The synodical understanding of our church is, in many ways unifying. We are a synod because we have shared beliefs and practices. For instance, if you attend services at Christ Lutheran Church in Libby, you likely will have a similar worship experience as if you were also to attend Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Broadus – even though the two congregations are over 700 miles apart. By contrast, in Ronan we have at least 12 different churches within just a few blocks, but the worship experience, belief systems, and preaching varies widely from the Mennonite Church, Sacred Heart Catholic, Ronan Adventist, to Lighthouse Christian Fellowship (the four congregations located nearest to us). Being a synod of congregations with shared theological doctrines and confessions helps us stay unified in our beliefs and practices across time and space. When churches have pastoral openings, we work to make sure our congregations have leaders. As congregations, we work together to support ministries to our youth like Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, as well as to our aging members through ministries like Immanuel Lutheran Homes in Kalispell and St. John’s Ministries in Billings. There are many things that we can do better together than we can do separately, which bind us together and give us purpose as a synod of congregations.
The synodical understanding of our churches is well established, but can be hard to think about because every community of faith is very unique. For instance, Faith Lutheran Church in Ronan and Good Shepherd Lutheran in Polson started out together and shared a pastor for many years, yet there are many aspects of our two communities that are very different. Every congregation, even ones that share similar beliefs and worship practices, are distinct from every other congregation. However, the dynamics between congregations and synods are analogous to the relationship of the state of Montana to the nation of the United States of America. We live in Montana and know how to do our own thing pretty well. We live, work, play and have our homes in Montana, and put forth our own efforts to educate our children, conduct business, have our own local and state governments, and support our own churches. Yet, we are also part of the United States and I would argue that Montana is better off for being part of the U.S.A. than if we tried to make it as our own country. The U.S.A. has a stronger military, better highway and rail systems, better research institutions, a more robust forestry system, etc., than Montana could afford or put together on its own. While Montana is distinct and different than a state like Florida, it is better for both Florida and Montana to be a united nation than a divided one. Similarly, though the Montana Synod is made up of a 128 individual, distinct congregations that minister in separate and distinct ways, our unity at the synod level is better for all of us.