“Freed and Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action” was the theme of the 2016 Churchwide Assembly and Grace Gathering (a y’all come event for ELCA members who wanted to be part of the action in New Orleans.) We had ten voting members at the Assembly—Beverly Bell from Cody, Tammy Bull from Great Falls, Tom Gossack from Great Falls, Rick Mikkelson from Malta, Alicia Moe from Two Dot, Deb Oldfield from Great Falls, Ben Peterson from Missoula, Carly Tattoo from Wold Point, Brad Ulgenes from Helena, and Bishop Jessica Crist. In addition, Jon Bates from Billings, Fran Gossack from Great Falls and Jayson Nicholson from Frenchtown attended the Grace Gathering.
All who attended said it was a highlight of their church life. So much information about the wider church, such inspiring worship, such important issues to be debated—it was a wonderful opportunity to be church together. An ELCA news release about the Assembly’s main actions is included with this week’s News. I will highlight a few things.
Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery: At our Montana Synod Assembly we passed a memorial asking the Churchwide Assembly to repudiate the doctrine of discovery, as did 16 other synods. The doctrine of discovery originated as a papal bull declaring that any lands that were not populated by Christians were subject to being conquered. The doctrine, which was embedded into US law in the 19th century, continues to justify the treatment of indigenous people as less than fully human. The Assembly affirmed the repudiation overwhelmingly.
Ecumenical Progress: The Assembly had visitors from a number of Christian Churches, and greetings from both a rabbi and an imam, who expressed gratitude for Lutherans’ interreligious commitments. There were 2 significant ecumenical happenings, as well. First was a long-awaited Declaration on the Way, an agreement among US Lutherans and Catholics on 32 items that once divided us but no longer do. After the Assembly affirmed the agreement, Presiding Bishop Eaton presented a gift to the Catholic co-chair of the group, Bishop Denis Madden. As he opened the gift and held up the chalice, he said that he eagerly awaits the day when we will drink from the same cup at communion.
The other ecumenical standout was the presence of a number of Bishops from the AME Zion Church. We are not in full communion with this denomination, but we are in the process of establishing cordial relations. The Presiding Bishop of the AMEZ, Bishop Battle, preached at one of the worship services, and a group of ELCA Bishops had lunch with the AMEZ Bishops present. During the lunch, when one of my table mates learned there were no AMEZ churches in the whole state of Montana, declared that I must be the “Auxiliary AMEZ Bishop” for Montana. And then, at the end of the lunch, Jesse Jackson dropped by on his way to speak with another part of the Assembly on issues of race and justice.
Each person at the Assembly had a different experience. One evening the Assembly divided up into hearings, and among the hearings attended by our voting members were: Declaration on the Way; Theological Education; On the Way Forward: Called Forward Together; The Campaign for the ELCA; AMMPARO; World Hunger: The Roster of Ministry of Word and Sacrament; Women and Justice. On another afternoon the participants were divided up into experiential learning groups which ranged from Human Trafficking to Anti-Racism to Peace to the Music and Food of New Orleans. I hope that you will invite these folks to your congregations or clusters and learn more about the Churchwide Assembly from them. There are also video clips on our website, www.montanasynod.org, and on www.elca.org.
The Churchwide Assembly is a triennial event, with the next one taking place in 2019. Be thinking of people you would like to see attend, and watch for Nominating Committee announcements in 2018.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA