Heat and drought have combined to make this a brutal fire season. Many parts of the West have been affected. Northeastern Montana has been particularly hard-hit. Homes, crops and livestock have been destroyed. On Sunday a fire emergency was declared for the entire state of Montana. There are more than two dozen major fires burning. Homes are being evacuated. Ranchers have had to cut their fences to release cattle from oncoming flames. But the cattle are still in danger, lacking food and drink. The firefighters working on the largest fires will soon be supplemented by the National Guard.
Fire is not somebody else’s problem. It is our problem. We are in this together. Volunteers are gearing up with donations of fencing, hay and cash, as well as labor. Our office got an inquiry from an Iowa synod, remembering how they did a hay lift to drought-stricken Texas a few years ago and wondering if it would be welcome in our territory.
Dick Deschamps, our synod’s Disaster Coordinator and liaison to Lutheran Disaster Response, is chair of the Montana State VOAD. They coordinate and communicate volunteer efforts in responding to disaster. For information about needs and places to drop off or request donations, go to www.northernag.net.
Look for more information in this week’s e-news, as well as opportunities to contribute and to help. In response to tornadoes in southeastern Montana last year, the Montana Synod set up as disaster fund. We will accept donations for the fire damage, and requests for assistance.
Pastor Jean Larson has reflected on fire and its impact. She wrote this prayer:
O God of Grand Design,
As fire eats our land, give strength to our neighbors who work and suffer in these flames:
Those who must flee,
Cattle and horses and all creatures,
Those who must rebuild homes and livelihoods.
Yet even in this struggle, open our hearts to the mystery of your Creation
that brings new life through fire,
as pinecones burst, forests are pruned, and grasslands grow lush – next year.
Holy Spirit, Refiner’s Fire, kindle in us a brave thanksgiving for all your good gifts.
And help us live humbly and wisely, as servants of your earth.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
I am aware of the deep irony of a European American welcoming indigenous people to the land that was once entirely owned and populated by Native Americans. Nevertheless, the Montana Synod in general and Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy in particular will host the Biennial Gathering of the American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association this week.
The group will gather from Wednesday through Saturday, and will be joined by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop Guy Erwin (of the Southern California West Synod and member of the Osage Nation), and Prairie Rose Seminole, ELCA staff person for American Indian/Alaska Native desk. Officers of the Association, including Loni Whitford of Rocky Boy, and President Joan Conroy of Minnesota will help lead the event, as will Pastor Linda Webster.
Topics of discussion will include the Doctrine of Discovery, and the ELCA’s Repudiation—what does this mean for our life as a church, and as citizens. Also part of the agenda will be discussion of Standing Rock, and the implications for a church that repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery.
There will be a pow-wow one evening, and on another evening speakers from Montana tribes: Blackfeet, Crow, Fort Belknap (Assiniboine and Gros Ventre), Fort Peck (Assiniboine and Sioux), Little Shell (landless Chippewa), Northern Cheyenne, Rocky Boy’s (Chippewa Cree) and Salish-Kootenai.
In addition to the main program, there will be a youth track, including tours of the reservation, or the Buffalo Jump and a Sweat Lodge.
Our Bolivian companion synod visitors will attend the event, adding the perspective of South American indigenous people to this North American gathering.
Rarely has a national church gathering been in Montana. We welcome the Gathering of the American Indian Alaska Native Association, humbly and gratefully.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
If you would like to read the Montana Synod Apology to the Tribes, adopted in 2010, please click here.
One of the Montana Synod’s companion synods is the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are delighted that two visitors from the Bolivian Church will be visiting our Synod these next 2 weeks. Pastor Presidente Emilio Aslla Flores serves as the head of the church. He was here once before, in 2013. Pastor Luis Blanco serves the child-centered ministry in Cobija, that is supported, in part, by the cattle farm for which our Synod Assembly helped provide a water system. Two other guests were invited, but did not receive visas.
When we plan visits to and from our companion synods, we consult on the purpose of the visit. The purpose determines the agenda, and the participants. In the conversations planning this visit, we learned that the Bolivians were interested in a couple of things, and we planned their time accordingly. The first thing they were interested in was diakonia, service ministries of our congregations. The second was lay ministry training.
Our guests will start in Great Falls on July 18, visiting the FISH food program (an ecumenical feeding ministry coordinated by a Lutheran volunteer), Family Promise (coordinated by a Lutheran LPA), and Helping Hands (a food pantry at First English.) They will also have an opportunity to learn about the Mission Builders, and see the work being done to build the Synod House.
From Great Falls we will travel to Rocky Boy, where the biennial Gathering of the American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association will be meeting. The Bolivian church is an all indigenous church, and their presence will add a dimension to the gathering.
After a brief visit to Bozeman and Yellowstone over the weekend of the 23rd, they will move to Billings, where they will visit more ministry projects (diakonia). And they will spend some time talking with LPAs and learning about the Montana Synod’s Lay Pastoral Associates training program.
If you would like to connect with our visitors throughout the trip, or join us for part of it, contact the following people:
Great Falls—Pr. Steve Nelson (406 781 5957)
Rocky Boy—Pr. Linda Webster (406 399 0581)
Bozeman—Pr. Steve Schmidt (406 404 0815)
Billings—Pr. Stacey Siebrasse (406 670 8886)
There will be opportunities for visits and meals, as well as hosting. We are grateful that Churchwide staff will be assisting with translation.
Because this trip was planned after the budget was adopted, we are raising funds outside the regular budget to make this visit possible. Our Bolivia committee is inviting people to make contributions of $250, and enough of us have that we are half way to our goal of covering the expenses. Please consider helping us bring these partners to Montana.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Although previous ELCA social policy documents have referred to human rights, citing agreement with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ELCA does not have a policy document on human rights per se. At the 2016 Churchwide Assembly, in debate on responsible investment in Israel and Palestine, the voting members directed the ELCA’s Corporate Social Responsibility review team to develop a human rights screen, particularly related to the ELCA’s Middle East Strategy.
Social criteria investment screens are usually based on Social Statements or Social Messages, but in this case there wasn’t one yet. So the Church Council asked for one, to be considered at its November 2017 meeting. Now available at www.elca.org/socialmessages is a draft message. You are encouraged to read it and make comments between now and August 31. Below is my summary of the draft.
Quoting one of the ELCA’s very first Social Statements, Church in Society, the draft states:
“The God who justifies expects all people to do justice.” And then, quoting again:
“Along with all citizens, Christians have the responsibility to defend human rights and to work for freedom, justice, peace, environmental well-being and good order in public life.”
The draft says:
“In the name of the God who creates every human being out of love, this church believes human rights belong to every person. In adopting this social message, the ELCA Church Council recognizes the need for greater attention as a church to addressing the scope of human rights as the basis for more expansive action. It also believes the time is right for more Christians to enter public conversation and to take action insisting that neighbors, especially the vulnerable, be treated with the dignity due to all children of God.”
The document describes the ELCA’s convictions about human rights:
Affirming the complexity of human rights, the availability of resources, and the context of sociopolitical realities, the document affirms broad categories as useful for Christian discernment about human rights.
The draft then describes Christian responsibilities:
The document concludes with concrete commitments of the ELCA:
This document is a draft, and the church is looking for comments, by August 31. I will be sending in mine. I have some questions in the section on sin. It seems to skip lightly over original sin and doesn’t engage simul justis et peccator. I also find it odd that this message, which comes out of the Middle East conflict, is so generic that it doesn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was the whole reason it was written. I encourage you to send in your comments, as well..
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA