Bishop Eaton reminds us that being church means being church together. It cannot be a solo sport. We are so aware of the “togetherness” of being church as we approach the Synod Assembly. Pastors, Associates in Ministry and voting members from every congregation in the Synod are invited to gather annually, when the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. For people from smaller congregations the Assembly is an opportunity to be surrounded by a large group singing boldly. For people from larger congregations it is an opportunity to meet with people whose congregational experience is quite different. We all have gifts and experiences to share, and the Assembly is a perfect time to do it.
Some of the things that will happen at our assembly, together: We will install Pastor Mark Donald as Director of Christikon on Friday night during worship. All of us will witness and pray for his ministry as Camp Director. On Sunday morning, during worship, we will ordain Tonia Fisher to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. When we have these opportunities to participate in an ordination as a whole Synod, we are reminded that this is about more than just a single individual, more than just a particular congregation. When the clergy vest and wear red stoles and gather around the ordinand, we are church together.
We are church together when we recognize the 30 LPAs who have completed their training and are ready to serve. They come from all over the Synod, from congregations small and large, and they bring different gifts to being LPAs. This program, a staple in the Montana Synod since the 1990’s, is getting attention in other parts of the ELCA, and is being replicated. We are church together.
We are church together when we worship together, when we sing and pray and receive Holy Communion. We are church together when we have our “Procession of Promise” at the Assembly, bring forward our congregational intent forms that pledge our financial commitments together. We are church together when we hear the report of the Churchwide representative, and learn about what is going on in the ELCA across the church and across the globe.
Of course the assembly is not the only time that we are church together. Being church together doesn’t only mean physical proximity. If that were the case, we would have a difficult time in the Montana Synod, with our vast distances. We are church together because we are all part of the ELCA, because we are all part of the Body of Christ. We are reminded of that when we add the synod’s weekly prayers to our congregational prayers. We are reminded of that when we highlight synod ministries, in addition to congregational ministries. We are reminded of that when we share information about churchwide ministries, and ecumenical ministries.
We are church together whether we are next to each other or across the continent. I look forward to being church together with you next weekend at the Montana Synod Assembly. And if you are not going to be there, keep us in prayer. That’s what keeps us church together.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's second emphasis for the ELCA is: "We are Lutheran." We are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We are a product of the Reformation that Martin Luther started. At our Synod Assembly and Theological Conference in 2 ½ weeks, we will explore Reformation themes and history.
Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an obscure monk in northern Germany, challenged the religious hierarchy on matters of faith and practice. He wasn't the first to raise questions about how the church operated, but he raised his voice at an opportune time when many others, including secular rulers, agreed with him. His voice was amplified by the new technology of the day-the printing press-and soon the words of this Augustinian friar were being read all over Europe.
We are Lutherans. That was once an insult. Opponents of Luther scornfully called people who agreed with him "Lutherans." It was meant as a putdown, and Luther strongly objected. But it is the name we now live with, with hardly a thought. We do not worship Martin Luther. We are deeply grateful for his courage, his world-changing insights, his faith and his persuasive powers. But he didn't walk on water, and he was wrong about some things. As a church, we have repudiated his late-in-life denunciations of the Jews, which were in turn used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust.
At our Assembly we will engage with church historian Mary Jane Haemig as she reflects on the Reformation and Christian freedom, and on the Reformation emphasis on the God who both speaks and listens. We will have workshops that focus on different aspects and implications of the Reformation. Here are some of them: Gift of Congregational Song from Churches of the Reformation; Teaching the Reformation to Children; Celebrating the Reformation in Bolivia; Luther's Struggle for the Gospel; Translating the Bible; Wittenberg Report; Luther's Footsteps; Celebrating the Reformation in South Africa.
The Reformation started a break between Catholics and Protestants that has persisted for half a millennium. Now, as we approach the 500th anniversary, Lutherans and Catholics are working together more closely. We are letting go of our 16th century condemnations of each other and seeking to find ways that we can work together, to affirm things that we have in common.
To that end, Lutherans and Catholics in Montana (and y'all in Wyoming are invited!) will have a service of commemoration on October 30, 2017, at the Helena Cathedral. Two Catholic and one Lutheran Bishop will be present to signify our commitment to Christian unity.
Being Lutheran does not mean that we are anti-Catholic. In fact, being Lutheran means that we seek Christian unity with any and all. That's why we have full communion agreements with 6 other denominations (Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Moravians, Reformed Church in America), and why we are part of ecumenical and interfaith organizations. When we say, "We are Lutheran," it means we know who we are and where we are coming from, so that we can speak with people of other backgrounds and other faiths, with confidence and integrity, but not arrogance.
Lutheranism is no longer a northern European phenomenon only. The Lutheran World Federation is made up of 145 member churches in 98 countries. Lutheranism is a global phenomenon, and its future is being shaped by churches like our companion churches in Bolivia and South Africa.
It is a great time to be Lutheran, to acknowledge our roots in the past and to marvel at the branches.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” (Acts 4:32)
As we move towards the Synod Assembly, I will be reflecting on the 4 emphases that Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has asked the ELCA to embrace. The first is “We are church.” At first blush that may seem too obvious even to comment upon. But let’s take a closer look. Because it is always risky to make assumptions.
Our Constitution’s statement of purpose says:
“The Church is a people created by God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, called and sent to bear witness to God’s creative, redeeming, and sanctifying activity in the world.” So when we say, “We are church,” that is what we are claiming. Let’s look at the parts of that statement.
First, “a people created by God in Christ.” The church is “a people.” Not a building. Not an individual. A people. Plural. “created by God in Christ.” We affirm that we are not self-made, we are not the product of random forces of the universe. We are a created by God in Christ. We assert this about ourselves. And we claim it for everyone. When we acknowledge that God has created us, we implicitly acknowledge that God has created everything. And God loves all that God has created. So when we describe ourselves as “a people created by God in Christ,” we are placing ourselves in context. Our context is the created world, beloved by God, redeemed by Christ.
Next,“empowered by the Holy Spirit.” Our self-understanding as church is that the Holy Spirit empowers us. This coming Sunday is Pentecost, perhaps the most powerful biblical story about the Holy Spirit. We are Pentecost people, transformed by the Holy Spirit to do things we didn’t know we knew how to do. We don’t do these things on our own. We do them as a people. And we do them because the Holy Spirit fills us, sweeps us along, enters our lives and amazes us.
Then, “called and sent to bear witness” Being church is not static and it is far from passive. We are both “called and sent.” Calling is not just for pastors, not just for church professionals. In baptism we are all called to be servants and disciples. And the calling is not just to speak to ourselves. Following Christ is contagious. So, in being “called,” we are “sent.” We are sent “to bear witness.” That means telling our story. Telling the story of God’s love in Christ. Telling our own story. That’s what “called and sent to bear witness” means.
Finally “bear witness to God’s creative, redeeming and sanctifying activity in the world.” The story that we tell is the story of what God is up to in the world. God is creating. God is redeeming. God is sanctifying. God makes something out of nothing. God transforms darkness into light, death into life. God makes the ordinary holy, and the holy ordinary.
“The Church is a people created by God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, called and sent to bear witness to God’s creative, redeeming, and sanctifying activity in the world.”
When we say "We are church," that is what we are claiming.
Thanks be to God.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein."( Psalm 24:1)
There is a village in Alaska that is falling into the sea. Actually there are many villages in Alaska that are falling into the sea. The Inuit people, originally migratory, were forced to settle in “permanent” villages. It is these “permanent” villages that are falling into the sea. Once protected by sea ice, they are now eroding away. Climate change, of course, is the reason. Shishmaref is of particular interest because there is a Lutheran congregation there. At some point in the not-too-distant future, says Bishop Shelley Wickstrom, the homes of Shishmaref will be put on skids and dragged to a new location. But not the church. It is too big. If the people are to worship, they will need a new church.
Shishmaref, Alaska, is only one of many communities in the vanguard of what scientists predict will be 50 million to 200 million “climate refugees” by 2050. Because Shishmaref has Lutheran connections, our church will have a moral obligation to those villagers, those ELCA Lutherans. But what about Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana? And thousands of other places. Climate change poses a huge global problem—it affects everyone.
The history of life on earth is rich and varied. The creation stories in Genesis give us a beautiful, poetic rendition of unfolding life on earth that is pleasing to God. The collapsing of the process into six days makes it manageable, comprehensible. Of course we know that the earth’s evolution has been far more complex. We can assert this without any diminishment in our faith in God the creator.
Scientists looking at this history of living things see five mass extinctions in the last half billion years on earth. And more and more of them are convinced that we are on the verge of a sixth mass extinction. (See Pulitzer Prize winning The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert.) So what’s a Christian to do? Martin Luther is widely quoted as saying that even if he knew the world were to end tomorrow, he would still plant a pear tree today. (That quote has never actually been verified, though it is probably his most popular.)
Stewardship. It is a faith practice that involves far more than an annual fund drive for the congregation. Stewardship is our acknowledgement that everything we have and everything we are comes from God. Stewardship is returning to God, providing for our neighbor, working with our neighbor to care for the earth. It is not a massive global initiative, but a way of life, a faith practice for people who follow the Risen Christ.
Christians do not have a monopoly on stewardship, nor on care of the earth. And Christians, like others, have a moral obligation to engage in global initiatives to care for the earth. It’s just that we are very clear about the why. We love because God first loved us.
Personal stewardship is an affirmation that we are not created unto ourselves, that we are a part of something larger, and that in response to God’s love through Jesus Christ, we orient our lives in gratitude.
We pray to God for the earth. And we work with our neighbors for the earth, planting trees, recycling, lessening our carbon footprint. And we practice stewardship. Because we know that it is not ours to spoil, not ours to ignore, not ours to hoard. We care for the earth as a matter of stewardship for the present, and for the future.
We may not be able to prevent a certain species of bat from going extinct, nor a particular kind of frog. But as Christians we have a responsibility to care for the environment. It is a matter of stewardship. We were not given the earth to live in to use up all its resources and make it uninhabitable for the future. Farmers know that. Ranchers know that.
That’s stewardship. A faith practice.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA