November represents the launch of a new feature on our website, Facebook and Twitter: Vital Conversations. These vital conversations, or dialogs around critical issues facing the church and world, are just one wayGCORR is helping members of the Church live in a community shaped by the love and grace of God and extending that love and grace to others, especially when the other is someone different from us. In the months that follow, we will focus on different topics relevant to the United Methodist Church, and our media channels will feature guest bloggers, resources, and opportunities for people from around the connection to be in dialog with GCORR and the Church.
I think that it is particularly appropriate that our first vital conversation—Native Americans: Intercultural Competency, Reconciliation, and Inclusion—highlights the history, gifts, and struggles of the First Americans. The Native American community is often invisible in society, unless their history and culture is being misappropriated, disrespected, or erased. As a result of historic and ongoing institutional racism, Indian communities experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, and suicide, yet they work tirelessly to preserve their culture and represent their community with the dignity and honor befitting of their proud heritage. Our denomination, which has historic ties to the systematic massacre and relocation of millions of Indigenous people, has vowed to seekreconciliation with the Native Americans, but only time will tell whether that promise to native people will be honored.
Our promise at GCORR is that we will provide practical resources and support to leaders throughout the church, assisting them to engage and embrace the cultural diversity present in our congregations and communities. Our Native American brothers and sisters are not invisible. They are present and active members of the church and they are living in the communities that our church is called to serve. It is my hope that local churches, annual conferences, and General Church bodies (agencies, the Council of Bishops and even General Conference) will be more intentional about honestly and accurately representing the history and culture of Indian people and supporting positive portrayals of this community, honoring their humanity and contribution to our lives and the world.
This is what you can look forward to from GCORR during this month’s Vital Conversation:
guest blogs from leaders in Native American ministries,
a Twitter chat on Nov. 20 at 9pm ET with GCORR staff,
intercultural competency, reconciliation, inclusion, and worship resources, and so much more.
Please join us in conversation, as we work to build the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Photo by Ginny Underwood, UMNS
Tribal members from Oklahoma participate in readings (skits) that explain challenges facing indigenous peoples during the Act of Repentance service at the Council of Bishops meeting in Oklahoma City.
Native Americans Share Struggles, Hopes for Church
By Heather Hahn, multimedia new reporter for the United Methodist News Service
Save a language, and you can save a people.
Tamara Wilson, a United Methodist and member of the Yuchi people, shared that message with bishops and other denominational leaders during a Nov. 6 service of repentance.
She was one of three Native-American women who shared their struggles in trying to sustain a way of life that was often suppressed by U.S. churches. Wilson, a teacher preparing to be a United Methodist deaconess, spoke passionately about her efforts to preserve the Yuchi language.
“Saving a language is saving children,” said Wilson, a member of Kvncate (Concharty) United Methodist Church in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. With knowledge of their ancestors’ language, the children she teaches will know their identity and know they are precious, Wilson said. They will be less likely to accept abuse or to abuse others.
“If you save these languages and they don’t disappear, then the people will live better lives,” she said, translating advice from her elders.
Wilson spoke at a service at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City that blended worship of God, education about the challenges Native Americans still face and a call for United Methodists to love their indigenous neighbors more faithfully.
Worshipers included members of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table, the United Methodist body that coordinates ministry and resources. Also present were leaders of the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary conference as well as Native American leaders and Oklahoma state officials, including two state Supreme Court justices.
During the worship, the prayers were offered in Yuchi, Maskoke, Kiowa, Choctaw and Lakota.
Turtle shells worn by Native women during traditional stomp-dance ceremonies adorn the altar during the Act of Repentance service Photo by Ginny Underwood, UMNS
Preserving a way of life
Those prayers in multiple languages marked a significant change from what many Native Americans experienced when they first encountered Methodism.
Wilson said that Methodist missionaries told her great-grandmother that she would “burn in hell” if she continued her tribal ways. When Wilson’s grandmother was orphaned at the age of 13, she was taken to an Indian boarding school where she was beaten whenever she used the Yuchi language.
Her grandmother did not teach her children her language. “When she did not teach her children their language, they did not have a deeply instilled understanding of who they were, where they came from and how blessed they were to be as God created them,” Wilson said.
But now she and others in the Yuchi are teaching the language to a new generation. Wilson joked that her infant son “cries in Yuchi.” To church leaders looking for ways to help Native Americans, she suggested they consider supporting projects that preserve Native-American languages.
The worshipers also heard from Denicia Wilson, who is Sioux and Kickapoo. She spoke of efforts to make Native Americans choose between the Bible and their ceremonial traditions. She suggested forcing such choices rarely works long-term and can hinder evangelism.
The last Native-American woman to address the worshippers was Deb Echo-Hawk, the Pawnee Nation’s Keeper of the Seed. She has worked to save breeds of corn that almost went extinct after the Pawnee people were exiled from their lands in Nebraska to Oklahoma in the 1870s.
She told those gathered that the Pawnee now have 14 gardens of their corn in Nebraska and seven in Oklahoma.
During the service this week, worshippers also heard about other struggles among Native Americans today. These include poverty, substance abuse and domestic abuse.
The Rev. Chebon Kernell, executive secretary for the Native American and Indigenous Ministries at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, organized the service. Kernell commended conferences that have participated in acts of repentance and exhorted United Methodists to continue the work of healing.
He ended his sermon with a reminder of the sort of welcoming spirit that led to the first Thanksgiving in the American colonies.
“It’s time,” he said, “to entertain our guests and visitors in the way that represents the hospitality that indigenous peoples have shown the non-native world since we first shook hands with each other.”
United Methodist Discipleship Ministries and Native American Comprehensive Plan offer prayer and worship resources. The Native American Comprehensive Plan (NACP) provides original compositions by Native American United Methodist writers from across our connection. Click here for worship resources.
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