This weekend, led by Pastor Jason Asselstine, youth from around the Synod will be coming together for a mid-winter youth gathering at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the Rocky Boys Reservation. Our Saviour’s is actually one of the oldest congregations in the Montana Synod, and it is one of the oldest Native American ministries in the ELCA. As a kid growing up in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, I knew about Our Saviour’s in Rocky Boy because our congregation supported it. We had a mosaic map of the world in our narthex, with brightly colored squares where there were missionaries that we supported as a congregation There were missionaries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America—and a single one in the United States-- Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy. Little did I know that I would grow up, move to Montana, and become very well acquainted with Our Saviour’s Rocky Boy.
The ministry at Rocky Boy has changed over the decades. The Rocky Boys Reservation was the last reservation to be set up in Montana—after much advocacy by people like the artist Charlie Russell and others. Eventually the Chippewa and Cree peoples were granted a reservation in the Bears Paw Mountains, north of Great Falls and south of Havre. When the Lutherans first came to the reservation there were few social services offered by the government. So the Lutherans provided services. In those days, if you had a need, you went to “the mission” to get it filled. “The mission” also offered worship, Christian education and many of the activities that congregations everywhere offer.
Over the years the tribal government was able to provide more and more services that had previously been provided by the churches—both Lutheran and Catholic. Our Saviour’s still provides layettes for newborns, a thrift shop, and other forms of outreach to the community. One year, when a flood destroyed buildings including the new health center, Our Saviour’s was the FEMA distribution point. The “Big Church” is often used by the community for wakes and events, and the pastor is invited to teach in the tribal college.
Grants help programming—from a sewing group to a girls group, from food distribution to Vacation Bible School and camp scholarships.
Our Saviour’s also serves the wider church, hosting immersion events and seminars for seminarians and congregations, and hosting servant groups. The Montana Synod youth going to Rocky Boy this weekend will get to learn about the Chippewa and Cree, and will also participate in a service project for a needy family. This can be a transformative experience. Keep our synod youth and their chaperones, Pastor Linda Webster and Pastor Jason Asselstine in your prayers. And consider making a visit to Rocky Boy yourself.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA