Does your congregation have mid-week services in Lent to give you an extra opportunity to deepen your faith? In some communities the churches do pulpit exchanges, so that parishioners from one congregation can hear from the pastor in another.
Bethel Lutheran in Great Falls features lay speakers at their Thursday Lenten soup suppers. Members of the congregation are invited to share their faith stories. Have you ever done that? It is surprising how few of us have done that. Is it intimidating? Yes. But it is also rewarding. Sharing your faith story in a safe setting like a congregational soup supper can be a way to learn about how to talk about your faith more publicly. Bethel’s soup supper presentations are deepening faith and witness.
Freedom in Christ is a ministry in the Montana State Prison. Pastor Rob Nedbalek is able to provide a ministry of word and sacrament in the prison. And he is able to provide a ministry of presence, working with people at different stages of their faith journey. One of the things he is able to do, thanks to volunteers and supporters, is to provide Bibles to inmates who want them. A Montana Synod Christmas Giving Tree program gave participating congregations an opportunity to donate to give Bibles to the ministry. Freedom in Christ is deepening faith and witness.
The Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church has several schools—one in El Alto, and one in Santa Cruz. The schools were founded when free public education was not accessible to all children. The Lutheran schools are open to all children, and depend on scholarships to help pay expenses. Many congregations in the Montana Synod have made donations to the scholarship fund, so that Bolivian children could receive an education in a faith-based environment. In response to the Bolivian government’s requirement that schools provide English instruction, the IELB is applying for a short-term ELCA missionary to teach English in El Alto. The schools of the IELB are deepening faith and witness.
This coming weekend there will be 2 classes of LPAs learning new ways to serve. The basic LPA class will be working with Pr. Julie Long on how to lead worship. And the LPA 2.0 class will be meeting with Pr. Greg Holler-Dinsmore to learn about preaching for funerals and other out-of-the-ordinary occasions. And the following weekend, the folks in the LPA East class will be learning about pastoral care. There are so many ways that LPAs serve God and neighbor. The trainings that we provide not only deepen their faith, but they help them deepen the faith of others by their witness. LPAs and LPA trainings deepen faith and witness.
Each year Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Rocky Boy, in cooperation with a variety of funding sources, makes it possible for children from the reservation to attend camp at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp. Our Saviour’s and FLBC and deepening faith and witness with kids who might not have another chance.
In response to last week’s request on how you are serving the world, Pastor Patty Callaghan, Interim Pastor at Gloria Dei in Butte writes:
“Butte lost their homeless shelter over a year ago, so the community had to step up to provide winter shelter. Since December 2018, the community, through the local community action agency, raised $98,000; of that amount, $27,000 was donated by local congregations. Gloria Dei Lutheran donated $2720 of that amount. I thought you might like to know this. People would likely have died on the cold streets this winter without this effort.” Pr. Patty Callaghan.
Let me know how your congregation or ministry is deepening faith and witness.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In Lent we are challenged to push beyond our comfort zone and help others. Many congregations have special projects, special ministry emphases in Lent. Our Savior’s Lutheran church in Columbia Falls is highlighting a different children’s ministry or outreach each week in Lent. It is an opportunity for congregation members to learn about the issues children face in our communities, and to make financial contributions. Our Savior’s is serving the world.
Pastor Kendra Wilde is not only a pastor at Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church in Helena, she is also the President of MAC (Montana Association of Christians.) One of the primary things that MAC does is take the voices of Christian people to the Montana State Legislature. (Wyoming has a similar setup, through the Wyoming Interfaith Network.) Pastor Kendra and other faith leaders, both clergy and lay, speak at hearings, write letters, write op eds, and work hard to keep the voice of neighbor love alive and well in the midst of complicated discussions in the legislature. MAC is serving the world.
Loni Whitford, President of Our Saviour’s, Rocky Boy, and Secretary of the American Indian and Alaska Native Association of the ELCA, brought her daughter and friends and colleagues to a Rally for Medicaid Expansion in Helena on Saturday. An EMT on the Rocky Boys Reservation, she sees the effect of health care, and she sees what the absence of it can do. As a tribal member she knows that heath care is a treaty right. And she also sees that it is a human right. Loni, through her advocacy, is serving the world.
Many Lutheran congregations have soup suppers during Lent, and take up an offering for hunger-related causes. ELCA World Hunger, Bread for the World, local food pantries and meal programs are among the many ways that congregations reach out in the love of Jesus to their neighbors far and near. They are serving the world, especially the poor and those in need.
The Cape Orange Diocese, our companion synod in South Africa, works to share the good news of Jesus Christ in the poorest communities. Displaced from the choice areas during the Apartheid era, the church moved to the margins, and worked tirelessly for justice. Now, more than 2 decades since the official end to Apartheid, the church continues to work with the aftermath—racism, and economic inequality. The Cape Orange Diocese is serving the world, especially the poor and those in need.
Jack Siemens is an LPA, and President of Harlem Lutheran Church, where he is also serving as a Synodically Authorized Ministry in the absence of a pastor. He also preaches at Dodson Lutheran on a regular basis. In addition to his all-consuming church work, Jack runs the Harlem Food Bank, an outreach to hungry neighbors. Jack Siemens serves the world, especially the poor and those in need.
Spirit of Life serves the inmates in the Fort Peck Tribal Institution, with Pastor Christine Holler-Dinsmore. Both women and men receive pastoral and liturgical services, as well as encouragement and strength for their lives as they are released. Spirit of Life offers unconditional love and hope to people who have been rejected by society. They welcome prayer shawls, warm socks, and skirts. Spirit of Life serves the world.
This week NRIT is offering 2 opportunities to attend a continuing education event on “Theology of the Land.” Professor Eric Meyer of Carrol College will explore biblical and theological concepts through which Christians can understand and deepen their relationship to the land and fellow creatures. NRIT is serving the world that God so loves.
How is your congregation serving the world, and especially the poor and those in need this Lent? I’d love to be able to share your stories.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Lent is late this year. So is any hint of spring. Last year when unrelenting blizzards stranded many people on reservations without food, our Synod responded to a call for food assistance for the Northern Cheyenne. We took a risk—committing to the truckload of food before the money was raised. But you gave generously. Funds came in from across the Synod, and volunteers showed up with Dick Deschamps, our LDR Coordinator, to distribute $16,000 worth of food to hungry families. That’s meeting the future boldly.
Christikon is currently recruiting for Sojourners Camp, a by-invitation-only camping experience for at-risk 11-13 year olds. These are kids who are not yet in the juvenile justice system, but could end up there. Sojourners Camp reaches out non-manipulatively in Christian love, providing role models and positive experiences in the lives of vulnerable kids. Application deadline is April 15. Contact Christikon, www.christikon.org. That’s meeting the future boldly.
Three seminarians have been assigned to the Montana Synod, from three different seminaries. Each brings energy, enthusiasm and a love for the Gospel to serve in the Montana Synod. They eagerly await meeting their future congregation and future colleagues. That is meeting the future boldly.
Across the Synod, LPAs are leading Lenten worship, teaching confirmation, visiting the sick, and tending to the dying, despite never having dreamed they would be doing pastoral acts. But in the absence of pastors, and through the training in the LPA program, as well as licensing from the Synod office, they are doing it, they are meeting the future boldly!
Montana and Wyoming are among the states with the highest suicide rates. Pella Lutheran Church in Sidney is doing something about it. In response to the shortage of mental health professionals, the Mental Health Local Advisory Council is partnering with churches like Pella to coordinate peer-to-peer support groups. That is meeting the future boldly.
Do you want to do something about child abuse and neglect? Consider hosting a “Blue Sunday,” highlighting the work of the Children’s Trust Fund. (ChildrensTrust.mt.gov) Or find out more about Intermountain Children’s Home, a ministry that we share with other Christian denominations. (www.intermountain.org) Or volunteer with CASA CAN. Caring and advocating for children is meeting the future boldly.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (www.LIRS.org) has welcomed the stranger for over 80 years. Now, for only the second time, a former refugee has been appointed to be President and CEO of LIRS. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is committed to seeing that immigrant families are afforded the same opportunity her family was given when they fled home and arrived in the US. LIRS is one of only two agencies that helped reunite children with parents after family separation this past summer. LIRS meets the future boldly.
Basketball is serious business in our territory. Fans and players alike are passionate. And, unfortunately, people are not always at their best when rooting for their own team against an opposing team. So kudos to the Columbia Falls girls basketball team for offering a gift of respect and sisterhood to the Browning girls basketball team, after a previous unfortunate incident. Young people reaching out to one another across racial and team divides is truly meeting the future boldly.
Lent is a time of prayer and contemplation. It is also a time of engagement. It is a time to meet the future boldly.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishops are elected by synods, but are accountable to the whole church, as well. Because of that, bishops gather twice a year for multi-day meetings. I am just on my way home from one of those meetings. As I mentioned in my Words from the Bishop last week, bishops do more advising than legislating. But bishops are generally the ones who have to implement the decisions made by the Church Council. So bishops have good reason to be invested in the advisory process.
At the recently concluded meeting, bishops had significant input into a document that will be voted on by the Church Council. This document, “Trustworthy Servants,” replaces as earlier document, “Vision and Expectations,” which has been a part of the candidacy process since 1990. This document will be made public on March 7, in anticipation of the Church Council’s vote in April. Should the Church Council vote to adopt the document (with or without changes), it will immediately replace “Vision and Expectations.” The bishops have written a letter about the new document, and expressing regret for harm done to individual and the church in the past.
Bishops also had an opportunity to preview the latest draft of the proposed Social Statement on Women and Justice, before it goes to the Church Council and, ultimately, the Churchwide Assembly. Retitled “Faith, Sexism and Justice: a Lutheran Call to Action.” The Statement is much clearer and better than the draft we saw last year, in my opinion. It, too, will be released to the public soon.
Another document that will be voted on by the Churchwide Assembly is a document on Interreligious Relationships. This document is available.
Bishops also heard reports from Churchwide officers—Presiding Bishop, Secretary, Treasurer and Vice President, and heard updates on the Churchwide Assembly. Both the Secretary and the Presiding Bishop positions are up for election.
We learned about ELCA finances. January was a difficult month all around, with blizzards, a polar vortex in the Midwest, and the government shutdown. Congregations who had to cancel services are encouraged to try to find ways to make up missed offerings and mission support.
The Campaign for the ELCA is coming to a close June 30. Congregations and individuals are encouraged to make additional gifts and pledges to this campaign, especially in the areas of World Hunger, Young Adults in Global Mission, and Global Women’s Education-a program that brings young women from Lutheran World Federation Churches to Study at Lutheran Colleges and Universities.
Bishops also learn from one another. New spent most of a day listening to different approaches across the ELCA for encouraging Congregational vitality.
The bishops also sent a letter to the Lutheran Church in Venezuela, expressing prayer and solidarity for the suffering of the people of Venezuela. Additionally, Presiding Bishop Eaton wrote a letter to the United Methodist Church, and ELCA bishops from the West wrote to Western UMC Bishops to express understanding and prayers for the United Methodist Church as it ponders how best to move forward after the General Convention last week. ELCA congregations with U tied Methodist neighbors are invited to pray for them, offer a safe space for worship, if appropriate, but not to encourage “jumping ship.” The United Methodist Church is a full communion partner with the ELCA.
If you have questions, talk with me.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
On Ash Wednesday we engage in the ancient ritual of putting ashes on our foreheads to remember our mortality. Healthy teenagers, infants, middle aged people, the elderly—all get the same smear of ashes, regardless or health or political party, regardless of church membership, citizenship status, ethnic identity. The ashes remind us that we are all mortal. The ashes are an equalizer.
But there is more. Because the ashes we wear on our foreheads are in the form of a cross. Just as the ashes unite us in death, the cross unites us in life. Lent is the time when we set aside 40 days to explore more deeply the meaning of death and life.
Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation. Candidates for baptism spent Lent preparing for the dying with Christ and rising with Christ in the great Easter Vigil.
Lent is a time of prayer and a time of action.
The 40 days of Lent parallel the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism, the 40 days in which he was tempted by the devil. What kind of temptations plague us these days? We have a tendency to trivialize the concept of temptation, to downgrade temptations into only sex or chocolate. Focusing only on these so-called temptations of the flesh, we potentially ignore far more significant transgressions. Lent gives us a time to examine our lives and our priorities, and make changes, not because they will win us a lottery ticket into heaven, but because Jesus has already taken care of that. We are free to repent, free to reform our lives.
There is more. The 40 days of Lent also remind us of the 40 years in which the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, homeless refugees looking for a place to live in safety. Might we take time in Lent to learn more about the 65 million refugees across the globe, who seek a safe place to live and to protect their families? I invite you to engage more deeply with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) to learn how your congregation could help families just like yours—caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You can also go to ELCA.org, and find world hunger resources to use in Lent, and Lenten resources on immigration. Check out AAMPARO, at ELCA.org. to learn more about what our church is doing, and to learn about what the Bible says about hospitality towards strangers. You can find 40 Bible passages, one for each day of Lent, on now to treat immigrants.
There are many ways to observe Lent, individually and congregationally. I encourage you to join Christians across the globe during this solemn time of Lent, deepening faith and witness.
Jessica Crist , Bishop
As you read these words, I will be flying to Chicago for my final meeting of the ELCA Conference of Bishops. Or I will be in some airport, hoping to get rebooked. When you are elected to be the bishop of a synod of the ELCA, you are automatically a part of the Conference of Bishops. It isn’t optional; it is part of the call. Every bishop of a synod is also a bishop of the whole church. That means being part of the Conference of Bishops.
For my first six years I was part of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee. Then for four years I was Chair of the Conference of Bishops, and part of the COB Executive Committee, as well as the Church Council Executive Committee. Now I am part of the Synodical and Churchwide Relations Committee. We monitor the issues described in our name.
Twice a year the Conference of Bishops meets as a whole—usually for 5 or 6 days. It may surprise you to know that the Conference of Bishops, by and large, does not make policy for the church. Many people make that assumption—that when the bishops gather they make policies and proclamations. This is a mistaken notion that comes from watching from afar how gatherings of bishops in other church bodies function. We are not Catholic, or Episcopalian or Methodist. We are ELCA.
In the ELCA, it is the Church Council that is the decision-making body when the triennial Churchwide Assembly is not in session. The Conference of Bishop’s main role is to advise and consult, not to govern. The COB is not a governing body. Read what the ELCA Constitution says:
“The Conference of Bishops shall consult with and advise the Church Council. It may make recommendations to the presiding bishop of the church and to the Church Council, respond to referrals from the Church Council, and refer concerns and proposals to the Church Council. At each meeting the Conference of Bishops shall receive a report from the Church Council brought by the vice president of this church. “ (10.81.01)
During my tenure we began to invite members of the Church Council, in addition to the Vice President, to attend COB meetings. Visiting Council members were surprised to see the contrast between their meetings and the COB. One said: “We spend all our time making decisions, with very little time to reflect and discern. You spend all your time reflecting and discerning, with almost no opportunity to make decisions.”
It is true. There are very few issues on which the Conference of Bishops has the final say. The major one is the roster—who can be issued a call, who can be given extra time on leave, which unusual circumstances justify setting aside timelines. Recently the Montana Synod asked for a call to a deacon who was non-stipendiary. After consideration, the Roster Committee granted our request, and passed it on to the full body, who agreed.
Mostly, the Conference of Bishops advises churchwide units and staff, hears about programs and policies, listens to and voices concerns, and makes formal recommendations, when appropriate, to the Church Council. The Church Council is where the buck stops.
I want to say a word about our polity. It is very intentional that the buck stops with the Churchwide Assembly, and with the Church Council in between assemblies. The Church Council, like the Churchwide Assembly and all properly constituted governing bodies in the ELCA, is made up of at least 60% laity. This is important. The ELCA is a church that takes laity seriously, so seriously that we are committed to having a majority of lay persons in every governing body.
I think this is one of the reasons that the ELCA has been more successful than some other denominations in instituting and enforcing a no-tolerance policy for sexual abuse. We don’t have a system where clergy can protect clergy. Our design incorporates more transparency, more accountability. We are not perfect. But our system keeps us in check.
What the Conference of Bishop brings to meetings twice a year, is not only their own interests and gifts, but the wisdom of every congregation in the ELCA. It is said that only when the COB meets is there somebody in the room who knows every congregation in the ELCA, and speaks for them. For the next week I will be representing you in my conversations with colleagues in Chicago. Pray for us.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA