In the next week, the Montana Synod will sponsor two events that will help us focus on the legacy of the Reformation, and respond to challenges for Christian living in the future. Although there are any number of possible foci when it comes to the Reformation, we are going to focus on our relationship with Catholics. After all, the Reformation began with a split with the Catholic Church. It is only appropriate that we should approach the second 500 years with efforts to understand Nd overcome that split in the Body of Christ.
The first event is the Convocation Friday the 27th in Lewistown. The Convocation is an annual event in the fall, organized by the Bishop for rostered leaders (pastors and deacons), with some participation of LPAs and others. This year we are sponsoring it jointly with the Diocese of Great Falls/Billings. Fourteen presenters (half Lutheran, half Catholic) will address issues that have divided us and issues that can unite us. The presentations will include the “Five Ecumenical Imperatives” proposed by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, in anticipation of the 500th Anniversary.
1. Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity, and not from the point of view of division, in order to strengthen what is held in common, even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
2. Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
3. Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible u it's, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.
4. Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
5. Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.
The second event is an Ecumenical Vespers at the Helena Cathedral on Monday, October 30 at 7 pm. You are invited. The service is based on a service put together by the Commission on Unity, and will be led by Catholic Bishops George Thomas and Michael Warfel, and Lutheran Bishops Jessica Crist and (retired) Mark Ramseth. A number of lay people will be involved as well, including Synod Vice President Tom Gossack, and Synod Treasurer Sue Ost.
Lutherans and Catholics are invited to this church ecumenical service, to share God’s love, and to make a witness for Christian unity.I hope to see you at one or both of these events!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Have you ever heard the statement, “A budget is a missional document”? It gets used in church circles to establish that, regardless of our mission statements, regardless of our vision statements—how we budget our finances tells an important story about our priorities. It is getting to be that time of year when congregations struggle with their budgets for the next year. There may be competing priorities—compensating the pastor fairly, giving to the wider church, participating in special campaigns, keeping the lights on. And many congregations are facing shrinking numbers and decreased income from parishioners. It is a challenge.
It is a challenge that we deal with in the Montana Synod. And it is a challenge that the State of Montana is facing right now. When the Montana state budget was adopted, it included a provision that if tax revenue went below a certain amount, draconian budget cuts would follow. And that is now happening.
We’ve read in the news about cuts to the State Library, cuts to the University System, cuts to Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and to other departments that make up the state government. But the brunt of the cuts affect human services—the poor, the disabled, people who depend on government assistance to live their lives. This de facto attack on the disadvantaged was not the intent of the Legislature when they approved the budget. Nobody wants people to suffer. But the suffering is the result of the budget that was passed, and the stipulations that accompanied it. And now the most vulnerable in our society are once again pawns in a political battle that they have no part in.
Jesus stood with the poor and the disadvantaged, with the outcasts and the disabled. He healed the sick, he taught the crowds, and he admonished his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned.
As followers of Jesus we have a responsibility towards our neighbors. We have food pantries and homeless shelters in our churches, we give to World Hunger and Lutheran World Relief. We work hard at finding ways to serve our neighbors in need. But remember “A budget is a missional document?” As Christian citizens we have the right and the opportunity to make our priorities known to the Legislators, to the Governor, to the people who are in a position to make decisions on where and how to balance the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society with the decisions of a legislature determined to cut spending.
We pray for the poor. And we pray for those who govern. It is not an easy task, with increased demands and decreased revenue. But we can also make our priorities known, and stand with the poor and the broken, as Jesus did.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Last weekend I was asked to speak at MSUB’s campus ministry anniversary celebration. They chose The Golden Rule as a fitting way to celebrate the golden anniversary. The Golden Rule is basic. It is all about reciprocity. It is one step up from ethics 101—“First, do no harm.” It is the kind of lowest common denominator of decent social behavior that just about everybody can agree upon. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” That’s pretty simple.
And yet our society has become so hyper-competitive, so hyper-aggressive, so inward looking and self-centered that we think our national motto is, “We’re number one!” And we push ourselves to be their best, to be number one, whatever the cost. The cost is high. And here’s where I think the church plays a really important role. The church, when we are functioning at our best, can be a countervailing voice, an alternative to the dominant narrative.
Almost every religion has some version of the Golden Rule, even if it is expressed differently. It is something that we all agree upon. Except sociopaths. Like the man who shot and killed 59 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas. And wounded more than 500 others. An act of pure evil. An act that defies the Golden Rule and every other ethical principle.
But, it was an act that brought out incredible bravery and humanity among the survivors and the first responders. People who risked their own lives to help others, to help strangers. People who were embodying the Golden Rule and then some. Way beyond “Do no harm.” Risking their lives for others. Establishing a kind of community out of chaos, hope out of tragedy. It was “love your neighbor as yourself” magnified.
Jesus, who told us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, also told us to love our enemies. It is natural to love your friends, but unnatural to love your enemies. Some of the world’s greatest people have struggled with it—Nelson Mandela, St. Francis, Martin Luther King, Jr.,and countless people whose names we do not know.
Loving your enemies means stepping out of your comfort zone, way out, and putting yourself in harm’s way. It means risking being changed, risking losing, risking no longer being right. It means taking seriously community. And it may just mean saving the planet.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
A Pastoral Letter from the
Conference of Bishops of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
A Pastoral Letter on Violence adopted by the ELCA Conference of Bishops, March 4, 2013
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18 (NIV)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Every faithful caregiver who sits with victims of violence knows what we know – as God's
church, we are called to reduce violence and should, in most cases, restrain ourselves from using
violence. Whether or not statistics show that overall violence has declined in recent years, every
person wounded or killed is a precious child of God.
As bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we lament the tragedy of gun
violence in our country. We are grieved by the way violence threatens and destroys life. We
affirm the current soul searching and shared striving to find a way to a better future.
While the church grapples with this call to reduce violence and make our communities safer, we
recognize that before God we are neither more righteous because we have guns nor are we more
righteous when we favor significant restrictions. Brokenness and sin are not somehow outside of
us. Even the best of us are capable of great evil. As people of God we begin by confessing our
own brokenness – revealed in both our actions and our failure to act. We trust that God will set
us free and renew us in our life's work to love our neighbors.
In this time of public attention to gun violence, local communities of faith have a unique
opportunity to engage this work. As bishops, we were thankful to recognize the many resources
our church has already developed (see below). We begin by listening: listening to God, to
Scripture, and to each other. Providing a safe place for people to share their own stories, together
we discern courses of action. Together we act. And together we return to listening – to assess the
effectiveness of our efforts to reduce violence.
In the Large Catechism Luther says, “We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs
or gestures, or by aiding and abetting.” Violence begins in the human heart. Words can harm or
heal. To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation. Yet, guns and access are keys to
the challenges we face.
We recognize that we serve in different contexts and have different perspectives regarding what
can and should be done. But as we live out our common vocations, knowing that the work will
take many forms, we are committed to the work of reducing and restraining violence. This
shared work is a sign of our unity in Christ.
We invite you, our sisters and brothers, to join us in this work:
• The work of lament – creating safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one
another, and sharing the hope in God’s promise of faithfulness
• The work of moral formation and discernment – listening to scripture, repenting,
modeling conflict resolution in daily life, addressing bullying, conducting respectful
conversations, and discerning constructive strategies to reduce violence
• The work of advocacy – acting to address the causes and effects of violence
Knowing that we are not saved by this work, we undertake it trusting in Christ Jesus, who laid
down his life for the world and who calls us to be peacemakers, to pursue justice, and to protect
In this, as in all things, Christ is with us. Thanks be to God.
• Video: “We have Work to Do,” by former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson
• “Community Violence,” a social message
• “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness,” a social message
• "Hearing the Cries: Faith and Criminal Justice," 2013 social statement
• “For Peace in God’s World,” a 1995 social statement
• “Ban of Military-Style Semi-Automatic Weapons,” 1989 social policy resolution
• “Community Violence – Gun Control,” 1993 social policy resolution
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA