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The Mountain Sky Conference geography is vast and diverse in its landscapes, cultures, and people. It is one of my goals as the Director of Connectional Ministry to see as much of our conference as possible. I toured Western Montana for four days and found adventure around every turn of the river and new mountain landscape.
An adventure always starts with a surprise element, right? Adventure was the name of the game as an expired driver’s license prevented a solo trip in a rental car. There was a little panic, and a lot of quick-thinking. Each day, people came forward to drive me to the next town. I told them I felt like a circuit-rider without a horse! The clergy and laity throughout the trip were as awe-inspiring as the perfect fall weather and snow-dusted peaks.
In Great Falls, the Rev. Ginny Bettendorf and many of her laity lit up as they talked about the gathering of 20-30 young people they have on Wednesday evenings. This is truly a ministry to the community, as many of these families do not attend the church in any other way. It is a space for connection and community among students in the area. Rev. Jeff Wakeley, serving First UMC in Great Falls, talked about helping the congregation find their purpose in their downtown location where they have an important lunch ministry for those experiencing homelessness. By the end of the evening, my colleagues had a ride set up for me to get to Helena the next morning – thanks, Jean Nobbs!
Visiting the vibrant city of Helena offered a glimpse into shared ministry through St. Paul’s and Covenant UMC’s sharing of three pastors serving in two local congregations. It is both an opportunity to train and empower new clergy, and a way to give more resources and clergy leadership to a smaller congregation. In addition, the circuit clergy in the Helena area meet together regularly and and resource each other wherever possible. Another set of amazing laity to the rescue to drive me from Helena to Missoula! The drive itself is spectacular, and I was fortunate enough to learn all about the Flathead Lake United Methodist Camp at Rollins from John and Vicki Weida, who have served the camp faithfully for decades.
The next morning, Rev. Derf Bergman came to get me in Missoula and then back-track all the way up to Polson. Along the way, he told me about the history of the land, the tribal governance, and the churches of the area. Mission Valley UMC may have the best view of all! Once in Polson, a hearty crew met for lunch, including Rev. Calvin Hill, Sheri Hill, and Rayola Running Crane from Browning. The way back to Missoula was guided by Adina and Wayne Fuchs, who stopped to show me an incredible interfaith collaboration of a Buddhist prayer site on tribal land, just off the side of the highway on the way back to Missoula. My final stops were to meet with the youth group at First UMC in Missoula, and to gather with a couple of the clergy from the Missoula circuit (shout out to Revs. John Daniels and Todd Scranton for more rides). It was an amazing journey of witness – our mutuality was tied up in one another all along the way. Thank you for showing me the treasures of ministry in Montana!