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
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA