Monday, April 9, 2018

Native Americans and the Church: Past, present, future

Sunday, April 15, is “Native American Ministry Sunday” in the United Methodist Church. I hope that every church will take a special offering to aid Native American seminary students and the many wonderful ministries that are happening in our Committees on Native American Ministries (CONAMs). More importantly, I hope on that Sunday people will learn something about this vitally important part of our church’s witness to its past, present and future.

At our 2016 Annual Conference session we engaged in an “Act of Repentance” for the sins committed against many indigenous peoples of the world by invaders who conquered, colonized and oppressed them, often decimating their populations and societies. In our country indigenous people were treated shamefully for the most part and the church was too often complicit in that mistreatment.

To this day the wounds of discrimination and genocide live on as a part of their historical trauma. The good news is that as we repent and partner with our Native American brothers and sisters, much healing and good can come. We need each other to survive. We as a church are not whole unless all are included and empowered for ministry and mission. Healing comes as we repent and then do the works of repentance. Let’s keep this before us!

Two key events focusing on Native American struggles and losses, as well as culture and contributions, will occur in our conference this weekend. Our CONAM will celebrate Native American Ministries Sunday, April 15, from 4 to 6 PM, at Camp Innabah (712 Pughtown Road, Spring City), with a festive and informative gathering for worship, a fellowship meal and first-person accounts of UM persons and churches serving God in mission among Native peoples. All local church CONAM representatives are urged to attend for information and networking. Please learn more and try to attend.

On Saturday, April 14, Lititz UMC (201 Market St., Lititz) will host CONAM’s presentation of the Loss of Turtle Island exercise (from 9:30 to 11:00 AM). It is a dramatic, interactive, multimedia demonstration that teaches the history and impact of Europeans' conquest and colonization of Native peoples in the Americas and the Church's complicity in that history. I participated in this same activity last fall, when CONAM presented it at Camp Innabah. It is powerful. Learn more and share the event flyer.

Young people from Oneida United Methodist Church, who attended the Peg-Leg Flamingos youth leadership conference in September, present a tribal flag to water protectors at Standing Rock. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin

And during the first weekend of May the “Peg Leg” empowerment youth camp will welcome a gathering of young people who have Native American heritage. They will be at the West River Camping and Retreat Center in the Baltimore Washington Conference. Many leaders of our conference and others around the country will participate in this movement to strengthen young people for leadership.

I will participate in the closing worship there. In preparation for the event, I spoke to the Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, a Native American District Superintendent in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. She and Ragghi Rain Calentine from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference are working together to make this a deeply spiritual experience for the participants.

Dr. Lakota Eastin said to me that they are emphasizing two things: prayer and activism. As we pray, we are called to go out and “do” the work of God. That is a good word for all of us. Pray and do!

I look forward to the world that our young Native American people will bring to us as they engage in this work of God. May we find ways to partner and open doors for their giftedness to shine.

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