In two days, Voting Members from every congregation will be gathering in Great Falls for the 2019 Synod Assembly. A Synod Assembly is a business meeting, but it is also a family reunion. It is a combination of people who have been coming every year, and people who are there for their first time. We worship, we sing, we pray, we learn.
This year we will elect a new Bishop, to start September 1. We’ll elect a Vice President and a Treasurer and Synod Council members. We’ll also recognize LPAs who have finished their training. And we’ll thank the current Bishop at the banquet.
We have 18 workshops in two different sessions. You can learn about everything from Stewardship to Prayer, and lots in-between. Dr. Laurie Jungling will offer a Bible Study on the Parable of the Talents in plenary session.
We have special guests at this Assembly. Bishop Matsumai Manong and Pastor Adam Khunou will be with us from The Cape Orange Diocese in South Africa, our Companion Synod. After the Assembly they will visit various ministry sites. Also from South Africa is Damion Kok, a counselor at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, as part of the Global Mission/Camp Counselor program.
Sister Bishops, Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod, and Kristen Keumpel of the Easter Washington Idaho Synod will join us, as will the Rev. Phil Hirsch, Churchwide Staff, who will conduct the election for Bishop.
Every year our staff works hard to put on a Synod Assembly. Since this is our last Synod Assembly together as a staff, please thank members of the staff as you see them. They are truly a treasure.
See you at the Assembly!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
The ELCA has long had a commitment to ecumenism—relationships with other Christians. In 1991, the ELCA adopted “A Declaration of Ecumenical Commitment,” outlining our stance on ecumenism. It is often said, “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.” The 1991 statement, in addition to setting out ecumenical commitments, calls for us to go deeper and address inter-religious issues. Now, 28 years later, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly will be considering such a policy statement—“A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.”
The proposed statement is available online at www.elca.org.
We live in a multi-religious world. As Lutheran Christians we engage with the rest of the world, not with suspicion or hostility, but with a strong understanding of our identity in Christ. For the last 30 years ELCA Lutherans have been engaging with their neighbors of other religious traditions. As a Church we have had conversations with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.
The statement is divided into eight sections. I will share points from the statement under each:
Lutherans have something distinctive to say about inter-religious commitments. The document provides a common framework for the diverse ministries of the church.
“In a deeply divided world, and as a faithful response to Christ’s message of reconciliation, we seek right, peaceful, and just relationships with all our neighbors, including those of other religions and worldviews.”
“Our context, whether understood locally or globally, is multi-religious. Our Lutheran vocation both shapes and is shaped by our engagement with religious diversity.”
The vision in the statement is 3-fold:
A Biblical Vision
The section on Calling addresses evangelism, interreligious relations, loving our neighbor, serving alongside our neighbor, and living in solidarity with our neighbor.
Commitments: The statement lists twelve commitments for our church as we go forward:
1. Pray for the well-being of wonderfully diverse human family.
2. Articulate why we cherish our core identity, and seek to understand our neighbor’s core identity.
3. Witness the power of Christ through our daily lives, and note others’ rights as we share.
4. Seek to understand the world’s religions better, and identify the misuse of religion.
5. Seek to know our neighbors and to overcome stereotypes and falsehoods.
6. Seek relationship with all who seek justice , peace, human wholeness and the well-being of creation.
7. Work with other Christians for inter-religious understanding.
8. Seek counsel from other religious groups in discernment and advocacy for the common good.
9. Defend the full participation of all in our religiously diverse society.
10. Defend human rights and oppose all forms of religious bigotry.
11. Confess when our words or deeds (of lack thereof) cause offense, harm or violence, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
12. Produce study and dialogue materials, and pastoral guidelines.
Biblical and Theological Underpinnings:
This section includes God’s vision, and other religions in the Bible (Rahab, the Magi, etc.). It also suggests Lutheran convictions that come into play:
Theology is relational.
Grace without prerequisites.
Limits on our knowing.
Ever-depending on forgiveness.
Conclusion and Benediction: The statement concludes with this benediction:
“May God bless the efforts of this church as we set our sights on God’s vision, as we seek to respond to God’s calling in our context, and as we strive to uphold these commitments.”
The proposed statement is available at www.elca.org, and will be voted on at the August Churchwide Assembly.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
It has been a long time in coming. Women are 50% of the world’s population, and more than 50% of the church. As a church, we have had social statements and social messages over the years on a whole host of topics from economic well-being to mental health. But we have not yet adopted a social statement on women and justice. Even the current statement being considered by the Churchwide Assembly in August, has taken longer than any other social statement in our history. First proposed in 2009, it was delayed by other pressing matters the church was dealing with, and by a staff reduction caused by financial shortfall. The length of time for the study, once it got under way, was also longer than previous studies.
The final title for the proposed social statement is “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action.” It is available at www.elca.org. The writing team decided to make it available in two forms: there is a brief, 8 page synopsis of the study, and then a longer, 30+ page version, followed by a glossary of terms and implementing resolutions.
The statement begins with the fundamental teaching that God desires abundant life for all. Included in this are:
1. God’s intention is revealed in Scriptures.
2. All people are created equally in the image of God.
3. Humans exist in sin, alienated from God and one another.
4. Christ heals and redeems us from this alienation.
5. Because we are freed in Christ, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
6. God’s grace and mercy are for all people.
7. Reason and knowledge are gifts from God for the common good.
8. The church is called to live justly in the world
The statement goes on the describe how sin subverts human flourishing in many ways that oppress people and restrict them. Patriarchy and sexism are among the forces that prevent women and girls from realizing abundant life fully. They also prevent men and boys from realizing life fully.
“As Christians, we see that patriarchy and sexism prevent all human beings from living into the abundant life for which God created them. Patriarchy and sexism reflect a lack of trust in God and result in harm and broken relationships. Just as this church has identified racism as sin, this church identifies patriarchy and sexism as sin. We confess that, as God’s people forgiven in Jesus Christ, we are simultaneously liberated and sinful.”
The statement goes on to say how the Christian tradition is both a challenge and a resource. While tradition has often been used to reinforce patriarchy and sexism, central Lutheran and Christian doctrines free Christ’s beloved people to challenge all forms of oppression.
The statement continues with suggested actions for us as a church, including:
1. Celebrating the gifts of women and girls.
2. Promoting scriptural translation and interpretation that rejects the misuse of scripture.
3. Promote theological language that responds to the gender-based needs of the neighbor.
4. Using inclusive language for humans and expansive language for God.
5. Promote women’s leadership, especially women of color.
6. Promote economic justice
7. Affirm the Lutheran World Federations’s “Gender Justice Policy.”
The statement also calls the ELCA to action to advocate for justice in society.
It is important to note that this statement does not denigrate men. It’s premise is that all people are made in God’s image, and that both men and women, girls and boys will be better off when we live into that reality.
There will be a workshop at the Synod Assembly on the proposed Social Statement. And the Churchwide Assembly in August will vote on it, as well as on the implementing resolutions.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
The Montana Synod meets in Assembly May 31-June 2, and we’ll elect a Bishop, Vice President and Treasurer, as well as consider a couple of resolutions and some constitutional updates, elect committee members, and adopt a budget.
But Synod Assemblies are not the only thing going on this summer. In August, the ELCA will meet in Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee. The Montana Synod Voting Members (11) were chosen at last year’s Synod Assembly, and are making preparations to be there for most of a week (August 5-10). The business of a Churchwide Assembly is provided electronically to the Voting Members. If it were printed out, it would fill a binder at least 6 inches thick! People who have been to a Churchwide Assembly find they learn things about the wider church that they had never even dreamed. Our Synod will send 3 lay males, 3 lay females, 1 youth, 1 person of color, 1 bishop and 1 bishop-elect.
The Churchwide Assembly decides a number of significant issues for the future of the church, and I will be using this space to share some of them with you, from time to time in the next months.
Today I write about the proposed actions regarding Deacons (Ministers of Word and Service). Before the merger in 1988, there were ways to recognize lay employees in the predecessor churches. When we merged into the ELCA, the category of Associate in Ministry (AIM) was created to give churchwide roster status to lay people working for the church. Early on in the ELCA the church engaged in a Study on Ministry. It was intended to find ELCA answers to questions around ministry that had not been resolved by the Commission on a New Lutheran Church. Pastor Paul Seastrand, a Montana Synod pastor, served on the Ministry Study Committee. One of the proposals from that committee was that the church adopt a three-fold order of ministry: Bishop; Pastor; Deacon. The Churchwide Assembly that adopted the Ministry Study amended it to eliminate the three-fold orders.
As the years went by, the ELCA added Diaconal Ministers to Associates in Ministry and Deaconesses as part of the ELCA’s “lay roster.” This meant that while they were rostered across the whole ELCA (as opposed to LPA’s, who are only recognized within the synod), they were still “lay,” in not being pastors. Over the years, as the different categories of “lay rostered” people became more and more confusing, the ELCA formed another study group who recommended that all the lay rosters (Ministers of Word and Service) be combined into one, called Deacon. In 2016, the Churchwide Assembly voted to adopt that change. Since 2016, all the Diaconal Ministers and Associates in Ministry became Deacons. The constitutional language for pastors is Ministers of Word and Sacrament, and the constitutional language for deacons is Ministers of Word and Service.
Fast forward to 2019. While the 2016 Churchwide Assembly voted to call the former AIMs, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses Deacons, it made no decision on what to call the rite by which they become Deacons. Pastors are ordained. What about Deacons? Should they be ordained? Consecrated? Commissioned? Recognized? These are all words that the church has used over the years, and each carries a different connotation. To some people, it is only a matter of semantics. To some it is vitally important.
The Churchwide Assembly will have the opportunity to vote on the recommendations from the Entrance Rite Working Group. The recommendations are as follows:
+ That the word ordination be used for the entrance rite both for Word and Sacrament (pastors), and for Word and Service (Deacons.)
+That Deacons receive a deacon’s stole and cross upon ordination. (A deacon’s stole goes diagonally from the shoulder to the waist.0
+That Deacons no longer be considered “laypersons” for the purposes of representational principles.
These changes bring with them a number of implications and questions. ELCA Secretary Chris Boerger, who was a part of the working group bring the proposals, will be the churchwide representative at the Montana Synod Assembly this year, and will be able to answer questions you might have about these proposals.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA