The Montana Synod meets in Assembly May 31-June 2, and we’ll elect a Bishop, Vice President and Treasurer, as well as consider a couple of resolutions and some constitutional updates, elect committee members, and adopt a budget.
But Synod Assemblies are not the only thing going on this summer. In August, the ELCA will meet in Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee. The Montana Synod Voting Members (11) were chosen at last year’s Synod Assembly, and are making preparations to be there for most of a week (August 5-10). The business of a Churchwide Assembly is provided electronically to the Voting Members. If it were printed out, it would fill a binder at least 6 inches thick! People who have been to a Churchwide Assembly find they learn things about the wider church that they had never even dreamed. Our Synod will send 3 lay males, 3 lay females, 1 youth, 1 person of color, 1 bishop and 1 bishop-elect.
The Churchwide Assembly decides a number of significant issues for the future of the church, and I will be using this space to share some of them with you, from time to time in the next months.
Today I write about the proposed actions regarding Deacons (Ministers of Word and Service). Before the merger in 1988, there were ways to recognize lay employees in the predecessor churches. When we merged into the ELCA, the category of Associate in Ministry (AIM) was created to give churchwide roster status to lay people working for the church. Early on in the ELCA the church engaged in a Study on Ministry. It was intended to find ELCA answers to questions around ministry that had not been resolved by the Commission on a New Lutheran Church. Pastor Paul Seastrand, a Montana Synod pastor, served on the Ministry Study Committee. One of the proposals from that committee was that the church adopt a three-fold order of ministry: Bishop; Pastor; Deacon. The Churchwide Assembly that adopted the Ministry Study amended it to eliminate the three-fold orders.
As the years went by, the ELCA added Diaconal Ministers to Associates in Ministry and Deaconesses as part of the ELCA’s “lay roster.” This meant that while they were rostered across the whole ELCA (as opposed to LPA’s, who are only recognized within the synod), they were still “lay,” in not being pastors. Over the years, as the different categories of “lay rostered” people became more and more confusing, the ELCA formed another study group who recommended that all the lay rosters (Ministers of Word and Service) be combined into one, called Deacon. In 2016, the Churchwide Assembly voted to adopt that change. Since 2016, all the Diaconal Ministers and Associates in Ministry became Deacons. The constitutional language for pastors is Ministers of Word and Sacrament, and the constitutional language for deacons is Ministers of Word and Service.
Fast forward to 2019. While the 2016 Churchwide Assembly voted to call the former AIMs, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses Deacons, it made no decision on what to call the rite by which they become Deacons. Pastors are ordained. What about Deacons? Should they be ordained? Consecrated? Commissioned? Recognized? These are all words that the church has used over the years, and each carries a different connotation. To some people, it is only a matter of semantics. To some it is vitally important.
The Churchwide Assembly will have the opportunity to vote on the recommendations from the Entrance Rite Working Group. The recommendations are as follows:
+ That the word ordination be used for the entrance rite both for Word and Sacrament (pastors), and for Word and Service (Deacons.)
+That Deacons receive a deacon’s stole and cross upon ordination. (A deacon’s stole goes diagonally from the shoulder to the waist.0
+That Deacons no longer be considered “laypersons” for the purposes of representational principles.
These changes bring with them a number of implications and questions. ELCA Secretary Chris Boerger, who was a part of the working group bring the proposals, will be the churchwide representative at the Montana Synod Assembly this year, and will be able to answer questions you might have about these proposals.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like what arising green.
In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
Thinking that he would never wake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
Forth he came at Easter like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Your touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
(ELW 379, LBW 148)
O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crow;
O sacred head, what glory, what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.
How pale though art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn,
How does thy face now languish, which once was bright as morn!
Thy grief and bitter passion were all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.
Lord, be my consolation; shield me when I must die;
Remind me of thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
These eyes, new faith receiving, from thee shall never move;
For all who die believing die safely in thy love.
(ELW 351, LBW 116)
Congregations are the backbone of the church. For all the creative programs that come out of the synod office, seminaries, the churchwide office or the latest internet phenomenon, it is the congregations where people learn about Jesus. It is the congregations where faith is formed, where children are baptized, where the community walks with the sick, the grieving, those who are distressed. It is the congregations where Christians learn about the power of community, about the spiritual practices of praying and hospitality and almsgiving and worship.
Lent gives congregations an opportunity to reinforce some faith practices, and by doing so, to strengthen the congregations. Many congregations add a midweek worship service to their schedule in Lent, and people set aside their normal activities and come together. Many congregations use Lenten offerings to support world hunger, or community projects.
Congregations that participate in Family Promise (where homeless families are housed and fed for week-long stays at participating congregations), or are involved in any volunteer rotation in programs to provide essential services to the needy may find their routines disrupted. Homelessness does not take a break for Holy Week; hunger doesn’t go away just because we have a Lenten soup supper. So, we learn to adapt, to address our congregation’s needs while still reaching out to the poor and the needy. That makes us stronger as congregations, not weaker.
Congregational vitality is one of the highest priorities of the ELCA. There are churchwide resources, and our DEM Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger also has resources to measure and work on congregational vitality. Vitality is not measured only by size—membership, budget or worship attendance. In the Montana Synod we have vibrant congregations that have very small membership and few at worship. But they have a sense of why they exist, and it isn’t for themselves. It is for their neighbors. It is for the sake of the world.
Lent gives congregations the opportunity to look inward so that they may be strengthened to focus outward.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
This week is the National Workshop on Christian Unity. For over 50 years the Workshop has advanced unity and reconciliation among various Christian communities, and it is the only gathering of its kind at a national level in the world. The ELCA is always involved in the Workshop, and our synod is normally represented by Pr. Amanda Liggett. Health complications in a new baby have kept Pr. Liggett home this year, but because of our good relationship with the Episcopal Church in Montana the Rev. Valerie Webster will represent us as well as the Diocese. The National Workshop on Christian Unity promotes unity.
On the local level, some churches do round robins in Lent, across denominational or congregational lines. On the Hiline, east of Shelby, west of Havre, are 2 small congregations, Devon and Galata, linked with a third up north in the country. Instead of having 3 separate midweek services, SAM Cynthia Thomas is having one service in each of the three congregations on a different week. The challenge is for people to attend not only in their own congregation, but in the others. Lenten round robins promote unity.
We have 2 ELCA congregations in Butte, and one in Anaconda, 20 miles away. All three pastors resigned or retired in the last year, and all three congregations are looking for ways to do ministry effectively. So they are bringing together members from each congregation to share ideas on ways to share ministry. Talking with your neighbors promotes unity.
The ELCA has several full communion partners, and working together with them enhances ministry. Currently we have 4 cooperative arrangements with the Presbyterians (Hot Springs, Cutbank, White Sulphur Springs, Fallon/Terry); 1 with the Episcopal Church (Big Sky), and one with the Methodists (Lavina.), and we have had cooperative arrangements with the UCC in the past. And we work cooperatively in other ways: in campus ministry, with Freedom in Christ, with MAC and WIN. Full communion agreements promote unity.
First English in Billings is planning ahead for Vacation Bible School. In order to have a more effective outreach to more children, they are in conversation with Friendship House, a ministry with low-income children and teens on Billings’ south side. Sometimes thinking outside the box brings new vision and life. Working with other partners promotes unity.
In Lent, the Synod Staff are busy preparing for the Synod Assembly, a time when we come together as the ELCA in Montana and northern Wyoming. Together the Assembly will elect a bishop, vice president, treasurer and Synod Council. Together the Assembly will amend the constitution, adopt a budget, consider resolutions, and plan for our future together. The Synod Assembly makes it clear that the Synod is not “them,” it is “us.” All of us. Voting Members at the Assembly can take home information to share about the ELCA and the Montana Synod. The Synod Assembly promotes unity.
How is your congregation promoting unity this Lent and beyond?
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Does your congregation have mid-week services in Lent to give you an extra opportunity to deepen your faith? In some communities the churches do pulpit exchanges, so that parishioners from one congregation can hear from the pastor in another.
Bethel Lutheran in Great Falls features lay speakers at their Thursday Lenten soup suppers. Members of the congregation are invited to share their faith stories. Have you ever done that? It is surprising how few of us have done that. Is it intimidating? Yes. But it is also rewarding. Sharing your faith story in a safe setting like a congregational soup supper can be a way to learn about how to talk about your faith more publicly. Bethel’s soup supper presentations are deepening faith and witness.
Freedom in Christ is a ministry in the Montana State Prison. Pastor Rob Nedbalek is able to provide a ministry of word and sacrament in the prison. And he is able to provide a ministry of presence, working with people at different stages of their faith journey. One of the things he is able to do, thanks to volunteers and supporters, is to provide Bibles to inmates who want them. A Montana Synod Christmas Giving Tree program gave participating congregations an opportunity to donate to give Bibles to the ministry. Freedom in Christ is deepening faith and witness.
The Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church has several schools—one in El Alto, and one in Santa Cruz. The schools were founded when free public education was not accessible to all children. The Lutheran schools are open to all children, and depend on scholarships to help pay expenses. Many congregations in the Montana Synod have made donations to the scholarship fund, so that Bolivian children could receive an education in a faith-based environment. In response to the Bolivian government’s requirement that schools provide English instruction, the IELB is applying for a short-term ELCA missionary to teach English in El Alto. The schools of the IELB are deepening faith and witness.
This coming weekend there will be 2 classes of LPAs learning new ways to serve. The basic LPA class will be working with Pr. Julie Long on how to lead worship. And the LPA 2.0 class will be meeting with Pr. Greg Holler-Dinsmore to learn about preaching for funerals and other out-of-the-ordinary occasions. And the following weekend, the folks in the LPA East class will be learning about pastoral care. There are so many ways that LPAs serve God and neighbor. The trainings that we provide not only deepen their faith, but they help them deepen the faith of others by their witness. LPAs and LPA trainings deepen faith and witness.
Each year Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Rocky Boy, in cooperation with a variety of funding sources, makes it possible for children from the reservation to attend camp at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp. Our Saviour’s and FLBC and deepening faith and witness with kids who might not have another chance.
In response to last week’s request on how you are serving the world, Pastor Patty Callaghan, Interim Pastor at Gloria Dei in Butte writes:
“Butte lost their homeless shelter over a year ago, so the community had to step up to provide winter shelter. Since December 2018, the community, through the local community action agency, raised $98,000; of that amount, $27,000 was donated by local congregations. Gloria Dei Lutheran donated $2720 of that amount. I thought you might like to know this. People would likely have died on the cold streets this winter without this effort.” Pr. Patty Callaghan.
Let me know how your congregation or ministry is deepening faith and witness.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In Lent we are challenged to push beyond our comfort zone and help others. Many congregations have special projects, special ministry emphases in Lent. Our Savior’s Lutheran church in Columbia Falls is highlighting a different children’s ministry or outreach each week in Lent. It is an opportunity for congregation members to learn about the issues children face in our communities, and to make financial contributions. Our Savior’s is serving the world.
Pastor Kendra Wilde is not only a pastor at Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church in Helena, she is also the President of MAC (Montana Association of Christians.) One of the primary things that MAC does is take the voices of Christian people to the Montana State Legislature. (Wyoming has a similar setup, through the Wyoming Interfaith Network.) Pastor Kendra and other faith leaders, both clergy and lay, speak at hearings, write letters, write op eds, and work hard to keep the voice of neighbor love alive and well in the midst of complicated discussions in the legislature. MAC is serving the world.
Loni Whitford, President of Our Saviour’s, Rocky Boy, and Secretary of the American Indian and Alaska Native Association of the ELCA, brought her daughter and friends and colleagues to a Rally for Medicaid Expansion in Helena on Saturday. An EMT on the Rocky Boys Reservation, she sees the effect of health care, and she sees what the absence of it can do. As a tribal member she knows that heath care is a treaty right. And she also sees that it is a human right. Loni, through her advocacy, is serving the world.
Many Lutheran congregations have soup suppers during Lent, and take up an offering for hunger-related causes. ELCA World Hunger, Bread for the World, local food pantries and meal programs are among the many ways that congregations reach out in the love of Jesus to their neighbors far and near. They are serving the world, especially the poor and those in need.
The Cape Orange Diocese, our companion synod in South Africa, works to share the good news of Jesus Christ in the poorest communities. Displaced from the choice areas during the Apartheid era, the church moved to the margins, and worked tirelessly for justice. Now, more than 2 decades since the official end to Apartheid, the church continues to work with the aftermath—racism, and economic inequality. The Cape Orange Diocese is serving the world, especially the poor and those in need.
Jack Siemens is an LPA, and President of Harlem Lutheran Church, where he is also serving as a Synodically Authorized Ministry in the absence of a pastor. He also preaches at Dodson Lutheran on a regular basis. In addition to his all-consuming church work, Jack runs the Harlem Food Bank, an outreach to hungry neighbors. Jack Siemens serves the world, especially the poor and those in need.
Spirit of Life serves the inmates in the Fort Peck Tribal Institution, with Pastor Christine Holler-Dinsmore. Both women and men receive pastoral and liturgical services, as well as encouragement and strength for their lives as they are released. Spirit of Life offers unconditional love and hope to people who have been rejected by society. They welcome prayer shawls, warm socks, and skirts. Spirit of Life serves the world.
This week NRIT is offering 2 opportunities to attend a continuing education event on “Theology of the Land.” Professor Eric Meyer of Carrol College will explore biblical and theological concepts through which Christians can understand and deepen their relationship to the land and fellow creatures. NRIT is serving the world that God so loves.
How is your congregation serving the world, and especially the poor and those in need this Lent? I’d love to be able to share your stories.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Lent is late this year. So is any hint of spring. Last year when unrelenting blizzards stranded many people on reservations without food, our Synod responded to a call for food assistance for the Northern Cheyenne. We took a risk—committing to the truckload of food before the money was raised. But you gave generously. Funds came in from across the Synod, and volunteers showed up with Dick Deschamps, our LDR Coordinator, to distribute $16,000 worth of food to hungry families. That’s meeting the future boldly.
Christikon is currently recruiting for Sojourners Camp, a by-invitation-only camping experience for at-risk 11-13 year olds. These are kids who are not yet in the juvenile justice system, but could end up there. Sojourners Camp reaches out non-manipulatively in Christian love, providing role models and positive experiences in the lives of vulnerable kids. Application deadline is April 15. Contact Christikon, www.christikon.org. That’s meeting the future boldly.
Three seminarians have been assigned to the Montana Synod, from three different seminaries. Each brings energy, enthusiasm and a love for the Gospel to serve in the Montana Synod. They eagerly await meeting their future congregation and future colleagues. That is meeting the future boldly.
Across the Synod, LPAs are leading Lenten worship, teaching confirmation, visiting the sick, and tending to the dying, despite never having dreamed they would be doing pastoral acts. But in the absence of pastors, and through the training in the LPA program, as well as licensing from the Synod office, they are doing it, they are meeting the future boldly!
Montana and Wyoming are among the states with the highest suicide rates. Pella Lutheran Church in Sidney is doing something about it. In response to the shortage of mental health professionals, the Mental Health Local Advisory Council is partnering with churches like Pella to coordinate peer-to-peer support groups. That is meeting the future boldly.
Do you want to do something about child abuse and neglect? Consider hosting a “Blue Sunday,” highlighting the work of the Children’s Trust Fund. (ChildrensTrust.mt.gov) Or find out more about Intermountain Children’s Home, a ministry that we share with other Christian denominations. (www.intermountain.org) Or volunteer with CASA CAN. Caring and advocating for children is meeting the future boldly.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (www.LIRS.org) has welcomed the stranger for over 80 years. Now, for only the second time, a former refugee has been appointed to be President and CEO of LIRS. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is committed to seeing that immigrant families are afforded the same opportunity her family was given when they fled home and arrived in the US. LIRS is one of only two agencies that helped reunite children with parents after family separation this past summer. LIRS meets the future boldly.
Basketball is serious business in our territory. Fans and players alike are passionate. And, unfortunately, people are not always at their best when rooting for their own team against an opposing team. So kudos to the Columbia Falls girls basketball team for offering a gift of respect and sisterhood to the Browning girls basketball team, after a previous unfortunate incident. Young people reaching out to one another across racial and team divides is truly meeting the future boldly.
Lent is a time of prayer and contemplation. It is also a time of engagement. It is a time to meet the future boldly.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishops are elected by synods, but are accountable to the whole church, as well. Because of that, bishops gather twice a year for multi-day meetings. I am just on my way home from one of those meetings. As I mentioned in my Words from the Bishop last week, bishops do more advising than legislating. But bishops are generally the ones who have to implement the decisions made by the Church Council. So bishops have good reason to be invested in the advisory process.
At the recently concluded meeting, bishops had significant input into a document that will be voted on by the Church Council. This document, “Trustworthy Servants,” replaces as earlier document, “Vision and Expectations,” which has been a part of the candidacy process since 1990. This document will be made public on March 7, in anticipation of the Church Council’s vote in April. Should the Church Council vote to adopt the document (with or without changes), it will immediately replace “Vision and Expectations.” The bishops have written a letter about the new document, and expressing regret for harm done to individual and the church in the past.
Bishops also had an opportunity to preview the latest draft of the proposed Social Statement on Women and Justice, before it goes to the Church Council and, ultimately, the Churchwide Assembly. Retitled “Faith, Sexism and Justice: a Lutheran Call to Action.” The Statement is much clearer and better than the draft we saw last year, in my opinion. It, too, will be released to the public soon.
Another document that will be voted on by the Churchwide Assembly is a document on Interreligious Relationships. This document is available.
Bishops also heard reports from Churchwide officers—Presiding Bishop, Secretary, Treasurer and Vice President, and heard updates on the Churchwide Assembly. Both the Secretary and the Presiding Bishop positions are up for election.
We learned about ELCA finances. January was a difficult month all around, with blizzards, a polar vortex in the Midwest, and the government shutdown. Congregations who had to cancel services are encouraged to try to find ways to make up missed offerings and mission support.
The Campaign for the ELCA is coming to a close June 30. Congregations and individuals are encouraged to make additional gifts and pledges to this campaign, especially in the areas of World Hunger, Young Adults in Global Mission, and Global Women’s Education-a program that brings young women from Lutheran World Federation Churches to Study at Lutheran Colleges and Universities.
Bishops also learn from one another. New spent most of a day listening to different approaches across the ELCA for encouraging Congregational vitality.
The bishops also sent a letter to the Lutheran Church in Venezuela, expressing prayer and solidarity for the suffering of the people of Venezuela. Additionally, Presiding Bishop Eaton wrote a letter to the United Methodist Church, and ELCA bishops from the West wrote to Western UMC Bishops to express understanding and prayers for the United Methodist Church as it ponders how best to move forward after the General Convention last week. ELCA congregations with U tied Methodist neighbors are invited to pray for them, offer a safe space for worship, if appropriate, but not to encourage “jumping ship.” The United Methodist Church is a full communion partner with the ELCA.
If you have questions, talk with me.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
On Ash Wednesday we engage in the ancient ritual of putting ashes on our foreheads to remember our mortality. Healthy teenagers, infants, middle aged people, the elderly—all get the same smear of ashes, regardless or health or political party, regardless of church membership, citizenship status, ethnic identity. The ashes remind us that we are all mortal. The ashes are an equalizer.
But there is more. Because the ashes we wear on our foreheads are in the form of a cross. Just as the ashes unite us in death, the cross unites us in life. Lent is the time when we set aside 40 days to explore more deeply the meaning of death and life.
Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation. Candidates for baptism spent Lent preparing for the dying with Christ and rising with Christ in the great Easter Vigil.
Lent is a time of prayer and a time of action.
The 40 days of Lent parallel the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism, the 40 days in which he was tempted by the devil. What kind of temptations plague us these days? We have a tendency to trivialize the concept of temptation, to downgrade temptations into only sex or chocolate. Focusing only on these so-called temptations of the flesh, we potentially ignore far more significant transgressions. Lent gives us a time to examine our lives and our priorities, and make changes, not because they will win us a lottery ticket into heaven, but because Jesus has already taken care of that. We are free to repent, free to reform our lives.
There is more. The 40 days of Lent also remind us of the 40 years in which the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, homeless refugees looking for a place to live in safety. Might we take time in Lent to learn more about the 65 million refugees across the globe, who seek a safe place to live and to protect their families? I invite you to engage more deeply with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) to learn how your congregation could help families just like yours—caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You can also go to ELCA.org, and find world hunger resources to use in Lent, and Lenten resources on immigration. Check out AAMPARO, at ELCA.org. to learn more about what our church is doing, and to learn about what the Bible says about hospitality towards strangers. You can find 40 Bible passages, one for each day of Lent, on now to treat immigrants.
There are many ways to observe Lent, individually and congregationally. I encourage you to join Christians across the globe during this solemn time of Lent, deepening faith and witness.
Jessica Crist , Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA