Summit held in Oklahoma City on Native American church starts

Summit held in Oklahoma City on Native American church starts


"If I thought I was introducing them to Christ, I was extremely late." -- The Reverend Calvin Hill

Submitted by Glenna Kyker Brayton
Invited by the Rev. Anita Phillips, Executive Director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan, more than 50 pastors and lay people from across the U.S. met recently in Oklahoma City to consider new church starts for Native Americans, identified as one of the populations with increasing church membership. Five from the Mountain Sky Area attended: Rev. Calvin and Sheri Hill, Blackfeet United Methodist Parish; Pastor Norman and Rebecca Mark, Native Grace Intertribal Fellowship, Cortez; and Dr. Glenna Brayton, Utah/Western Colorado District Committee on Native American Ministries. Calvin and Norman were official presenters to the conference.

Calvin Hill, a Navajo pastor, has developed an agricultural partnership with the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. Margaret Johnson, Mississippi Choctaw District Superintendent, gradually brought Apache tradition and culture into the church she served near Lawton, Oklahoma. Danira Parra, Akimel O'odham pastor, is developing leadership and self-support by opening a gift shop in an Illinois church attended primarily by Native Americans. Norman Mark, Navajo pastor, has slowed the process of bringing tradition into 2-year-old Native Grace Intertribal Fellowship in Cortez, a Colorado border town, because some traditional Navajos asked him to observe their traditions, too. Donna Pewo, Comanche, is a missionary and church and community worker at the Clinton Indian Church and Community Center in Clinton, Oklahoma, and has recently become partners with the UMW of First UMC in Clinton. GBGM missionary Gary Locklear, Lumbee, is partnering with a Lutheran congregation to build a clinic in South Carolina where there is no healthcare.

Rev. Dr. Douglas Ruffle, Associate Executive Director, Path 1, Discipleship Ministries, set the stage by recalling the history of Path 1. He was challenged early in his presentation by a Native pastor, who pointed out that guidelines and rules developed for "white" churches rarely fit the needs and practices of Native Americans.

Look for us. The Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell, Director of Indigenous Ministries with the General Board of Discipleship, challenged participants to identify how each annual conference is in ministry with Native Americans.  One Midwestern pastor reported that it took a year for him to get an appointment with his bishop. "If you care for us, you should be out there looking for us," Kernell added, concluding with the question "When do we give the biblical example of looking for the lost sheep?"

Ask us. Cyndi Kent, Executive Director of Native American International Caucus, shared an occurrence from not too long ago:  An agency sent word that it was going to provide fax machines to Native American churches and communities so they could communicate with the "outside."  Some of the Natives designated to be recipients replied, "Do those machines require electricity? If so, we cannot use them." In a live GCORR interview Thursday night, Kernell said the most important issue that came up was listening sessions.  "What does that look like? How can we make those happen?" It was noted several times throughout the three day conference that initiatives of Native people in the United Methodist Church aren't parallel with (Anglo) issues. (Kent, Southern Ute, grew up in Ignacio, Colorado.)

Work with us. It was learned that no Native Americans were invited to be part of a group formulating a General Conference 2016 petition for an Act of Repentance. There are many capable Native Americans who can serve as consultants to committees and projects.

Kernell challenged us to find out where the annual conference in each conference's ministry is. Are they working with (indigenous people) or giving (them) what they want (them) to have? When church leadership asks for an immersion experience, are they sincere in the request?

"How are we treated? How are we made to feel? Help us identify the issues and initiatives we're onto now," he added.

According to Kernell's research and experience with indigenous people, the four primary issues are Native American spirituality, language, indigenous women (e.g., domestic violence, human trafficking, substance abuse), and food sovereignty. These are not always the issues identified by the non-Native leadership, however.

"They still whisper across the table," said Mary T. Newman, Tennessee lay person of Cherokee descent, "when I'm at a show demonstrating pottery making as a Native American that they are of Native descent, too."  Ashamed? Second class citizen? Victims of trauma?

Much of this attitude may be associated with intergenerational trauma. "This trauma must be recognized and treated appropriately before we can heal," said a woman who chose not to be identified

Rev. Jamie Ross, Muskogee and African-American, encourages her parishioners in Lawrence, Kansas, to be authentic in their worship of God. "Are we supposed to lie to God about who we are? Being authentic in our relationships builds trust. Christianity is lived out the same as the Stomp Dance way."

Presentations and conversations were summarized the third day:
  1. Go slow, listen and watch (Norman Mark, Native Grace).
  2. Develop praise and worship that fits the people; contextual ministry may come together at this time. After it happens, document the process and results (Calvin Hill, Blackfeet Parish). If it doesn't fit, don't do it (Kent).
  3. Take the ministry outside the church building, e.g., equine training, agricultural production, Native crafts production and sales, cultural awareness, tribal participation (Hill, Mark, Parra, and Newman).
  4. Make the church a place of gathering for veterans, youth, elders, elders to mentor the youth, youth to care for elders, abused women and children, substance abuse recovery support groups, literacy and GED programs.
  5. Create partnerships with all kinds of people and institutions; don't limit the possibilities.
  6. Identify church-related resources at the district, conference, and general church levels. And then identify private foundations and state and federal resources for funding.
Kent advised the group, "If you have no vision, get out of the driver's seat and find someone who does. And decide if we are a movement or if we are an institution. Be aware of cultural activities that take Native Americans away from church - and deal with it appropriately. There will be fewer Indians in church during powwow season. Be aware of differences between rural and urban individuals and congregations."

Attendees were encouraged to take advantage of the many resources available through the General Church, e.g., Native American Course of Study, Rev. Fred Shaw, Director; Racial and Ethnic Local Church Concerns of Discipleship Ministries; Native American Ministries Sunday, General Board of Global Ministries; Native American Comprehensive Plan; Native American International Caucus; and General Commission on Religion and Race.

Kent ended the summit with words of hope solicited from attendees: Peace, justice, repentance, discernment, unashamed, wisdom, hozho (beauty), and relationships.

May we all walk in hozho! Aho!

comments powered by Disqus