As I write this last edition of the weekly “Words from the Bishop,” I am grateful for the opportunity to serve these last 12 years. Thank you for allowing me to be your Bishop during these sometimes turbulent times.
These last 12 years have been full of changes in the world an in the church. Our congregations have experienced change as the baby boomers retire and the millennials are drawn to other vocations. Changing demographics have made some congregations rethink their mission—some have grown, and some have shrunk. Our full communion partnerships have made ecumenical cooperation and yoking a reality.
The Synod, too, has undergone change in the last twelve years. We have streamlined the work of the Synod Council and built a new energy-efficient tech-ready Synod House. We have gone from a monthly mailed newsletter to a weekly e-news. We work to save money and travel time by hosting more and more meetings electronically.
We have grown the LPA program, and started LPA 2.0. We have apologized to the tribes, and started a new mission on the Fort Peck Reservation, as well as maintaining our relationship with Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy. We have established a ministry in the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Freedom in Christ.
The church’s adoption of the Human Sexuality Social Statement and the changes in ministry policy stirred up a storm in this Synod as well as across the church. Twenty congregations ultimately chose to disaffiliate with the ELCA, but at least one congregation declared itself to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation, and one new congregation was formed from people whose congregation had left. Other congregations expressed gratitude, “Now my kids are welcome.”
We have grown our relationship with our two companion synods—the Cape Orange Diocese in South Africa and the Lutheran Church in Bolivia. And during the last dozen years the YAGM program has grown and thrived. Each year at least one Montana Synod young adult was involved—and most years there have been several. We have hosted a Glocal event for the ELCA, and were also the site for the American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association’s gathering.
We celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with several years of resources produced by Synod members, leading to a Convocation with the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings on the Five Ecumenical Imperatives adopted by an international committee. The celebration culminated with a joint Lutheran-Catholic Vespers at the Helena Cathedral with 4 Bishops, joint choirs, and an overflow crowd.
Ecumenically, the ELCA entered into full communion with the United Methodists (our 6th agreement), allowing us to partner with Methodist congregations and pastors. During the last 12 years we have partnered with Presbyterians, UCC, Methodists and Episcopalians. We shared a convocation on preaching with the Episcopalians, and had both Presiding Bishops at Chico one year for a joint event.
We affirmed our relationship with the Montana Association of Jewish Communities—a ground-breaking agreement first adopted in 1995. We also commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. During these last 12 years, the Montana Association of Churches became the Montana association of Christians, and the Wyoming Association of Churches became the Wyoming Interfaith Association.
And the work of the church goes on. We continue to recruit and ordain pastors, encourage lay leadership, install rostered leaders and provide continuing education. We work with congregations in conflict, and work cooperatively with the institutions and ministries on our territory and beyond.
And so I end with where I began—with gratitude. I am grateful to the staff who have worked with me over the years, and to the Synod Council and officers who have guided the Synod. I am grateful to the Pastors and Deacons, the LPAs and the Synodically Authorized Ministers who have been on the ground doing ministry. I am grateful to the Deans and the committee members, who have faithfully attended to the church. And I am grateful to the congregations of the Montana Synod who have called me and supported the work of the larger church.
As I transition into retirement, my prayers are with the Montana Synod and with Bishop-Elect Laurie Jungling, and together you begin a new chapter.
Meet the future boldly!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
By now many ELCA members have heard that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted last week to become “a sanctuary body.” For some people this announcement came as good, lifegiving news. For others it was much more troubling. It is important for us to understand what this declaration means and what it does not mean.
It DOES mean that the ELCA takes very seriously the situation of migrants and of undocumented people. The ELCA has a long history of ministry to the stranger, based on biblical precedent.
It DOES NOT mean than everyone has to respond in the same way. Some will choose to provide material aid to refugees relocating in this country. I know that when there was talk of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls being a backup location for unaccompanied minors in the case of a hurricane, I spoke with the Mayor about ways that the faith community could offer hospitality. Offering hospitality is what we do. Some will choose to limit their response to prayer—which should never be discounted. And some will work with LIRS or AMMPARO. Still others will take further steps.
It DOES mean that the ELCA is renewing our commitment to advocate or reform in our nation’s broken immigration system, and for humane treatment of immigrants and refugees.
It DOES NOT mean that the ELCA is condoning or advocating illegal conduct on behalf of its congregations or members.
It DOES mean that the ELCA is encouraging its members to exercise compassion, generosity, hospitality to all, and to speak up for “the least of these.”
It DOES NOT mean that the ELCA is mandating that its congregations engage in any practice.
(The ELCA Churchwide Assembly cannot mandate the actions of ELCA congregations.)
Directly below this you can find a document listing what it means to be a sanctuary denomination. It is important to know what we as the ELCA think we did, not what commentators who were not there claim we did.
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly did many things in our 5 ½ days together. I encourage you to go to www.elca.org to learn more. And I will be writing about other topics in next week’s e-news.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA