It is the season of Epiphany, when we celebrate the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it. Traditionally, the season of Epiphany has been a time when the church highlighted the global nature of the church. And, back home, most of our congregations utilize the season of Epiphany to have annual meetings. ( A letter to congregations from the Synod Bishop is next in this e-newsletter, and is also on the synod website.)
Annual meetings. Ideally, when we get together as congregations, we look at what we have done in the past year, and plan our ministry for the next year. As ELCA congregations, our ministry is not just to ourselves and to those who happen to come through our doors. Our ministry is our community, our Synod, and the wider church. And that wider ministry happens through the ELCA.
We are a connected church. We know that we are able to do more ministry and more effective ministry because we are partnered with one another. The annual meeting is a time to approve a budget, which includes mission support. Congregations send money to the Montana Synod, and the Synod sends approximately 40% of that on to the wider church through the ELCA.
What does the Synod do with the rest of the money? We support campus ministry at the University of Montana and Montana State University. We support the Northern Rockies Institute of Theology, which provides continuing theological education and lifelong learning to clergy and laity in the Synod. We support Lutheran Social Services. We support Freedom in Christ Prison Ministry, Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy and Spirit of Life on the Fort Peck Reservation. We provide the LPA training program to equip lay preachers and deeper faith and witness. We support first call pastors with First Call Theological Education. We shepherd candidates through the candidacy process, and we work with congregations and pastors during pastoral vacancies.
We foster relationships with our companion synods (Bolivia and the Cape Orange Diocese of South Africa.) We work with congregations in transition and in conflict.
The wider church is able to reach out on our behalf across the globe, through the world hunger program, through Lutheran Disaster Response, through ELCA seminaries and colleges, through global partnerships, through ecumenical relationships. We live in a connected world, and we have a connected church. Because of that we can share lay ministry curricula with our companion church in Bolivia. We can learn best ways to support the hurricane recovery for the people of Puerto Rico. We can learn about famine in Africa. We can learn about unaccompanied minors at the southern border, and efforts to care for them.
This week I returned from a gathering of ELCA Bishops focused on the care of creation—from biblical, theological and advocacy perspectives. We visited a congregation that meets outdoors year round, and has a community garden to share with their neighbors. Jason Asselstine, from our staff, has been at a church-sponsored training on family systems—how to live together as congregations, as communities and avoid the kinds of conflict that paralyze. Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, also from our staff is at a church-sponsored training, along with 3 other pastors from the synod, on faith-based community organizing, finding tools for more effective outreach ministry in the communities we serve. We use these opportunities to learn and grow, so that we might better serve the Montana Synod.
And then we return from these trainings to do ordinations and installations, and meetings with congregations that we serve.
May God bless your congregation as you meet in your annual meeting and discern together what God is calling you to do! And please let us know. We learn from one another.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (I Corinthians 12: 12)