These famous words of Martin Luther’s are sometimes regarded as the battle cry of the Reformation. Spoken in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, these words were Luther’s response to the demand that he recant his critiques of the Church. It was October 31, 1517, when the monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, in an effort to start a conversation on reforming certain aspects of the Church. Little did he know that his action would start a movement that would change the face of Christianity across the globe.
Of course it wasn’t Luther alone who made the Reformation. There were others who advocated for reform before Luther, and generally lost their lives for it. But in 1517, the time was right in Europe socially and politically. And the printing press made it possible to get out information, opinion, counter-opinion at a rapid speed unknown before. And of course we believe that the Holy Spirit was at work and continues to be at work.
If Luther began his quest for reform of the church thinking it would be a reasonable debate among civilized theologians, he soon learned that a lot more was at stake for a lot of powerful people, and the debate was anything but civil. Protestants and Catholics lined up against each other, condemning one another, even fighting wars against each other. This legacy of brokenness continued until the mid-twentieth century, when Vatican II opened the door to ecumenism.
In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican came to an historic agreement, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. What had for centuries been a sticking point between Lutherans and Catholics was resolved. We held a celebration of that event at the Helena Cathedral, and then again ten years later at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Great Falls.
In 2012, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, Bishop Michael Warfel and I went to 5 communities across Montana having Lutheran-Catholic Conversations. Turnout was high. The people have been asking for church leaders to come closer for decades. We talked about what had kept the churches apart, and what hopes there were for bringing us closer together.
1517, the year Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door, is generally accepted as the date on which the Reformation began. There is great interest all over the world in the Reformation. Lutherans, Catholics and many others are planning ways to commemorate the anniversary of the Reformation. Germany has a 10 year plan, with a different emphasis each year. The LWF and the Vatican have plans underway, and the Montana Synod has a hardworking team that will be producing materials and also working with the 2 Catholic Dioceses for a joint event. Across the ELCA plans are underway.
As you read this piece, I am on my way to Wittenberg, with a group of ELCA Bishops. We are visiting sites of the Reformation, in hopes of understanding our heritage better. We will also be meeting with German church leaders, both Lutheran and Catholic, to learn more about ecumenism today in the birthplace of the Reformation, and to learn more about the experience of the German church during the years that Germany was divided.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
We continue our Advent lifting up of ministries with special needs.
Several years ago the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bolivia asked the Montana Synod to bring a cattle specialist from Montana to advise the church on its cattle raising efforts. There is a small farm in Bolivia that raises cattle near the northern border with Brazil. The proceeds from the cattle farm are used to support a children’s ministry in the city of Cobija.
Cobija is a rough town. Because it is a border town, it is a major drug transportation hub. And because drug traffickers are loathe to get caught, they recruit children to carry the drugs back and forth. When Pastor Luis was sent by the Bolivian Church to start a ministry in Cobija, he began with the children. He saw that children were being used, abused and discarded. And he vowed to protect the children. His congregation is mostly children. They know that they can come to
the center any time, day or night, for food, for education, for protection.
We brought a cattle expert to the farm, and he designed a system that would get water to the
cattle and increase productivity. Now we need to help them raise the $8000 that it will take to
pay for the pumping system. The Montana Synod Women’s Organization (WELCA) has taken
on the challenge to raise $2000. Can you help with the rest? Can you help raise money for the
cattle farm, so that the church can continue to reach out to the vulnerable children of Cobija?
Please send your gifts to the Montana Synod, and mark them “Bolivia Water Project.”
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked with
favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great
things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the
hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Bishop Jessica Crist
Words from the Bishop: “All who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”
In Advent I am highlighting some ministries of the Montana Synod that are in critical need of financial support. Last week I wrote about Freedom in Christ at Montana State Prison. This week I want to highlight the ministry at Our Saviour’s, Rocky Boy. Our Saviour’s is one of the oldest ELCA congregations on a reservation. It has a long history of service to the Chippewa and Cree people who live on the Rocky Boys Reservation, the smallest and most recently established reservation in Montana.
Our Saviour’s is a ministry of service to their neighbors on the rez. The clothing redistribution, infant layettes, Christmas presents, quilts, and grocery assistance are all a part of how Our Saviour’s serves on our behalf. Many congregations contribute items to share. Thank you.
Our Saviour’s is also a worshipping community, providing Word and Sacrament ministry every Sunday. In the summer and during retreats, guests join the resident community at worship.
Our Saviour’s also serves as a host to retreat groups, servant groups and groups who want to learn more about life on the reservation. Middle school groups, seminarians, women’s groups, ecumenical groups come to Our Saviour’s to learn more about the people who were on the land before the European Americans came.
Our Saviour’s is one of 2 Native American ministries in the Montana Synod. The other is Spirit of Life, on the Fort Peck Reservation. In 2010, the Montana Synod Assembly issued an Apology to the Tribal members in Montana. It is important for us to live out that apology in deed as well as in word.
I invite you to make a special gift to Our Saviour’s, Rocky Boy this Advent Season, and to include Our Saviour’s in your congregation’s budget.
You can go to their website at www.oslcrb.org, or write to 499 Mission Taylor Road, Box Elder, MT 59521-8983.
“Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA