“The Synod Council shall be the board of directors of this synod and shall serve as its interim legislative authority between meetings of the Synod Assembly. It may make decisions that are not in conflict with actions taken by the Synod Assembly or that are not precluded by the provisions of this constitution or the constitution and bylaws of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” (Montana Synod Constitution, S10.02)
The Montana Synod Council met this past weekend to fulfill its duties. We were a little light in attendance, with several people having conflicts and 2 having to resign because of family matters. But we had a quorum, we conducted our business, and we had good conversations.
At each Synod Council meeting, our Vice President Tom Gossack asks each of the Synod Council members to prepare a brief reflection on one of the Synod’s benchmarks. Do you know the benchmarks? (If you were on the Synod Council, you would be able to recite them in your sleep!)
Once again, Council members shared what a particular benchmark means to them. It may sound repetitive, but it is really a way that the Council has come to look at everything we do.
The Council heard an update from the Reformation Anniversary Task Force. Tonya Eza and Megan Pratola shared some of what the Task Force is working on. Look at the News of the Week and the web site for more.
Alvina Olstead gave a report on the women’s trip to Bolivia. She will be presenting it again to the Northeast Cluster (and beyond) on Reformation Day. You can find more information on Bolivia on our web site.
Tom Schlotterback gave an update on LSSMT. The Director has resigned to take a new position, and there are offices open in Kalispell, Missoula and Billings. LSSMT is part of St. John’s Lutheran Ministries, based in Billings. He also gave a thumbnail sketch of the ministry and future of St. John’s.
Carol Karres filled us in on Intermountain Children’s Home, the ministry we voted to join at the Synod Assembly. She encourage the Council and Synod to learn more about Intermountain and its programs for children.
The Council heard that despite rumors to the contrary, LSS and Intermountain are not in competition. They serve different sectors and could be complementary.
In business, the Council adopted a continuing resolution on youth and young adult participation. It was the same resolution we affirmed at the synod assembly, but with a different number. And we approved various changes to the roster (on leave from call, retirement, etc.), and appointments to the Hetzel Board (Steve Martin and Dale Peterson), and Mission Interpreters Coordinator (Scott Southwick).
The Council appointed Alex Tooley of New Hope, Great Falls, as the youth representative, and will be receiving new members from the Great Divide Cluster, the Crazy Mountain Cluster and the Southeast Cluster.
The Council also discussed a proposal to find ways to encourage suicide awareness, including doing an inventory of Lutheran responses. This conversation will continue.
If you are interested, you can find the Report of the Bishop, and the Report of the DEM on our Synod website.
The next Synod Council meeting is February 26-27.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
School is back in session, Sunday School and Confirmation and Adult Ed are gearing up, and the program year is off and running! We greet each new program year with hope that everything will come together and that we will succeed in reaching out to new people. And we rejoice when kids bring their friends to activities, when members bring neighbors to church. It's what we are about, right? Spreading the good news. "All are welcome!" is printed in our bulletins, and on our signs out front.
But are all welcome? The ELCA was recently revealed to be at the bottom of the list of US churches in terms of racial diversity. Lutherans came to the US from northern Europe, and continued to grow and more and more immigrants came. But unlike other denominations in the US, we have not been particularly successful in making it clear that all (as in "people not like us") are welcome. We have all kinds of reasons. Montana, for example, is the least racially diverse state in the union, with Wyoming not far behind.
It is easy to put up a sign, make a statement in the bulletin, even to sing Marty Haugen's "All Are Welcome." It is another thing to step back and analyze what really makes people feel welcome, and what barriers there are. It is hard work, but we need to do it. I don't know of a single congregation that doesn't think of itself as "friendly and welcoming." But I hear story after story of worship that is "insider," of announcements that assume everybody knows everybody, of coffee hours where nobody talks to visitors. It is so easy to spent time with our friends, to touch base, and to miss the person who is an unknown.
We are really good at service. We are good at raising money for world hunger and malaria, contributing to the food bank and the homeless shelter, doing projects for victims of domestic violence and child abuse. We'll "show our stuff" in those areas this Sunday, when we do our "God's work. Our hands." Sunday work in the community. That is important work, and I am glad we are doing it. It helps the community and it gives us a bit of visibility, which as "shy Lutherans" we often avoid.
But service isn't the same as engagement. Sara Miles, in her book Take this Bread, tells of a San Francisco church that took very seriously the feeding of the hungry. But what they missed was that these were not simply clients to be serviced, they were living, breathing human beings, as hungry for spiritual nurture and dignity as they were for food. In their efforts not to be coercive and not to impose their faith as a condition for the food, the congregation missed out on authentic engagement with their guests. Even to distinguish between the "hosts" and the "guests" misses the point. It is not "our" church, into which we invite "them." It is God's church, into which God invites all of us.
So, what if we were to expand the conversation into the political sphere? What if we were to ask the question of our policy on refugees and immigrants-who is welcome? And why? Last summer we saw a crisis of refugees crossing our southern border from Central America. Thousands of unaccompanied minors risked their lives to come into the United States, because their lives at home were even more desperate. Frantic parents sent children northward to avoid the death squads in their countries. Lutherans were there to welcome the children, to advocate for them, and to provide for physical and emotional needs. But the overwhelming response of politicians was not particularly welcoming.
Now we are watching in amazement as thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa venture into the Mediterranean and across the borders into Europe, seeking a place where they can be safe. Europe had been unprepared for such an influx, and many countries are being less than welcoming. Germany has taken the lead, offering to take in half a million refugees a year. The United States has thus far taken in 2500 refugees from Syria. We are a nation of immigrants. Most of us have ancestors who came from elsewhere. (The native Americans, of course, were already here, and were not asked to take a vote on whether to let the rest of us in.)
There are many things we can do for the world's refugees. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is a great source of information and resources. We can pray. We can make donations. We can support relief efforts. We can advocate with our government to be more open to Syrian refugees (and others.) And we can open our hearts. We can delve deeply into all the meanings of hospitality. And we can struggle to embody "All are welcome."
Jessica Crist, Bishop
When the plane touched down in Montana last week, I barely recognized the landscape. Smoke blocked the view of the mountains and made everything look strange, eerie. As I drove from Bozeman to Great Falls, the familiar landmarks were blurry. I had returned from the thin air of La Paz, Bolivia, to the thick and smoky air of Montana and much of the west.
This has been a relentless fire season, beginning with the spring fire that closed the ski resort at Red Lodge, and continuing through the summer. Each week new wildfires were announced-some natural, some human-caused. Evacuations have become almost routine-Glacier Park on the east side, Essex, Heart Butte, and more. This hottest and driest summer on record is burning forests and grasslands, and displacing people and wildlife. And the smoke, which knows no boundaries serves as a reminder that we are interconnected.
In fact, much of the west is dry, drier than normal. California is experiencing a well-publicized drought and the state has imposed water restrictions on its huge population. Even Washington, normally a wet and green place west of the Cascades, is in a drought. And Holden Village, east of the mountains, has been evacuated because of fire.
On the one hand, fire is a natural part of a forest's life cycle, and without fire a forest will not thrive. Fire management philosophy has changed over the years to acknowledge that naturally caused fires should be allowed to burn, as long as they don't threaten buildings and people. But as population grows and spreads out, there is an increasing demand to put fires out. And in a dry season, there simply are a lot more fires.
We've seen the people fleeing the fires. We've seen the exhausted firefighters, who work long hours and are understaffed. We pray in our congregations and in our homes for relief-for rain, for favorable winds, for beloved places to remain, for the safety of firefighters. And we restrict our time outside-until the air is healthful enough to breathe again.
One friend tells me it looks like Los Angeles in the 1980's. Another says it is like Beijing today. It is a stark reminder that the things we so take for granted-like clean air to breathe-are vulnerable. It was ten years ago that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the gulf coast. There is a power in nature that overwhelms us from time to time. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires-they remind us of our vulnerability. And they also remind us of our responsibility to care for creation.
In the Bible, fire is a powerful force. It destroys, and it purifies. And it also enlightens. The burning bush introduced Moses to the Lord. The pillar of fire led the Israelites in the wilderness through the night. Fire is used to cook, and to provide light. But out of control, it has the power to displace and destroy.
As we move into September, let us pray for relief from fire. And let us care for those displaced by fire, harmed by smoke inhalation, and put out of work by this natural disaster. In this last week I have received word from many colleagues across the nation that they are praying for us all. We are in this together.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA