Two weeks ago the Pennsylvania Attorney General released a horrific report of widespread and sustained sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Our hearts go out to all the victims, even as we wonder how a system could let such a thing happen, again and again. We also know that Pennsylvania is the tip of the iceberg. This evil was not limited to Pennsylvania. It has been documented around the globe.
And much as we wish it were not so, this evil was not limited to the Catholic Church. While not on the same scale, sexual exploitation in religious circles has affected almost all religious groups, to greater or lesser extent. And we, the ELCA, are not exempt. We, who believe that we are simultaneously saints and sinners, know that human beings are subject to sin. We have our eyes wide open about these things. And we have policies, procedures and enforcement in place.
What is the ELCA Montana Synod doing about clergy sexual abuse? First and foremost, we seek to prevent it. The candidacy process is where it begins. All candidates seeking to be pastors or deacons undergo a criminal background check, and an extensive psychological exam. LPA candidates do the criminal background check. Seminaries provide boundaries training.
And the Montana Synod has a sexual misconduct policy that requires boundary training of all pastors and deacons every three years. This requirement is outlined in the Synod’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, available on the Montana Synod website (www.montanasynod.org). The Montana Synod offers the boundaries training annually, and welcomes LPAs as well as Rostered leaders. We also publicize boundaries trainings offered by other denominations with whom we are in relationship.
The Montana Synod Sexual Misconduct Policy covers all pastors and deacons—active, retired, on disability, on leave from call. It also covers Synodically Authorized Ministers. Every congregation should have a copy. It is reviewed regularly by the Synod Council. Download a copy and have it available in your church office.
Another resource is a brochure that we regularly distribute at Synod Assembly for congregations to copy and make available. It is called “Keeping the Church a Safe and Sacred Place for All!” You can download it from the Synod website. Please download copies and put them in a prominent place where people can find them. You may think sexual abuse has never been a problem in your congregation. But this is not just for your congregation. We have been contacted by visitors who saw the brochure and wanted to report about another situation. The brochure lists people, starting with Synod staff but going beyond, who can be contacted to report misconduct.
Another resource the Montana Synod offers is a model “Safe Congregations Policy.” Approved by the Synod Council, reviewed regularly, and available on our website, the policy is something that congregations can adopt to insure safety in their congregations. The Synod’s Sexual Misconduct Policy covets Rostered leaders and SAMs—people for whom the Synod has responsibility. It does not cover other congregational employees or volunteers. They are accountable to the congregation. It is wise to make sure that the congregation has safety and behavior policies that cover volunteer and lay employees, as well.
Education and prevention are our main tools in dealing with clergy sexual misconduct. But if it does occur, we have policies in place for investigation, disclosure and discipline. These are included in the ELCA Policies and Procedures for Discipline.
Clergy sexual misconduct is often a criminal matter. It is always a spiritual matter—a fundamental betrayal of trust. In matters of clergy sexual abuse, the Synod staff stand ready to accompany all involved, and to make appropriate referrals, and take appropriate action.
May God have mercy!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
As I write this, much of the Montana Synod is blanketed in smoke. It comes from the fires in Glacier, it comes from the fires in Yellowstone. It comes from the fires in Wyoming and Montana. And it comes from the fires in California, Oregon, British Columbia. If ever we thought that what we do doesn’t affect others, that what others do doesn’t affect us—smoke and fire prove that to be wrong.
Once upon a time people were advised to travel to the West to get better air to breathe. Now, with the combination of environmental regulations that have cleaned up urban air, and the ever-increasing number of fires that burn in the west, the formerly pristine western air rivals cities across the globe with the worst industrial pollution. Air pollution is an equal opportunity toxin. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, native or white, old or young. Of course, people with more resources can seek ways to protect themselves—masks, air conditioning, medications. As always, the poor are the most vulnerable to the long and short term effects of smoke in the air.
Our church, the ELCA, has been on record since 1993 with a social statement: “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice.” Although the statement is 25 years old, it is remarkably prescient. As a church we are committed to taking better care of the earth. And we are committed to justice. The statement says:
“The earth is a planet of beauty and abundance; the earth system is wonderfully intricate and incredibly complex. But today living creatures, and the air, soil and water that support them, face unprecedented threats. Many threats are global; most stem directly from human activity. Our current practices may so alter the living world, that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner we know.”
The statement promises:
“We will play a role in bringing together parties in conflict, not only members of this church, but also members of society at large. This church’s widespread presence and credibility provides us a unique opportunity to mediate, to resolve conflict, and to move toward consensus.”
We have an opportunity to come together as persons of faith to discuss climate change and seek tools to empower care of creation. The Montana Association of Christians, along with the Montana Faith and Environment Coalition, are sponsoring a conference on “Faith, Science and Climate Action,” October 12 and 13 at the Emerson Center in Bozeman.
Keynotes and breakout groups will give participants an opportunity to explore climate justice, health issues, solar infrastructure, food security, congregational first steps.
For more information go to www.fscaconference.org, or look for information in the Montana Synod e-news.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
It's a question that is asked in many congregations. Call committees ask for a pastor who will connect with young people, bring back young people. One of our Montana Synod pastors, Seth Nelson (himself considered "young") was asked the question enough times that he wrote a book about it, The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor.
You've read about the 30,000 high school aged young people who gathered at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston a month ago. And you know about the hundreds of children and youth who people our church camps every summer.
Now, as we move towards September, it is time to give a shout-out to Lutheran Campus Ministry. Campus ministry is in the very DNA of Lutheranism. Martin Luther, we like to claim, was the first campus pastor. As both professor and pastor he did indeed fit the bill. While not all high school graduates go to college, a vast number of young adults are to be found on college campuses. The other large collection of young adults is in the military, where we as Lutherans also recruit, train and place chaplains.
Forty years ago most mainline Protestant denominations placed pastors on college campuses around the country. But gradually most of them have pulled back, using their resources elsewhere and asking local congregations to do the outreach to the college students.
As Lutherans, we have stayed committed to campus ministry, and we are grateful to have a strong program at Montana's 2 major universities. This has been a long tradition. When I moved to Montana 35 years ago, I had been a campus pastor and I knew exactly 2 Lutherans in the state of Montana--the campus pastor at MSU--Herb Strom, and the campus pastor at UM--Tom Lee. Montana continues to have a strong commitment to campus ministry, and dedicated campus pastors on both campuses.
Campus pastors are doing ministry with young adults on our behalf, on behalf of the whole church. And they need our help. If you have students who are attending the University of Montana, please send their names to Pastor John Lund, email@example.com. If you have students at Montana State University, please send their names of Pastor Kathie Larson Aasheim, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have students at other colleges and universities, in-state or out of state, you can send their names to either of our campus pastors, and they will make sure they get to a campus pastor or congregational contact pastor serving that school. College years are times of exploration and questioning, as well as firming up identity. Campus ministry walks with students as they explore what it means to be adults (usually Christian, but not always) in this world.
Campus ministry needs your students. It also needs your prayers. And it needs your financial contributions. Gone are the days when a check from the Synod and a check from the national church provided all that a campus ministry setting needed. Today campus pastors are expected to find ways to raise half of their expenses. Anything you or your congregation can do to help means that the pastor can spend more time with students and less time raising money.
Each academic year is a whole new adventure in campus ministry. We are grateful for our campus pastors, and for our church's long tradition of ministry in the university context. If you want to see where at least some of the young people are, come visit out campus ministries. And then watch them as they move on--becoming Young Adults in Global Mission, grad students, social workers, pastors. Where did they learn it? Campus ministry, among other places. Thanks!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA