How unfortunate that we are becoming accustomed to hearing reports of devastating natural events, massive disruptions, and staggering death tolls. The earthquake in Nepal is the latest in a series of crises calling for our response. We are already responding as a church, and I encourage you to join in.
Because we are part of a larger church, we are able to respond quickly. Lutheran World Relief, one of our major relief and development partners, already had people on the ground in Nepal before the earthquake hit. They were able to begin assessment and response almost immediately. Imagine those quilts that your congregation makes going to earthquake survivors in Nepal! Imagine them serving as shelter for a family whose home has been destroyed, as a blanket for a man who has lost his family, as a baby carrier for a woman whose baby is her only family left.
Lutheran Disaster Response, an ELCA ministry that works with disasters both domestically (Remember the floods at Rocky Boy? Remember the fires on the Crow Reservation?) and globally. LDR, in partnership with Lutheran World Federation, is also responding to the humanitarian crisis in Nepal. Lest you be concerned about Lutheran organizations tripping over each other, LWR and LDR work cooperatively, each doing what they are best at. I encourage you to donate to either or both (LWR.org, elca.org/disaster).
As Christians we weep, in solidarity with the beloved children of God in Nepal who are suffering so deeply. And as Christians we pray for them. We pray for the victims, for the rescue workers, for the relief and development workers. We pray for a better, safer and more just future for the people of Nepal. And as Christians we love. We share our bounty with those in need.
Nepal: Weep, pray, love.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
I spent the last weekend with the ELCA Church Council, so I will tell you. The ELCA Church Council is the legislative body that makes decisions for the ELCA when the Churchwide Assembly is not in session. The Assembly meets every three years, and the Council meets at least twice a year. Much of what the Council does is to review work done at the request of the previous Assembly, and prepare issues and approaches for the upcoming Assembly. The Church Council is working with the staff in anticipation of the 2016 Churchwide Assembly.
The Church Council deals with big picture items, like re-imagining how the church funds itself. Different denominations have different ways of funding the congregations, regional bodies and national bodies. Our church started with the understanding that Synods would send 55% of congregational remittances on to the churchwide offices to fund ministries across the whole church (including ministries back in the synods). In reality, only 8 synods are at that 55%. (We are not one of those synods.) The Church Council has given approval to a report from a Bishops’ Think Tank to rethink how individual synods share resources within the synod and with the larger church. Five synods have volunteered to engage in experiments that potentially re-distribute the resources differently. This is an example of grass-roots thinking, rather than top-down.
One of the issues that will be considered at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly is the unification of the lay rosters (Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses) into one roster of Word and Service. Each of the current rosters has a history and a constituency, but consensus seems to be that it makes more sense for there to be one roster of Word and Service to complement the roster of Word and Sacrament (pastors.) That’s the big picture. But any decision like that involves tending to all kinds of details—constitutional changes, decisions on what the entrance rite would be,(currently Associates in Ministry are commissioned, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses are consecrated and Pastors are ordained), determination on where for the purposes of lay/clergy the Word and Service roster would be counted. (Currently, the lay rosters count as lay.)
The Church Council also proposes a budget, approves a spending plan, an operational plan and a strategic plan, elects unit directors, responds to Churchwide Assembly resolutions, appoints task forces, and more. Among the many other issues the Council dealt with this weekend were: the report of the Ecclesiology of the Global Church Task Force, the report of the Ministry to Same-Gender Families Task Force Report, the response to the Voting Rights Act, an update on Lutheran-Catholic ongoing dialogue, an update on the ELCA Campaign, an update from the Theological Education Advisory Council, a report on the progress of the Social Message on
Gender-Based Violence, and more.
Who is on the Church Council? Some 40 + elected members from across the church make up the
Church Council. Synods are paired and alternate Council members. We are paired with the
Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, and the Honorable John Lohrmann is the current Church
Council member. You can reach him by email___________________. Previously, when it was
the Montana Synod’s turn, Pastor Phil Wold served, replacing Pastor Dave Peters. Because we
move back and forth between synods, and because we alternate among clergy, lay female and lay
male, we have a wide range of people service. Our previous Vice President, Beverly Peterson,
has also served on the Church Council. Because the Chair of the Conference of Bishops is also a
member of the Church Council, I am on it as well. My term as chair will end at the end of 2015.
I am grateful to the members of the Church Council who give of their time to our church.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Thanks be to God. We are now in the season of Easter, a time when the churches proclaim that Christ is risen, and we do it again and again. The commercial world moves on, of course. Eggs and bunnies are quickly put on remainder in the stores, as the next secular holiday beckons. But in the church, it is still Easter. And our celebration continues. Easter is so much more than a spring-time ritual. It is how we interpret everything that happens.
A week ago, almost 150 Kenyan college students were shot in cold blood, because they were Christians. The Archbishop of Kenya, in a Good Friday message to the people of Kenya, wrote:
“Horror is fresh in our minds, too, and let us not run away or deny it, but stay by the cross. We stay with Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, we share in the grief of Mary and we share in the grief of those who have been so shockingly bereaved, but as Mary was to discover, we know this is not the end of the story. Jesus’ death upon the cross was not in vain. By his death, death has been destroyed. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb of Jesus assures us that death does not have the last word. As we think of those dear ones who died at Garissa because they were Christians, let us remember the promise of the Lord Jesus that nothing can separate them and us from his love.”
In this season of Easter we celebrate that Christ has risen, and that he has overcome death and despair. Ad we pray for strength and hope for those whose lives still seem to be in darkness.
Many people this month are focusing on issues of hunger. Bread for the World, a Christian citizen’s advocacy group, asks us to pray this month for:
1. All who suffer from hunger and poverty, that they would find new life in this season.
2. Congressional leaders, that they would not cut funds for vital food-assistance
3. The new creation of the world, which would see an end to hunger by 2030.
In Montana, next Wednesday, April 15, is “Wear Orange Day” to raise awareness of childhood
hunger. Many communities are having events to raise awareness and make a difference in the
rising rates of childhood hunger in our state. I encourage you to look into it. Jan Martin is our
Synod Hunger Coordinator.
And, finally, April 25 is “World Malaria Day,” a time to raise awareness of this preventable and
treatable disease which ruins so many lives unnecessarily. The ELCA has committed to raising
15 million dollars for malaria relief by the end of 2015. April 26 would be a great time for
congregations to make a big push towards that goal. Jen Asselstine is our Synod Malaria
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA