Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like what arising green.
In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
Thinking that he would never wake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
Forth he came at Easter like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Your touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
(ELW 379, LBW 148)
O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crow;
O sacred head, what glory, what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.
How pale though art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn,
How does thy face now languish, which once was bright as morn!
Thy grief and bitter passion were all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.
Lord, be my consolation; shield me when I must die;
Remind me of thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
These eyes, new faith receiving, from thee shall never move;
For all who die believing die safely in thy love.
(ELW 351, LBW 116)
Congregations are the backbone of the church. For all the creative programs that come out of the synod office, seminaries, the churchwide office or the latest internet phenomenon, it is the congregations where people learn about Jesus. It is the congregations where faith is formed, where children are baptized, where the community walks with the sick, the grieving, those who are distressed. It is the congregations where Christians learn about the power of community, about the spiritual practices of praying and hospitality and almsgiving and worship.
Lent gives congregations an opportunity to reinforce some faith practices, and by doing so, to strengthen the congregations. Many congregations add a midweek worship service to their schedule in Lent, and people set aside their normal activities and come together. Many congregations use Lenten offerings to support world hunger, or community projects.
Congregations that participate in Family Promise (where homeless families are housed and fed for week-long stays at participating congregations), or are involved in any volunteer rotation in programs to provide essential services to the needy may find their routines disrupted. Homelessness does not take a break for Holy Week; hunger doesn’t go away just because we have a Lenten soup supper. So, we learn to adapt, to address our congregation’s needs while still reaching out to the poor and the needy. That makes us stronger as congregations, not weaker.
Congregational vitality is one of the highest priorities of the ELCA. There are churchwide resources, and our DEM Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger also has resources to measure and work on congregational vitality. Vitality is not measured only by size—membership, budget or worship attendance. In the Montana Synod we have vibrant congregations that have very small membership and few at worship. But they have a sense of why they exist, and it isn’t for themselves. It is for their neighbors. It is for the sake of the world.
Lent gives congregations the opportunity to look inward so that they may be strengthened to focus outward.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
This week is the National Workshop on Christian Unity. For over 50 years the Workshop has advanced unity and reconciliation among various Christian communities, and it is the only gathering of its kind at a national level in the world. The ELCA is always involved in the Workshop, and our synod is normally represented by Pr. Amanda Liggett. Health complications in a new baby have kept Pr. Liggett home this year, but because of our good relationship with the Episcopal Church in Montana the Rev. Valerie Webster will represent us as well as the Diocese. The National Workshop on Christian Unity promotes unity.
On the local level, some churches do round robins in Lent, across denominational or congregational lines. On the Hiline, east of Shelby, west of Havre, are 2 small congregations, Devon and Galata, linked with a third up north in the country. Instead of having 3 separate midweek services, SAM Cynthia Thomas is having one service in each of the three congregations on a different week. The challenge is for people to attend not only in their own congregation, but in the others. Lenten round robins promote unity.
We have 2 ELCA congregations in Butte, and one in Anaconda, 20 miles away. All three pastors resigned or retired in the last year, and all three congregations are looking for ways to do ministry effectively. So they are bringing together members from each congregation to share ideas on ways to share ministry. Talking with your neighbors promotes unity.
The ELCA has several full communion partners, and working together with them enhances ministry. Currently we have 4 cooperative arrangements with the Presbyterians (Hot Springs, Cutbank, White Sulphur Springs, Fallon/Terry); 1 with the Episcopal Church (Big Sky), and one with the Methodists (Lavina.), and we have had cooperative arrangements with the UCC in the past. And we work cooperatively in other ways: in campus ministry, with Freedom in Christ, with MAC and WIN. Full communion agreements promote unity.
First English in Billings is planning ahead for Vacation Bible School. In order to have a more effective outreach to more children, they are in conversation with Friendship House, a ministry with low-income children and teens on Billings’ south side. Sometimes thinking outside the box brings new vision and life. Working with other partners promotes unity.
In Lent, the Synod Staff are busy preparing for the Synod Assembly, a time when we come together as the ELCA in Montana and northern Wyoming. Together the Assembly will elect a bishop, vice president, treasurer and Synod Council. Together the Assembly will amend the constitution, adopt a budget, consider resolutions, and plan for our future together. The Synod Assembly makes it clear that the Synod is not “them,” it is “us.” All of us. Voting Members at the Assembly can take home information to share about the ELCA and the Montana Synod. The Synod Assembly promotes unity.
How is your congregation promoting unity this Lent and beyond?
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA