In these weeks before the Synod Assembly I am writing about things that we will deal with at the Synod Assembly. Last week I wrote about the renewal of the Montana Synod's affirmation of our 20 year old agreement with the Montana Association of Jewish Communities. The week before I wrote about our membership in "the new MAC," the reconfigured expression of Montana's ecumenical movement. And the week before that I shared about New Hope, the congregation scheduled to be officially recognized at the Synod Assembly.
This week I am writing about a ministry with children that has a long history, and that we are being asked to partner with. Intermountain Children's Home started as an agency for children established by the Methodist Church almost a hundred years ago. The agency has changed over the years, in response to changing needs. In the last several decades Intermountain has directed its focus on children who have been harmed by destructive relationships. Intermountain has an excellent track record and reputation, both in the state and nationally. They have a residential campus where children stay for up to 2 years and receive intensive care. And they have several satellite operations, as well as day programs. With their outreach and education programs they reach hundreds of families and individuals across the state each year.
Although Intermountain was founded by Methodists, the Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ now partner in governance. And the Montana Synod ELCA has been asked to join the partnership. The 3 churches who are currently the "moral owners" of Intermountain are already our full communion partners. The mission of the institution is consistent with our benchmarks. A number of our congregations already support Intermountain, through direct services, blankets and financial contributions. Entering into the partnership would give us a seat on the governing board.
And it would be another way in which we as the Montana Synod could support children, who are a priority for us all. We have all kinds of ways that we minister with children. In congregations we have Christian education and youth events, and we support efforts to alleviate child hunger. We have camps that welcome and enrich children of all ages and background, including a camp for at-risk "tweens." We support Lutheran Social Services as they work with birth mothers and adoptive couples, all for the sake of the children. And globally, we raise money to buy malaria nets to protect children, and invest in projects that give children everywhere a chance at a sustainable life.
At our Assembly we will vote to become partners with Intermountain as a way to become a part of a vibrant ministry to children. We are honored to be invited to be a part of this ministry, and hope that your congregation will include it in your prayers.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Anti-semitism has been a black mark for Christianity over the centuries. The Holocaust is the most appalling example, but there are many others, including the expulsion of Jews from Europe in the 15th century. Unfortunately, the words of Martin Luther, in his later days, have been used to support persecution of Jews.
As Lutherans we bear some responsibility for the way the words of Luther are used and misused. In the 1990s, the Lutheran World Federation and the ELCA repudiated the words of Martin Luther that are viciously anti-Semitic. And, in the wake of some anti-Jewish acts of violence in Billings, the Montana Synod entered into a conversation with the Montana Association of Jewish Communities. That conversation culminated in an agreement in 1995, in which the Montana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Montana Association of Jewish Communities pledged respect, cooperation and mutual understanding.
Now, 20 years later, we want to revisit this historic agreement and re-confirm out commitment to friendship and understanding with the Jewish communities among us. Although we differ theologically on significant issues—most notably on Jesus as Messiah and the Trinity—we share a common biblical heritage, and a common commitment to serve God and neighbor. To note this 20 year anniversary, we have invited Pr. Paul Seastrand, principle author of the agreement, and former Bishop Mark Ramseth, who was Bishop at the time of the agreement. Members of the Jewish community have also been invited, to take part in a re-affirmation.
In much of the “Christian” world through the ages, Jews have been persecuted for being Jews. In the Middle Ages, when Jews were being attacked and expelled from Christian Europe, they were welcomed into Muslim North Africa and Middle East. Although we hear about animosity between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East today—largely because of the Israeli-Palestinian situation-- there are places in Muslim countries where Jewish and Christian shrines are carefully tended by their Muslim neighbors.
We do not agree on all things. Issues related to Israel and Palestine can be particularly divisive.
But then we are not of one mind within our own religious groups on these difficult issues, either.
But the point is not to form a political action coalition. It is rather to recognize the common
humanity and religious roots of our fellow followers of the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac
and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel.
I look forward to seeing you at the Assembly, and to reaffirming our commitment to our
relationship with the Montana Association of Jewish Communities.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In these weeks before the Synod Assembly, I am using this space to share with you some of the items and issues that we will be dealing with at our Assembly, June 5-7. Last week I wrote about New Hope, the congregation from Great Falls that we will be officially welcoming into the Montana Synod as our newest congregation.
This week I am going to write about renewing our ecumenical commitments as a Synod. In 1973, the mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations in Montana came together to form the Montana Association of Churches. MAC held prayer services and workshops focusing on Christian Unity, sponsored Community-based campus ministry, brought in speakers and workshops, developed position papers and lobbied, had a rural ministry program, was a leader in challenging hate groups.
The model on which MAC operated in the first decades of its existence was no longer helpful in the last decade. So MAC's leadership, under the direction of ELCA Pastor Pete Erickson, spent about a year redesigning MAC, to meet the realities of both church and society in this decade, and into the future.
The redesigned MAC welcomes judicatories (like the Montana Synod), congregations, individuals and ministries into membership. The Montana Synod, as an existing member of "the old MAC," is "grandfathered" into the new MAC. But we will be affirming our ecumenical relationship at the Assembly, voting officially to join the new Montana Association of Christians. That's right. The name has changed, but the acronym has remained the same.
Why are we doing this? Ecumenism is central to who we are as ELCA Lutherans. Locally, nationally, globally we are deeply involved in ecumenical councils, associations, relationships. In the Montana Synod we have been involved in MAC since the beginning ( in the days of the ALC and the LCA.) and we have been similarly in loved in the Wyoming Association of Churches, providing strong leadership despite the fact that we have only five congregations in Wyoming.
We are publicly affirming our membership in MAC as a way to show ELCA support for ecumenism, and to encourage congregations, ministries and individuals to join MAC. We are stronger together than we are apart. We live in a part of the country and in a time in which religious adherence is low. To be identified publicly as Christians who respect one another, who work together for justice, and who profess Christ is a good thing.
I look forward to being with you on June, and to affirming with you our membership in MAC. And I hope that many of you will decide to join MAC yourselves, as congregations, ministries and individuals.
Jessica Crist, Bishop.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA