We are about to enter the month when we as Lutheran Christians take a different approach than the society at large. While much of our surrounding culture sees December (maybe even November!) as a lead-in to Christmas, we see it differently. We see it through Advent.
Without Advent, secular Christmas is a flurry of excess—excess pressure to buy, excess pressure to party, excess pressure to have a “perfect Christmas,” as defined by number of presents, quality of decorations and quantity of food-- divided by family stress. I am always taken aback momentarily when someone asks if I have had a “good Christmas.” What does that mean? Probably my “best Christmas” was the one in which we had to cancel a trip to Bermuda with my extended family to go to San Francisco to see a neurosurgeon about the possible recurrence of a brain tumor. What was good was that we had a very stripped-down Christmas, without any of the trappings. We had family, and church, and an overwhelming gratitude for God’s incredible gift, available to all of us, anywhere, under any circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong. I may have Quaker ancestors, but I love many of the aspects of secular Christmas. I love the music and the stories, the decorations and the family get-togethers. I appreciate the non-commercial values of secular Christmas—peace on earth, generosity. These are values that are significant for Christians year-round. But if someone wants to highlight a “Giving Tuesday” or promote a Christmas cease fire, I am all for it, if it gets others to practice generosity, to strive for peace. These are wonderful things. But they are not what Christmas is about fundamentally.
Advent is not warm and fuzzy. It is stark. The biblical texts we use in Advent paint a picture of a world full of conflict and disaster. It is easy to draw parallels with the world we live in today—with fires and floods, wars and rumors of war, desperate refugees, frightened people. Advent is the beginning of the church year, and a time when we wait anxiously for the coming of the Lord. The kind of waiting that Advent brings is not the happy anticipation of a wonderful surprise. It is a waiting for judgment, for the end of times. And in the midst of it all, there is hope.
Just as Good Friday is what gives Easter its meaning for Christians, Advent is what gives Christmas its meaning for us. On Christmas we marvel to see what God has done, how God has decided to respond to sin and evil, death and destruction. God’s piece de resistance—a baby, pouring all of Godself into a vulnerable human infant, born to unwed parents living in a conquered nation, soon to be homeless refugees fleeing violence.
As modern American Christians we live in two realities. In our communities we are surrounded by secular Christmas. And there is no reason we should, Grinch-like, refuse to participate in the many activities and practices of secular Christmas. After all, it is the world we live in, and the world God loves. But at the same time, we live in Advent’s tension. Paul describes it well:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8: 18-25)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers’ arms, has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts, and blessed peace to cheer us,
And keep us all in grace, and guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all harm in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Spirit blest, who reign in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
By Martin Rinkhart, 1586-1649 (ELW 840)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Does your congregation have a tradition of a Giving Tree? Many congregations find it to be a nice way to share generously with others. Some congregations focus on world hunger, some on local needs. Some do both.
This year the Montana Synod Council invites your congregation to include some of our partner ministries on your giving tree. Add to the tree you’ve already got, or add a whole new tree!
We are focusing on 6 ministries supported by the Montana Synod. Below you can find printable ornaments representing those 6 ministries, and a bulletin/newsletter insert to use. We ask that you collect the money and then send it in a check to the Montana Synod, so that we can forward it to the appropriate ministry.
Two of the ministries we focus on are our companion synods. The Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church, represented by the ornament with children in blue and white, has an emphasis on children. The church runs several schools and several after-school programs for children in need. $40 will provide one month of tuition at a Lutheran school in Bolivia. The new semester starts in February, and there are plenty of children in need of scholarships.
The ornament with the two seated people represents the Cape Orange Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. Choosing this ornament will help bring Bishop Motsumai Manong to the Montana Synod Assembly next summer. This will be his first visit here as Bishop, and we are eager to give him the opportunity to meet our new Bishop-elect.
You might recognize the ornament with the snowy church—it is Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy, one of the oldest Native American ministries in the ELCA. In 2020, it will be 100. If you choose this ornament, your $30 will help with a new roof.
The eight-pointed star with the Luther Rose in the center represents Spirit of Life on the Fort Peck Reservation. This ministry is looking for funds to provide beads and beading needles to women on the Fort Peck reservation, as part of the ministry of outreach.
The ornament with the cross and the bird on the top, and the figure standing on an outcropping of rock in front of a rising/setting sun represents Freedom in Christ Prison Ministry. This ministry is seeking Bibles and daily devotions for inmates at the Montana State Prison. Your donation of $15 will help with this goal.
And the ornament with the large cross represents the Northern Rockies Institute of Theology, our continuing education and lifelong learning ministry in the Montana Synod. Your donation of $50 will help bring in speakers for education events.
Thank you for the many ways that you generously give to help your neighbors. Please consider adding these giving tree ornaments as a way not only to provide opportunities for generosity, but also to highlight some of the ministries that our synod supports
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Printable ornaments and bulletin inserts to explain them are available here.
Every November, the Montana Synod gathers pastors in their first three years of ordained ministry into an event we call First Call Theological Education. It is always a joy to spend three days with our newest colleagues, hearing their stories and telling them about some of the ins and outs of the Montana Synod. Every ministry site is unique, but there are some common features of the congregations of the Montana Synod, whether large or small, urban or rural.
So who are these newest pastors? In the first year class we have Todd Wright, originally from Illinois, now serving at First Lutheran in Glasgow. Also in that class is Jake Schumacher, serving Immanuel in Absarokee, originally from Washington. The most recent arrival is Sean Janssen, from Washington and Arizona, serving Christ in Big Sandy and Messiah in Havre. We welcome them to the Montana Synod from three different seminaries, three different parts of the country.
The second year class includes Havre native Jessie Obrecht, serving the Fairfield Parish, and Belgrade native Marlow Carrels, serving the Westby Parish. Jayson Nicholson, who serves Our Savior’s in Laurel, comes to us from California, having done his internship in Montana. Jean Hay serves Bethlehem in Billings, and proudly claims her heritage as a Navy brat. Her most recent home was Minnesota. Doris Tollefson, from Hinsdale, was also ordained in 2017, and continues to serve faithfully.
Finishing out her third year is Carol Seilhymer, who serves our congregations in Plains and Thompson Falls. She comes to us from Minnesota. It is a delight to meet with these colleagues, who are faithfully serving congregations in the Montana Synod.
You have probably heard that we have more vacancies than we do candidates. And you may have heard that for every 2 pastors who retire, one is ordained. So we have to think in new ways about how we do ministry in the Montana Synod, how we fill pulpits, how we make best use of gifts.
In October, the Montana Synod was assigned 2 more seminary graduates. One has already received a call in the Synod, and the other is interviewing. We hope to have both in place before long.
This past weekend the Candidacy Committee met and granted entrance to 2 more candidates. LPA Tim Tharp, who is serving Savage and Skaar, is officially enrolled in TEEM at PLTS, and LPA Kristin La Ve is set to enroll in a Distributed Learning MDiv in the fall. They join Wendy McAlpine, LPA in Suburst who officially began TEEM this fall, and Melanie Forrey, who began Distributed Learning MDiv at Luther this fall. They join other Montana Synod students at various places on the journey to rostered ministry.
There are many ways to engage in theological education, both at seminary and elsewhere. I encourage you to look around you for who might be a pastor or a deacon in the future, and to tell them you see potential. That’s how many of us get here.
And of course, while we are encouraging people to think about seminary education and becoming pastors, we continue with our robust LPA training programs. We currently have 3 going on—a new class based in Great Falls, a continuing class based in Glendive, and an advanced class (LPA 2.0) for LPAs who are functioning as Synodically Authorized Ministers.
I am grateful for all who serve, in a variety of capacities.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA