This week, congregations across the Montana are preparing to send our teenagers to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Texas. Our church puts great effort into planning this gathering every 3 years, as a significant, life-transforming event. Many of our camp counselors, campus ministry peers, Young Adults in Global Mission, Lutheran Volunteer Corps and pastors, as well as others, talk about their experiences at Youth Gatherings as crucial to their understanding of their place in the world. We invest in our children because they are our future.
But even as Lutherans are streaming to Texas from the north, families are streaming northward from Latin America. And they are being stopped at the border. And, most horrifying, the children are being separated from their parents. Some children are the age of our teenagers heading to Houston. Some are the age of our children excitedly preparing for camp, at Christikon, or Flathead, or UMM. Some are toddlers, like the ones I saw frolicking at church on Sunday. And some are nursing babies. As of this writing, 2000 children had been taken from their parents, and put into confinement. This is not acceptable by any standards. It is not defensible.
As Bishop Michael Rhinehart, chair of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, says, there
is a difference between what is legal and what is moral. It was legal for slave children to be separated from their parents and sold into slavery. It was legal for Native American children to be separated from their parents and sent to boarding schools. But it wasn’t right. And it isn’t right for children fleeing their homes with their parents to be separated from their parents. Studies show that such childhood traumas can do irreparable harm to children.
Former First Lady Laura Bush wrote in an editorial in the Washington Post:
“Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not for the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents—and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”
If what Laura Bush writes is true for the United States—and I believe it is—then how much more true it is for people of faith, followers of Jesus. I encourage you to read the letter written by Bishop Eaton and other faith leaders. And I encourage you to pray for these separated families. And I encourage you to contact your elected officials and plead for an immediate change in policy.
Children are the world’s future, our most precious resource.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
The Montana Synod is invited to celebrate the 80th anniversary of our Companion Church, the Iglesia Evangelical Lutherana Boliviana (the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church) in September. While appreciative of the missionaries who brought the Lutheran Church to Bolivia, the Church is proud to have been independent for 80 years. Delegations from our Synod celebrated the 70th anniversary of the church, and the 75th. And now we are gathering a small delegation to join our partners in celebrating their 80th anniversary.
The way we do global mission is accompaniment. We know we are not bringing the Gospel to Bolivia.
We know that the Gospel is already there. We go to Bolivia, and indeed to any of our global companions, as partners, as sisters and brothers in Christ. We go to learn from each other, share with each other.
As we get to know each other better as Companion churches, we find out about each other’s strengths and needs. The Bolivian church is an all indigenous church. We as a primarily white church have a lot to learn about ministry by, to and among the native peoples of the land, with all their ethnic and linguistic diversity. Last summer, when a delegation came from Bolivia to Montana, they were able to meet with with the American Indian/ Alaska Native Lutheran Association, who had their gathering at Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy. There was a sharing of common experiences, both historic and contemporary, and some powerful connections. It was good to be with indigenous church leaders from our Companion Church.
Our Bolivian partners are very interested in our LPA program. When they visited in 2017, they had the opportunity to visit with a number of LPAs in the Montana Synod. Like us, they have more congregations than pastors, and are looking for a way to train people ,much as we train our LPAs, appropriate to their context. Pr. Stacey Siebrasse is translating our LPA manual, and we intend to take it with us when we visit.
The anniversary is the weekend of September 7. We are assembling a small delegation, comprised of some people who have been there before, and some who have not. We are looking for interested people, particularly LPAs. Familiarity with Spanish is helpful, but not essential. We are looking to build up our cadre of people committed to our Companion Synod.
The trip will start approximately September 6, and last 10 days-two weeks. If you are interested in being part of the delegation, please contact me. Jcrist@montanasynod.org.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Thanks to all who made it a successful Synod Assembly and Theological Conference this past weekend. From the workshop leaders and worship planners, to the staff and the voting members, all worked together to make it a time of learning, sharing, worshiping, discerning, all under the theme of “Strengthening Congregations.”
Keynote speakers Linda Bobbitt and Brenda Smith gave presentations on Congregational Vitality and Faith Practices, weaving in their own stories. Resources from their presentation will be available on the Montana Synod website. Mark Gravrock gave a Bible study on Sunday that caught the imagination of the assembly.
Twelve workshops provided participants with many opportunities to find ways to strengthen their congregation. Linda Bobbitt gave a workshop outlining some of the details on the Congregational Vitality Project she directs for the ELCA. Brenda Smith spoke about Prayer as a Faith Practice. Peggy Paugh Leuzinger presented Stewardship Challenges and Resources. Jason Asselstine shared resources on Family Systems in the congregation. John Mundinger offered a workshop on Peace in the Congregation. Julie Long presented creative ways to Use Your Worship Space.
Beth Adams, gift planner, offered a workshop on Congregational Endowments. Seth Nelson talked about his research for his book and addressed Where are the Young People? A group who first met in March to talk about surviving in small congregations gathered under the banner of We do not lose Heart. Tony Rhodes offered a workshop on congregational administration and constitutional matters. Miriam Schmidt led her group through the ELCA’s proposed Declaration on Interreligious Relations. Laurie Jungling guided participants through a workshop on Engaging the Congregation in Difficult Conversations.
For more information on any of these workshops, contact the Synod Office, or contact the presenter.
Worship was a highlight. Friday night’s opening Eucharist was based on a Native American liturgical celebration, and has many elements from indigenous expressions of Christianity. Saturday morning included the recognition of 20 new LPAs, and Sunday morning included the installation of Kathie Larson Aasheim as MSU Campus Pastor. Sunday’s closing Eucharist began with the Baptism of Emmitt William Lefevre, part of the New Hope congregation.
The Synod elected a Vice President, Tom Gossack, and a Secretary, Amanda Liggett, as well as Synod Council members and Churchwide Assembly Voting members and nominating committee members. The Assembly also passed a 2019 budget, and sent a memorial to the Churchwide Assembly on covering seminarians’ tuition.
On Saturday the Assembly moved to the Synod House and dedicated the new building, thanking all who had been involved in the building in any way, and praying for the Synod’s ministry. We also dedicated a tree as a companion to a tree donated by the Montana Synod to the Wittenberg Germany’s Luthergarten’s 500 trees.
Our Assembly is set for May 31-June 2. Come join us!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA