On Friday, the 2018 Montana Synod Assembly and Theological Conference begins in Great Falls. We are in Great Falls again this year so that we can dedicate the new Synod House. Last year we gathered around a hole in the ground, and blessed the beginning of the project. This year we will gather around the (almost) completed building and give thanks.
You will be able to tour the building before and after the dedication at 11:45 on Saturday. And of course, any time you are in Great Falls, you are welcome to visit us. We will also dedicate a tree, in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It has a companion tree in Wittenberg, Germany.
Our Assembly/Theological Conference is focused on congregations. Our Churchwide Representative, the Rev. Brenda Smith, will talk with us about faith practices. Our keynote, Linda Bobbitt, will talk about congregational vitality. More than a dozen workshops in two different sessions will give participants an opportunity to dive more deeply into issues of interest to them. (A couple of examples are: Family Systems, Stewardship, Prayer, Constitutions and Administration; Worship Space; Congregational Endowments; Peace in the Parish.) You don’t have to be a voting member to attend the Saturday events, which include the keynotes and the workshops.
Each year for the last 5 years we have oriented our Assembly around one of our benchmarks. But regardless of the Assembly theme, the benchmarks—all 5 of them—guide how we do our work together.
+Meet the future boldly.
+Serve the world, especially the poor and those in need.
+Deepen faith and witness.
See you at the Assembly!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Our Synod Assembly offering this year goes to help the congregations in Puerto Rico.
Did you know that the ELCA extends to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands? Indeed, the oldest Lutheran congregation in North America is on the island of St. Thomas. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands make up the ELCA’s Caribbean Synod, one of 65 in our church. On the island of Puerto Rico, there are nearly 30 ELCA congregations, man of which sustained at least some degree of damage from the hurricanes.
Last hurricane season, Puerto Rico was particularly hard hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. It is the fifth strongest storm ever to hit the United States (and, yes, Puerto Rico has been part of the United States since 1917.) One meteorologist said: “It was as if a 50- 60 mile wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico like a buzz saw.” You heard about the devastation, and about the continued power outages, food shortages, and medical crises. Now, eight months later, Puerto Rico is still in need of assistance. The news cycle moves on, but the need remains.
There are numerous agencies providing relief in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, including Lutheran Disaster Response, a ministry of the ELCA. LDR is working with the local LDR to build capacity, and to institute a multi-year volunteer rebuild/repair program. The needs are great.
The Montana Synod Council has designated the Caribbean Synod as the recipient of this year’s Synod Assembly offering. We have learned that congregations of the Synod have lost windows and sustained roof damage. It is our hope that we will be able to collect enough funds to replace the windows, and to buy some generators, as well.
Pr. David Guadalupe, from LSS-Puerto Rico, will be in Montana visiting St. John’s Lutheran Ministries later in June. (18-22) If you are interested in learning more about his visit, contact David Trost, CEO of St. John’s, or Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, Director for Evangelical Mission.
Our Synod Assembly theme this year is “Strengthening Congregations,” based on our benchmark. I encourage you and your congregation to give generously to support the congregations of the Caribbean Synod recovering from hurricane devastation.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
It is the time of year when people are planning high school graduations. Graduations, especially in Class C communities, are such a big deal for the whole town that a resolution was passed by the Synod Assembly in the '90's forbidding Synod Assemblies to meet at the same time as Class C graduations. We can never avoid conflict with all graduations, but we do our best to accommodate people's schedules.
May and June bring college graduations, as well. Whether it is community college or graduate school, institutions of higher learning are honoring their graduates this month. And we wish them well, also.
It is also the time of year when seminaries graduate their students, and synods and congregations look eagerly for new graduates to serve. But, in case you haven't heard, there are fewer seminary graduates than there were a decade ago--about half as many, to be clear. Right now, the Montana Synod has 8 openings that would normally be filled by new seminary graduates. And we received 2 graduates in the spring assignment process. That means that 2 congregations who have been waiting for a pastor will get one, and the rest will not. In addition to the 8 openings for new graduates, we have at least as many other openings, for positions that have normally been filled by more experienced pastors.
This is the new normal. But do not fear. God is with us. And God has given us the resources that we need to serve our congregations. One of those resources is...you. Yes, you. To everyone reading this I invite you to come to the Synod Assembly with the name of at least one person you think God might be calling to ministry. It could be someone who has been thinking about ministry, and needs some affirmation. It could be someone who has never seen herself in that role. It could be a child, for whom the invitation to consider becoming a pastor might be a life-changing thing. It could be an older person who is thinking about early retirement.
Ministry takes many forms. LPA's serve their own congregations and help out in others. We have a new class of LPAs starting in the fall.
There is more than one route to becoming a pastor these days. Seminaries offer on-campus traditional routes. TEEM is another option. Distributed learning is another. There are many ways to become a pastor, and our candidacy committee will help discern which fits best.
There are many kinds of ministry--all valuable. But we do need pastors, and we need more than we have. So I am inviting you to bring to the Synod Assembly names of people in whom you see potential for ministry. We'll have an offering of names.
And so that we can follow up with the person, please list the name, congregation, and contact information. And put your own name on the sheet, too, so we know who nominates whom.
Will you pray about this, and then look around in your congregation, your youth group, your women's Bible study, your outreach committee?
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Our staff feel a bit like wandering Arameans of Deuteronomy 26 these last few weeks as we empty out our offices at New Hope and move into the Synod House. The thing is—we don’t yet have an occupancy permit (waiting for some construction work to be finished and parts to arrive.) So we are preparing for Assembly and doing our ongoing work from our homes, from our cars, from places where we can get internet, as we watch the completion of the building. Thank you for your understanding if we do not respond as quickly to your inquiries as we normally do.
Of course, we know that we are blessed that this “homelessness” is only temporary. And we have other places to go. We are keenly aware of the people in our communities who do not have a place to call home. And we give thanks for the homeless shelters and the programs like Family Promise that are hosted and supported by congregations of the ELCA, along with our neighbors.
And we are acutely aware of the refugees around the globe, whose homes have been destroyed by war, civil unrest or natural disaster. There are more refugees globally than at any other time since World War II. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service works with advocacy and resettlement, on behalf of our church.
Thank you for the work that you do to help the less fortunate of God’s beloved children in this world. And thank you for your assistance with the building of the new Synod House. We are truly grateful, and we look forward to seeing you at the dedication during the Synod Assembly, (Saturday at 11:45 am), and when you come to visit us.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA