1999, is still relevant almost 20 years later. Despite progress on a number of medical and mental health fronts, suicide remains a significant and preventable tragedy that is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Again in 2016, the Churchwide Assembly reaffirmed the importance of ongoing work of suicide prevention, and urged congregations, synods and individuals to increase funding for suicide prevention research.
The message states: "Suicide testifies to life's tragic brokenness. " Quoting Galatians, it goes on: "We who lean on God's love to live are called to 'bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.'" Explaining why suicide is a concern of the church, it goes on: "Our efforts to prevent suicide grow out of our obligation to protect and promote life, our hope in God amid suffering and adversity, and our love for our troubled neighbors."
The first step is becoming aware. The statement gives statistics and details about who commits suicide and what some of the extenuating factors are. Not all the statistics are accurate, given that it was written in 1999, and that suicide rates have increased, particularly among certain groups. Up to date information is available on various suicide-prevention websites. The document contains a Suicide Prevention Helpcard, which gives people steps to follow when someone they know threatens suicide.
There is a section on Receiving and Giving Help, in prevention, and in aftercare. It suggests a host of resources already available in congregations to support mental health, assist with grieving, and speak openly about the kinds of factors that lead to suicide. The intent is to find a myriad of ways to prevent suicide. "What in our community, we should ask, are the cultural and social dynamics that lead to isolation and hopelessness?" "We are given a reason to live, forgiveness to start anew, and confidence that neither life nor death can separate us from 'the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'"
The resource contains several pages of national suicide prevention organizations. And since the document was written, there is now a Lutheran Suicide Prevention Ministry that woks specifically with Lutherans. Their website www.lutheransuicideprevention.org has a brief video with Bishop Eaton, and resources for caregivers, preventers, survivors, people contemplating suicide.
"The Church Council urges synods to support members, congregations, and affiliated institutions in their efforts to prevent suicide." It concludes: "We are not alone, abandoned, and without hope. The Lord's name is 'Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'"
Jessica Crist, Bishop
This is the fifth in a series of reflections on the Social Messages adopted by the ELCA Church Council over our history. The messages can be found at www.elec.org/socialmessages, and these reflections will be archived at www.montanasynod.org.
March 8 is International Women's Day. While it isn't an official holiday in the United States, it is in some 27 other countries. International Women's Day was instituted in 1977 by the United Nations as a way to encourage and empower women across globe. It is a day, also, dedicated to celebrating women's achievements throughout history and across nations. Each year there is a theme associated with the day. This year it is "Women in the Changing World of Work."
The ELCA, as part of the Campaign for the ELCA, has adopted "International Women Leaders" as one of our priorities. International Women's Day is a perfect time to join in with this effort. In many places women do not have educational opportunities that can bring about lasting change in their communities.
Our goal as a church is 4 million dollars by the end of January, 2019. There are a number of other aspects to the Campaign for the ELCA. You can learn more at ELCA.org/campaign.
The focus of the ELCA campaign for International Women Leaders is education. Educational n is the one for that makes a difference in the lives of women, children and their communities. Providing education for women the single factor in lowering mortality, improving the economy, and creating sustainability in communities.
We are approaching this on several levels. One level is providing textbooks for basic education. You can provide a textbook for $45. Many of our congregations do a giving tree around Christmas. We could do the same in Lent, or Easter!
The other level is providing women with scholarships to become leaders church and society. One such woman, Lemah Gbowe, a past recipient of the scholarship, received a Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peace in Liberia. I have committed a dollar a day for the next 3 years to support this effort.
So, does this emphasis on women exclude men? No. Men, both at home and abroad still receive scholarships from the ELCA. This week I was in conversation with a male bishop about the Women of the ELCA gathering in July. I asked if he was attending, and he looked startled. "Would I be welcome?" was his question. "Of course!" Lifting up one part of the population, does not require the exclusion of the others. International Women's Day is not just for women. It is for all of us to celebrate, remember, and look forward.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
Our spirits rejoice in God, our Savior.
For Eve, the first witness to your creating work in the world,
For this, and all faithful women we give you thanks, O, God.
For Miriam, who witnessed your redemption of Israel at the Red Sea,
For this, and all faithful women, we give you thanks, O God.
For Mary Magdalen, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Salome, who witnessed your ultimate redeeming act at the empty tomb,
For these, and all faithful women, we give you thanks, O God.
For Ruth and Naomi, whose sustenance of each other witnessed to your sustaining love,
For these, and all faithful women, we give you thanks, O God.
For Deborah, whose wisdom witnessed to acts of creation, redemption, and sustaining love,
For this, and all faithful women, we give you thanks, O God.
You have come to the aid of your servants,
To remember the promise of mercy, the promise made to our forebears.
(Litany from ELCA Campaign Resources)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
We hear those humbling words in church on Ash Wednesday. These words are a far cry from the triumphalism that often grabs the headlines. They are not about us being bigger and better than anyone else. They are a reminder that we are all created, and that we all die. All of us. Rich and poor, sick and healthy, Christian and "none," Americans and Somalis, Republicans and Democrats-we all die. And we are all created.
Knowing that, acknowledging that frees us up to live. And it frees us up to live for our neighbor. There's a certain irony in our Ash Wednesday practices. We listen to Jesus telling us not to show off our piety, and then we leave church with a mark of the cross on our foreheads that everybody can see.
A friend of mine told me a story of a fishmonger in Pike's Market. It was Ash Wednesday, and a customer who had just been in church approached the stall to buy some fish. "Man, do you know what you've got on your face?" asked the fishmonger. "Yeah, it's Ash Wednesday." To which the fishmonger responded: "Right. Ash Wednesday. I know that." Then he grabbed his friends and said, "Hey, we gotta go to church, man, it's Ash Wednesday." To which his buddy said, "What's Ash Wednesday?"
We live in a society that is increasingly fractured. There is a faction that proclaims its religiosity loudly and judgmentally, and claims the name Christian for itself and only itself. And there is a faction that is suspicious of anything religious, thinking the whole thing is hypocritical. There is a faction that has no idea what the fuss is about. And then there is us.
We believe that the cross is about everyone-the doubters and the smug, the immigrants and the ICE officers, the comfortable and the afflicted. And we believe that God is alive and operating in the world, and that God calls us to share the good news. We believe that Jesus died for the fishmonger, and for his clueless friend. And we believe that it is our job to share that good news in as many ways as possible.
Without practicing our piety in order to be seen, we get to find ways to share that astounding news-that Jesus died for all people. Some of us will share it by preaching. Some of us will share it by acts of kindness. Some of us will share it by denying ourselves something in Lent, and making a donation to someone else. Some of us will share it by praying for our enemies.
We leave church on Ash Wednesday with the mark of the cross and the reminder that we are all created, and that we all die. When we look at each other, when we look in the mirror, we are reminded where this Lenten journey leads-to the cross. To the suffering and death of Jesus, for us and for all people. Because Jesus died for the sake of the world.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA