Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Billings, Mont.
All are welcome. ALL are welcome as free and beloved children of God. This belief is at the foundation of Pastor Eric Thorson’s ministry at Bethlehem Lutheran in Billings, Mont., and in all of his life.
When Thorson was called to Bethlehem in a run-down neighborhood of Billings, there were serious discussions about closing the doors. Eric brought to them what he had, which was the gospel. And they responded. Slowly the congregation came back to life. People who had been discouraged were heartened with the Good News. New people began to come— from the neighborhood and the wider community. People who had not felt welcome in churches began to come.
Under Eric’s leadership, a welcome statement, which sought to articulate the many ways in which people can feel alienated, was developed. It has since become the cornerstone of this congregation’s ministry.
Bethelehem is now one of the growing congregations in the Montana Synod of the ELCA. As Bethlehem developed new life and strength, it also became a leader in the community. Eric joined a community effort to establish an interfaith hospitality network to help homeless families and Bethlehem soon became the effort’s home base.
Thorson’s preaching becomes public through his occasional column in the Billings Gazette. His writing has drawn attention from people of other denominations or no faith at all. A recent reader wrote, “If I ever were to embrace Christianity as my spiritual lifeline again, it would be because of daring, caring souls such as the Rev. Eric J. Thorson!”
Thorson serves as a faithful leader to a faithful congregation. He has helped them foster a welcoming and serving community. He has also remained faithful in his preaching and worship leadership, which always relates biblical messages to current social, cultural and political contexts. Thorson leads in ways that encourage growth, learning and welcome. His integrity and invitational ministry are most admirable.