As you read this, over 30,000 ELCA Lutherans, most of them under 20, will be gathering in Detroit. Every three years the ELCA puts on a massive effort to bring together high school students from across the country into one location for an experience of service, community and witness. Two hundred fifty from the Montana Synod are there. Eighty decided to go on buses organized by Associate to the Bishop Pastor Jason Asselstine. Those two bus loads of students and their chaperones will have already bonded by the time they reach Detroit.
I have been asked, "Why Detroit?" Most of what we hear about Detroit is bad news-acres of abandoned housing, crime, bankruptcy, the art museum having to sell off masterpieces to stay afloat. Why would anyone want to go there? The answer is that God is present in Detroit every bit as much as everywhere else, and that Detroit is a place in need of an infusion of reminders about that love. The last two times the Youth Gathering was in post-Katrina New Orleans. People asked the same question: "Why New Orleans?" And the answers were the same. God has work for us to do there. And God has work to do on us there.
Like New Orleans, Detroit is a city under duress. We are not going there to save Detroit. But we are going there to do what we are called to do-accompaniment. "Rise Up Together" combines faith formation, inspiration, hard work and fun. During the day, participants are divided into three areas. On Thursday of this week, our Montana group will be participating in "Proclaim Justice." We will be deployed into the city of Detroit to serve neighbors there. Some will work with children, some will do construction, some will feed the hungry, some will care for the elderly.
On Friday, we'll engage in "Proclaim Story." We'll listen to one another's faith stories, have share Eucharist together. And of course we will be listening for God's story in the midst of all that we do. Saturday is "Proclaim Community," where we will spend the day doing interactive learning about ministries and ministry areas across the whole church. Evenings will be gatherings of the whole group with inspiring speakers, uplifting music, and the amazing sense of having sharing a faith with an incredibly diverse group of people, all under the same roof.
It is hard to imagine 30,000 people. That is more than live in most of our communities in Montana and Wyoming.
A Youth Gathering can be a life-changing event for young people and their adult chaperones as well. Please pray for our youth. And when they return, listen to them. They are the church. I look forward to being with them in Detroit.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
How might congregations respond to same-sex marriage?
In late 2014, same-sex marriage became legal in both Wyoming and Montana. And in June of 2015, the Supreme Court made it legal in all of the United States. Nothing has changed for people in Montana or Wyoming since last year. But the highly-publicized Supreme Court decision and reactions around the country have brought the issue forward again for many people.
It is important to distinguish between church and state. The Supreme Court ruling means that states may not discriminate. That is now the law. But the First Amendment is still in effect in the US. Neither the courts nor the states can force congregations to perform or host weddings for anyone. All the ruling means is that states can no longer refuse to grant licenses to same-sex couples. It does not force churches to do anything.
But since the issue is in the news again, some congregations are wondering what they might do in response. I have been asked what is happening in other states, particularly where same-sex marriage has been legal longer. I have consulted with colleagues in other synods, and thank them for their input. Here are some options that congregations have adopted:
Congregation A: has had respectful, intentional conversations at their Council meeting. Result: We will allow for same-sex weddings both inside our building and off-site, as the pastor sees fit.
Congregation B: We will not allow for same-sex weddings in our congregation. The pastor is unwilling, and that ends the discussion.
Congregation C: We will do what we have always done here-we will leave the decision of who to marry to the discernment of our pastors. We have never demanded names of couples who desire to be married to come to the Council, and we don't intend to start doing it. We'll have a congregational forum for further discussion.
Congregation D: We consider ourselves to be a congregation where differences of opinion are welcome. We will continue to allow our pastor to make decisions on weddings on site or off-site.
Congregation E: Yes, by vote of Council and by vote of congregation.
Congregation F: No, by vote of Council and by vote of congregation.
Congregation G: No, in our building. OK if off-site.
Congregation H: Do nothing and hope it all goes away.
Congregation I: Set a date to begin discussion.
There are no doubt many other options. And what your congregation decides now does not have to be forever. Do what you do with intentionality and integrity, don't trample on anyone, and remember to leave room for the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA