When my husband was in the seminary we spent his internship year at a parish in North Central Montana. Malta’s Parish consisted of four main Lutheran churches, a hot springs resort chapel, and a tiny church in Zortman, Mt. ~ a historic mining town nestled in the foothills of the Little Rocky Mountains. Joel and his internship pastor ministered to these areas.
The services at Zortman were held once a month, with most people driving up to 75 miles across gravel roads from their ranches to attend church together. The small Catholic church sat on the top of a high hill and was one of the few buildings left in this small town. I believe at that time there were 9 full time residents in the village itself. People from the surrounding towns often came to enjoy what the Little Rockies had to offer, and the small café/bar offered nourishment when they visited the area.
We had the privilege of being a part of the Christmas service the year we were there, and it is tucked away in our memories forever. We drove the long distance through snow and freezing temperatures, arriving with many others shortly before the service. Everyone gathered at the local café beforehand. All of us were dressed for the bitter cold in snowmobile suits, snowsuits, insulated underwear, heavy boots, scarves, and warm mittens. When it was time for the services to begin, everything in the town closed up. It was dark outside as we left the cafe, and many of us were given lanterns to carry up the long hill to the church. We were one of the last families to leave, and in doing so we were able to watch the glowing lights move up the winding path to the church. As each person carrying a lantern entered the sanctuary, the church filled up with more and more light until it looked just like a beacon on the hill. What a beautiful sight to see! Once we arrived in the sanctuary, we all huddled together on benches to keep warm. The wood burning potbelly stove, which stood in the corner of the room, gave off a warm glow and provided the only heat in the church. Our hymns of Christmas joy were especially meaningful as we sang along to the old pump organ. For many reasons, the Christmas story of Jesus being born in a humble stable held special meaning for us that night.
When services were over, we all walked back down the hill guided by the lanterns and moonlit sky. All those who attended went into the café for coffee, dessert, and more fellowship together, before heading back out into the cold and traveling home.
The service in the Little Rockies is forever a beautiful memory for me. Here we were, coming together to worship our Lord and Savior and celebrate His birth. It did not matter whether we were worshiping in a big cathedral or a tiny “borrowed” church in a small, historic mining town in Montana. The focus was the same ~ to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus our Lord.