Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
THE MONTANA JOURNAL
No. 51 -- January 15, 2020
MAKING A DIFFERENCE AGAIN.
THE MONTANA YOUTH CHALLENGE ACADEMY is the only one of its kind to operate on the campus of a college or university. Most of these “last chance” programs for troubled young people are housed in abandoned prisons and warehouses across the country. But not in Montana. Here in Southwest Montana, on the campus of the University of Montana—Western, another class of cadets graduated this year and will have that all important second chance at life. In all 3,000 young people have finished MYCA.
Our parishioners at Saint James Episcopal Church in Dillon have been welcoming cadets from the Montana Youth Challenge for weeks and weeks—almost from the beginning of their 21-week program. Young men and women, African-American and Native American and white—all learning self-discipline and job skills and how to succeed in life. All of them looking for a way to get ahead, get out of a bad situation, get beyond the mistakes they have made.
Choose blessing, says the Lord. Choose life. Underneath all of their bravado and military bearing, their long weeks of training and their new found confidence, these are still boys and girls, most of them between the ages of 17 and 20. They got into trouble with alcohol, drugs, fast cars, something—and the Montana Youth Academy was the only alternative to incarceration.
They have been coming to church! At first only a few, then more and more. We were friendly and probably reminded them of their grandparents. They were hungry and polite and they reminded us of our grandchildren. You really get nowhere writing a person off before you’ve heard their story. You have to give young people a chance. And that’s what our parishioners did for these Montana Youth Challenge cadets.
Leigh and I attended the graduation exercises on the UMW campus. The event was held in the arena where all major events are scheduled. The place was packed. The cadets wore graduation gowns and miters (over their fatigues and boots). They were proud to be graduating—for the first time in their lives. We saw many who had been to worship with us at Saint James.
One of ours, Chase, was the valedictorian of his 120-member class and gave the Commencement Address. We hooted and hollered for him like he was our own grandson!
Another young man, Angus, had been to Saint James numerous times. His grandmother sent me a nice card. She wrote, “I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the kindness and love and support you gave to my grandson Angus. You truly made a difference in his outcome at the Academy. He didn’t tell me about his experience until we were in the car, or I would have thanked you in person. Angus sends his love and gratitude! Karyn”
This experience, of course, reminded me of the years Leigh and I spent in campus ministry. To see a young man or woman’s life change dramatically for the good is a great blessing. To see it happen over and over can change the world.
Peace and Blessings,
THE MONTANA JOURNAL
No. 50 – January 6, 2020
A PASTORAL LETTER for the Year of Blessings “BEHOLD I AM DOING A NEW THING,” says the LORD. “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Throughout the history of the people of God, men and women everywhere have experienced the power of the Lord to make things new, to bring blessings, and to grant new life to God’s people.
That’s what the Year of Blessings is all about, discovering that life in Christ is not about “the way we’ve always done it,” but perceiving that God calls us to change and grow and become the people that he is calling us to be.
I know how hard this is for Episcopalians. We seem to take pride in our resistance to change. But the hard truth is that being a Christian is largely about a willingness to love Jesus more than we love our selves, our souls and bodies, our possessions, our stuff, our comfort.
Being a Christian is about blessing others, plain and simple. When we give canned goods and dry groceries to the Beaverhead Food Pantry, we are blessing others. When we contribute to the Wood Bank, we are blessing our neighbors with firewood to heat their homes. And when we say kind words, we choose to bless both friends and strangers. The world is a much crueler place than we often imagine, but it is God’s will that we choose blessing. In the Fifth Book of Moses, the Book of Deuteronomy, we hear the voice of God say,
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.
Choose blessing, says the Lord. Choose life. But all too often we choose the easier way, the negative way, the practice of criticism and complaining and cursing, the habit of gossip. When I was a banker I found that many of my colleagues discovered the easy practice of saying “NO” before they really considered a loan customer’s request, or looked at ways they could be of help. It’s always easier to say “NO” than to help. Helping requires work, effort, caring, empathy—whether you make the loan or not.
Those of you who have been through my four Sundays of “A Different Way of Stewardship” know that I think it’s vital for everybody in an organization to feel connected, involved, informed, and understood. Information ought to be as simple as possible. These are ways of blessing as I see it. Excluding people, making them feel uncomfortable or unnecessary, or even intentionally mistreating them? Those are ways of cursing in my book—and in The Book!
An important part of our Year of Blessings will be “The Celebration and Blessing of A Home,” a wonderful liturgy from the Book of Occasional Services. I’ve enjoyed blessing homes of parishioners, college students, and friends for almost 25 years. The service begins with knocking at the front door, proceeding to the living room, and a short “near-exorcism” in which the priest calls on Christ to drive out all residue of evil. Then we go from room to room with blessings and prayers, and return to the living room for a simple Eucharist, songs on the guitar, and good food and drink!
Some of God’s creatures naturally choose blessing, such as Nick the Wonder Dog. He is my 13-year-old Border Collie, a certified emotional-support animal who has been my constant companion his entire life (who has spent half his life in church). Nick comes to Saint James every day just as he did St. Dunstan’s. On Sundays he greets people as they arrive, sits next to those who seem to need a little comforting, and never barks or growls or acts aggressively. Now that’s a blessing for sure.
Peace and Blessings,
Wells+ (334) 332-3222