No, I am not talking about an Apple product. I am referring to the ecumenical organization founded 41 years ago as the Montana Association of Churches. In 1973, the year of MAC’s founding, ecumenism was a fairly new and fairly edgy thing. There was a predecessor ecumenical body, but it included neither Lutherans nor Catholics. In 1973, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, American Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Disciples and the UCC came together to form the Montana Association of Churches. Bishops or their equivalent from each denomination signed the organizing documents, and a 4 decade history began.
Much has changed in the last 40 years, and MAC is changing, too, to keep up with the changes in society. The model that made sense in 1973 no longer works. So a task force, headed by MAC President Pastor Peter Erickson, wrote new bylaws that changed how MAC operates. The MAC Annual Assembly this week adopted the bylaws changes and the Montana Association of Churches is now officially the Montana Association of Christians.
What does this mean? Previously MAC was a representative organization with voting members based on the size of the denomination. Now MAC membership is open to judicatories (like the Montana Synod ELCA), to congregations, to individuals, and to organizations that share and affirm MAC’s vision. Here it is:
1. Our Covenant: We covenant as ecclesiastical judicatories, congregations, non-profit organizations and individuals in Montana to make visible our unity in Jesus.
2. Our mission: We are called together by God to
a. Pray together as one
b. Be present in our state’s broken places
c. Walk in the freedom and openness of the Holy Spirit
3. Our values: faith, unity, justice and compassion
The Montana Synod is a part of the new MAC. And I have signed up personally to be a member. I invite you to be members, too, as individuals and as congregations. MAC’s new structure is designed to be more flexible and more open than our old structure. We invite people to join us in Christian witness.
Your ELCA representatives at the Assembly were: Jeff Bolstad, Mark Goetz, Trudi Schmidt, Sharon Odden, Pr. Grant Barnett-Christensen, Pr. Amanda Liggett, Pr. Carol Karres, and Pr. Jason Asselstine. Pr. Peter Erickson chairs MAC, and Pr. Daniel Disch and I serve on the Board (now Council.) Pr. Rob Nedbalek was also there.
In recent years the Wyoming Association of Churches also re-organized itself, and Pr. Tim Trippel served in significant leadership for years. Pr. Tonya Eza now serves on the Board.
For more information on how to become part of the New MAC, contact Pr. Peter Erickson, firstname.lastname@example.org or MAC email@example.com.
Bishop Jessica Crist
What is the largest gathering of Lutheran adults in the US? The Youth Gathering. In addition to the 25,000 young people who typically attend a youth gathering, there are at least 8,000 adults. Every 3 years the ELCA puts on a Youth Gathering, and you and your congregation are invited. Pr. Jason Asselstine is coordinating participation from our Synod. If you haven’t talked with him yet, you will. He is contacting every congregation to invite them to send youth and adults. What a wonderful opportunity for congregations, large and small, to introduce young people to a vision of church that is bigger than what most of us experience on a daily basis!
Here’s how the Youth Gathering connects with our Montana Synod Benchmarks:
Meet the future boldly: Can you think of a better way to meet the future boldly than to spend the greater part of a week with 25,000 of the church’s future leaders? Youth Gatherings change lives.
Serve the world, especially the poor and those in need: There’s a reason that the Gathering is in Detroit. We will serve neighbors in Detroit. The day of service is an important component of the Youth Gathering. 30,000 people doing God’s work with their hands is a lot of service.
Deepen faith and witness: Worship, Bible Study, inspirational presentations help connect what we are doing with why we are doing it.
Promote unity: The Gathering brings people from across the country, with different backgrounds and different priorities. But they are one in Christ.
Strengthen congregations: Youth who attend a gathering come back energized. What a perfect moment to invite them into leadership.
Both Pastor Asselstine and I plan to be at the Youth Gathering. I hope you will, too.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"I was sick and you took care of me."
Montana has its first confirmed case of influenza. The US has had its first case of Ebola. And now a second. A recent poll in our newspaper asked which people were most worried about, flu or Ebola, and the answer was Ebola. Four thousand people have died of Ebola in West Africa thus far. The UN expects it to go to 10,000. We need to be concerned about Ebola, not so much because it is an immediate health treat in our communities, but because God's people are dying, and we can help.
I got a coll from one of our congregations asking: "What is the ELCA doing about Ebola?" Two weeks ago the ELCA sent $100,000 to West Africa to help. Right now the ELCA is raising money to send to West Africa. Lutheran Disaster Response, a ministry of the ELCA, is collecting funds for medical and food assistance for the people in affected areas. Because of quarantine, people are not able to leave their homes, work in the fields, or purchase food. Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo, of the Liberian church says: "There is a saying now: If we don't die of Ebola, we will die of starvation." 100% of funds collected by Lutheran Disaster Response go to the most vulnerable.
There are 2 Lutheran hospitals in Liberia-Phebe Hospital and Curran Hospital. Along with partners and companion churches, we are sending supplies and protective gear to these hospitals, so that they can safely tend to the sick.
If you go to the ELCA web page, www.elca.org ,
October means falling leaves, hard frosts, and a massive infusion of political ads. Those ads are designed to get you to vote one way or another. Election Day is November 4 this year. As the Bishop of the Synod, I encourage you to vote. (Yes, I know that we scheduled First Call Theological Education over Election Day--please vote absentee!). As Christians, we do God's work with our hands. Part of that work involves making decisions about our government. That means voting.
Who gets to vote, and why does it matter? At first it was propertied white men. Then with the emancipation of slaves and the passage of the14th Amendment, freed male slaves could also vote, at least in theory. In the early 20th century women were added to the list, and in the late 20th century it was 18-21 year olds. The laws are one thing, actual practice is something else. For years, African Americans were prevented from voting in a number of states by unfair laws. Then, in 1964 the Voting Rights Act established safeguards to prevent discrimination based on race. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the safeguards, opening the way for states to pass laws that make it more difficult to vote.
In 2013, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed a resolution encouraging Lutherans to advocate for voting rights, and to work against state and local laws that limit voting rights. Montana voters have a chance to defeat a ballot initiative that would limit voting rights. LR-126 would eliminate same day voter registration, and thereby deprive otherwise eligible voters from exercising their right to vote. Typically the people most affected by this sort of limitation are people living in poverty, and people of color. There have already been lawsuits in Montana challenging counties' voter registration policies, especially rural counties encompassing reservations.
Why do we care? We believe that God created us all, and loves us all equally. We believe that every citizen has the right to vote without barriers, and that when we see barriers to our neighbors, we act. As a church we do not endorse parties or candidates. But we do speak out for justice. LR-126 is a justice issue. To pass it is to disenfranchise some of our neighbors. The Churchwide Assembly resolution urges us to say no. And our Synod benchmark-- "Serve the world, especially the poor and those in need" encourages us to vote the needs of our neighbor.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed." (Psalm 103.5)
Recently the National Football League has been in the news for tolerating domestic violence. And before that it was the military that was in the news for tolerating sexual harassment. Brutal regimes across the globe routinely use sexual violence as a way to conquer and intimidate. Our church, the ELCA, has spoken out against domestic violence and the trafficking of women and children. Now our church is in the process of writing a social message on gender-based violence.
The first draft of this social message is now available online, at www.elca.org/socialmessages. I encourage you to read it and send in your comments by November 25, 2014. The writing team will consider all the responses and write a second draft to present to the ELCA Church Council for adoption in April, 2015. Your input matters.
This social message is part of a larger work, a social statement on Women and Justice, to be presented at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. Because violence is so much a part of women's experience, the task force recommended that this separate social message address the issue of gender-based violence. It is true that women are not the only victims of gender-based violence, only the primary victims.
Many of our congregations are already involved in efforts to address domestic and sexual violence. In many a congregation's ladies room I see posters on what to do about domestic abuse and rape. In the public rest stops along the highways I see posters directed towards those who may be victims of trafficking.
Congregations work at domestic violence shelters, make prayer shawls, house anger management groups. Congregations address issues of gender-based violence through sermons and prayers, bible studies and support groups. Congregations adopt zero-tolerance policies for sexual harassment, and require training in boundaries in order to be safe places.
For years, women's groups in church and outside the church have focused on the issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, trafficking and gender-based violence. But until men and women together focus on these issues, there is little hope of change. In invite you to study this draft document in mixed groups, and to send in your feedback. And I invite you to find ways to make a difference in your community.
Pastor John Lund of our Synod was one of the people involved in drafting the message. He joins me in asking you to read it and discuss it. Cluster groups would be a natural group in which to discusss. Think creatively.
"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3: 28)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA