Over the years St. Andrew’s and St. John’s have become fraternal twins in the best of Episcopal traditions: love, friendship and welcoming warmth engendered by two congregations nurtured by one rector. As the current rector retires, the doors are open to applicants excited by the opportunities of serving two churches, one in Livingston, Montana, and the other in Emigrant a few miles to the south. While the congregants are of widely varied backgrounds and ages, they are committed to living and hearing the message of Christ. The successful applicant will understand and express the values of Progressive Christianity and the writings of theologians such as Marcus Borg, as well as be familiar with and respectful of our Anglican roots in the Celtic traditions. A rector who confidently expresses the teachings of Jesus for our time while being adept at framing them in the cultural and historical implications of Jesus’ times will understand how our two parishes have grown spiritually. The following profiles of each church will appeal to those who also feel such a commitment and will appreciate the bonus of living in the beautiful Paradise Valley. Of course, there is the bonus of the area’s very good schools and the valley’s great opportunities for hiking, camping, wildlife watching, fishing, hunting, boating, rafting, skiing, snowshoeing and more.

St. John’s Parish Profile

Nestled in the four-corner town of Emigrant, Montana, a stone’s throw from the Yellowstone River and 35 miles from Yellowstone National Park, is Saint John’s Episcopal Church. The chapel was built in 1901 by hardworking people who shared a vision bringing God and community together in the aptly named Paradise Valley. That vision’s legacy continues to this day.

An average of 34 congregants gather for 8 a.m. services, and during the summer and fall, the parish is blessed with additional members who choose to winter elsewhere.  Summer months often see pews filled with 50 or more people. June marks the first of the returns of these long-time friends to the church, allowing the snow birds and regulars to reconnect and share welcomes and stories of past months.

The year round congregation includes ranchers, farmers, teachers, writers, retirees, singles and married couples. While the average age of the congregation is above 50 several young families with young children and teens have found Saint John’s a warm and welcoming place. Blessed with the recent addition of young families, kind-hearted volunteers provide Sunday School to the youngest members during the readings and sermon. The children return from class to participate in the Eucharist, which is open to all who come to the rail. There is no litmus test at Saint John’s to take the bread and wine, “for at God’s table, everyone is welcome.”

Saint John’s, situated in the middle of the 38-mile long Paradise Valley, has been enriched by generations of families dedicated to ensuring that the history and legacy of service to the community beyond the congregation is imparted to all its members. This is a hands-on church with emphasis on openness, friendliness, and ready volunteers when there is need. The love that is so often spoken of in churches is more than talk at Saint Johns. Newcomers often share that they feel the warmth upon walking in the door. This caring atmosphere is the reason many visitors return and stay. Saint John’s is a safe place where ideas and questions are welcome and encouraged.

Saint John’s is blessed with an array of talented people to help run the church on day to day business.

Perhaps the most successful and important volunteer service is the “Come to the Table” breakfast. Every Sunday, cooks and bakers share homemade food with their church family. Volunteers sign up to bring egg dishes, meats, fresh fruits, and home baked breads. (Pancakes with homemade chokecherry syrup are always a treat!) This breakfast feeds bodies and souls and has brought a personal closeness to the congregation. Many lifetime friendships have risen from St. John’s yeast by sharing bread at the Eucharist and at the breakfast table. The value of this breakfast tradition can’t be overstated.

In line with this faith and food tradition, the church also collects several hundred pounds of food annually, (all donated by church members,) for a local food bank.

At Saint John’s, there is a strong emphasis on congregants participating beyond Sunday services. This is not regarded as a burden. Some examples of our community minded ministries include a Care Committee that provides visits to anyone in the area in times of need, no matter their faith or lack of faith. In addition, the Friendship Fund makes money available anonymously, (raised by pancake suppers, etc. and supplemented by the church budget) for people in emergencies, such as fires, illness, or the loss of a family member.

It is always a special Sunday service to witness the blessing of beautifully crafted shawls made by loving hands and sent locally and throughout the nation to those who need comfort. The heartfelt thank you notes we hear during Sunday announcements tell us that we are making a difference.

Other committees include: the Altar Guild and Finance Committee (an amazing panel of respected individuals who oversee professional management of the church’s investment in order to assure long-term continued outreach for the greater Paradise Valley community.) Sunday music is provided by a pianist and organist, both volunteers. Minor repair and maintenance is volunteer-driven. The Church acreage is kept mowed and groomed by volunteers as well.

A part time paid administrator, who is a member of the congregation as well, takes care of mailings, records, correspondence with the diocese, vestry minutes, and Sunday bulletins.   As with any volunteer in the church, this minimal description hardly begins to describe all of the love and extra attention our administrator brings to the table. Personalized cards are printed to be signed by parishioners and sent to those we know, whether celebrating or grieving. Additionally our administrator sends an email weekly to members, with current events, upcoming special events, and usually a personally written, inspiring essay to keep congregants actively exploring their relationships with Christ.  Currently the church is preparing to expand its social media outreach reflecting the times of communications technology.

The church treasurer, cleaning services, and kitchen supervisor are all handled by volunteers from the congregation and are paid a small stipend.

The Vestry is comprised of five members, including a retired rancher who leads as Senior Warden; a retired postmaster who is Junior Warden; a National Park Service archivist; an owner of an outfitting business, and a retired journalist.

Saint John’s congregation has been patiently guided and reminded each Sunday to go forward in love as taught by Jesus. The message is simple; the work on-going.

Peace be with you

12 Narrative Responses, St. John’s Answers

#1 – The “moment” came more than two years ago when a nearby restaurant closed and the small group of parishioners who had regularly met there for after-service breakfast decided that perhaps the church itself should have an after-service breakfast. It was organized and continues to this day and the foreseeable future. It has been a success beyond imagination with volunteers signing up each week to bring meat, eggs, fruit or bread. Nearly everyone stays, eats, and helps clean up. Visitors are amazed and are immediately welcomed to join. The congregation has grown closer and the cooperation and exchange of information regarding families and the larger community has led to warm outreach.

#2 – The core of our congregation is elderly and has long been in leadership positions. Recently, a few younger people have joined us and we are encouraging them to participate beyond attendance. The most significant step is the launching of a Facebook page administered by one of those younger members. It promises great benefits as out “telephone” congregants become more familiar with social media.  We are confident this will reach younger people in our area, resulting in closer contacts if not new congregants.

#3 –  Intellectual curiosity; strong Progressive Christian character; Cheerful disposition; Love of community.

#4 – We encourage respect for the traditions and canons of the Episcopal Church while also understanding the need for sermons and teachings that put into perspective the political and social situations that surrounded biblical characters and their words, then putting those perspectives into usable practices in the modern world. Old and honored teachings thus become better understood and more accessible on a practical level.

#5 – This is not a difficult practice at St. John’s where members for decades have kept touch with the wider community in Paradise Valley and make sure that when needs arise members of the congregation strive to meet those needs, often with food, money, messages of support and simple friendly contact. This tradition is almost taken for granted; that’s who we are; that’s what we do.

#6 – Our rector holds evening classes a few times a year that often result in exchanges of ideas on prayer, the need for contemplation and reading books that others have found helpful. Such exchanges of ideas and information spread beyond classes and are regular topics when members meet in other situations. All activities of the church are underpinned by an understanding that Christ’s chief message was simple: Love.

#7 – Our rector is on call for meeting with parishioners in need and it is not unusual for him to counsel nonmembers who are brought to his attention. Our current rector has an exceptional talent for such care and counsel.

#8 – Previous answers address this question quite well but we can add that our church is aware of the need to support the Diocese’s needs and projects and makes contributions to ERD, especially in times of disaster. A local food bank gets regular donations of food, as there is no shortage of food-insufficient families in the Paradise Valley.

#9 – As mentioned before, we have launched a social media outreach and will be updating our website to make it more usable and accessible.

#10 – We take stewardship literally, with volunteers from the congregation caring for the kitchen, grounds, routine maintenance and general upkeep of the building, plus support for local projects that arise. For example, this year our congregation responded to a need to take over the organization and presentation of the annual fund-raiser for Emigrant Hall, a community building where many types of meetings, celebrations  and memorials are held. We also make our grounds available in fair weather for and our building twice a year to a group of local artists and crafters, many of whom need the income from the sale of their wares. Basically,we try to instill in our members the need to be an important part of the glue that holds all of us together. And of course we stress the need to each do the best he or she can for the annual stewardship drive to fund our church and its programs. We have been fortunate in keeping expenses pretty much in tune with income, and we had 18 pledges last year in a congregation that is rated small by the Diocese.

#11 – We have very little conflict that is worth mentioning. Interpersonal difficulties almost never reach a critical point. We did have an incident with an outside group that was using our dining hall for monthly meetings that had become increasingly hostile, with language was unsuited for a church facility. The Vestry addressed this and the rector sent a well-phrased letter to the group underscoring the need to recognize that the church must be respected. The group decided it should meet somewhere else. There was no animosity of any significant degree.

#12 – St. John’s is in a transition of great importance. Our longtime wise and humble senior warden has resigned due to poor health, our rector of 15 years is retiring and our expenses will grow as we become two parishes supporting a rector instead of the previous three. The challenges are obvious. Time will tell, but our traditions and our history bode well. Whomever our new rector is, St. John’s recognizes that the congregation is equally responsible for the well being of the church and support of a rector who will be in a new and challenging position.