Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Church In The Foothills


Zortman Montana Church

Every year about this time I reflect on a special Christmas service our family attended in 1978.  I have shared this before, but thought I would re-post as a story I wrote for our local newspaper a few years ago.

When my husband was in the seminary we spent his Internship year 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 all of these areas.

The services at Zortman were held once a month, with most people driving around 75 miles across gravel roads to attend church and worship together. The small Catholic church sat on the top of a high hill and was one of only a few buidlings in this small town. I believe at that time there were 9 full time residents in the place. People from the surrounding area often came to enjoy what the Little Rockies had to offer, and the small café/bar provided nourishment when they visited. We had the privilege of being a part of the Christmas service the year we were there, and it is stored away in our memories forever.

Our family drove the long distance through snow and freezing temperatures that December, arriving with many others shortly before the service. Everyone gathered at the local cafe beforehand, with all of us 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 little town closed up. It was dark outside, and as we left the cafe 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 steep winding path as the people walked the trail to the church. As each person carrying a lantern entered the sanctuary, the church filled up with light. 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 thee old pump organ. Joel's breath was visible as he preached the Christmas message.  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 local bar/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 etched on our minds. Across the world people 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 in New York City,  or a tiny “borrowed”  Catholic church in a small historic mining town in Montana. The focus was the same ~ giving glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord!



Karen said...

What a lovely memory! Merry Christmas!

FancyHorse said...

Oh, what a special memory! A living Christmas card! Christians gathering together in the dark and cold, sharing light and warmth as they worship Him, the Savior of us all!

Thank you for sharing this again, as I hadn't seen it before.

Gayle said...

Oh, I am glad you shared this memory again in its full entirety! I have so enjoyed it. What a special amazing memory, I loved sharing it with you. Have a blessed Christmas Renee!

Pia said...

{love} {joy} {peace}


♥ Merry Christmas! ♥

Anita Johnson said...

I have so enjoyed reading this post as I have my morning coffee. It's so difficult to imagine driving so far, but I could visualize the experience and can see why this would be such a vivid memory for you. I love the details you provided...I'm cold just thinking about it! Merry Christmas to you!