It is Christmas week! As I look at our little angel tree and candles all aglow, I cannot help but think back and remember one of the most picturesque and amazing worship services we were part of. It was in Zortman MT on a cold winter night in 1978. I have written about it before and am re-posting for those who want to read it again, or for the first time......
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 covering many miles each week.
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 village. 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 the 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 then went into the local bar/café for coffee, dessert, and more fellowship together, before heading back out into the cold and traveling the long distances back 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 our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord!