Walking the ‘Good Road’ Together

Our churches celebrate Native American Ministries Sunday

By Verna Colliver*

 “They never taught us that stuff in school.” That comment was heard after Sherry Wack spoke at the Native American Ministry Sunday (NAMS) celebration at Christ UMC Lansdale in May. It was their first service intended to create awareness of the gifts and contributions of Native Americans in our society. 

Christ UMC received the NAMS offering, one of six Special Sunday offerings in the UMC, to support scholarships for Native American United Methodist seminarians, provide funding for Native American ministries and communities, both urban and rural, and aid Native American outreach at the annual conference level. Learn more at http://www.umcgiving.org/ministry-articles/native-american-ministries-sunday.

We celebrate churches in our annual conference that regularly support this important United Methodist ministry, and we recognized at Annual Conference in June those churches that did so in 2018. We especially celebrate churches that plan special worship services and other activities and that use resources provided by UM Communications and the Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM). 

Here are some of their stories:

Bickley’s New Beginning UMC

At Bickley’s New Beginning UMC, Karen Boyd shared with the congregation some of the challenges and joys Native Americans experience in their lives. She said, “It was my pleasure to express awareness to our congregation about the contributions that our Native American brothers and sisters have made.” 

Commenting on her role as Local Church Representative for Native American Ministries, Karen said, “I just love my role. I am always looking for something new about Native Americans to share with the congregation.”

For Native American Ministries Sunday this year, the church’s Media Ministry provided an insightful presentation highlighting important information about Native Americans, which they found on the umcgiving.org website.

Grove UMC

When Sherry Wack, Co-chair of the EPA Conference CoNAM, spoke at three services at Grove UMC, her message focused on the oppression and displacement that have affected Native Americans politically, spiritually, physically and socially, both historically and in the present.  Their challenges range from the oppressive boarding schools, such as the one in Carlisle PA attended by the great Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, to today’s controversial, demeaning Native American names and mascots still used by high school, college and professional sports teams. 

She noted the importance of keeping alive the memories of Native American history and amplifying our Native American brothers’ and sisters’ voices and visions for their future. The Director of Music at Grove UMC coordinated Sherry’s You Tube clips and slides with appropriate Native American music to create a powerful accompaniment.  

Linwood Heights UMC

At Linwood Heights UMC the Rev. Ethel Guy planned a service that included a umcgiving.org audio podcast of Native American local pastor Terry Wildman telling the story of “The Fall of Man.” During the Children’s Time, a lay member taught about the four directions of Native American culture and connected that belief to our relationship with Christ.  

The Rev. Dr. Sarah Fernsler (left), a member of the EPA Conference CoNAM, was the guest speaker. As a non-Native, she identified herself as an ally, someone who will speak for those whose voices are often not heard. 

Using the story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:30-32, Rev. Fernsler drew an analogy between the two men walking the road to Emmaus and our walking “the good road”** with our Native brothers and sisters.  Just as Jesus walked with the men on the road, we are called to walk together. Walking with Jesus on the path to justice, love and forgiveness is what the Act of Repentance asks of us. 

First UMC Germantown

To speak at the NAMS celebration of First UMC of Germantown (FUMCOG), in Philadelphia, Barb Revere, the church’s CONAM representative, invited Cynthia Wilks-Mosley, from St. John UMC in Bridgeton, N.J., the closest Native American UM congregation to our conference. Wilks-Mosley shared the history of the  Lenape people, the 1840 Indian Removal Act and how it gave rise to St. John UMC in 1841. 

She told of the cultural trauma of having to hide in plain sight but also how things are different today since their conference’s Act of Repentance. Then she invited them to visit St. John’s Vacation Bible School. Sixteen FUMCOG members joined the children at St. John in summer 2018 to participate in their Native American immersion curriculum

Later in the fall, First UMC invited Cynthia back to share the Creation story from the Native American perspective with the Sunday school children. She used Coyote Places the Stars by Harriet Taylor to guide the talk about the creation of the universe. Visitors are always welcome at St. John UMC, especially on the fifth Sunday of the month for their Native American worship service.

Christ UMC Lansdale

Christ UMC Lansdale had its first-ever Native American Ministries Service early this year. Sherry Wack’s informative presentation had a great impact on listeners. Afterward, comments like, “I’m going home to do some research on my own,” and “They never taught us that stuff in school,” were voiced by those who heard her message. 

The music also was inspired by Native Americans, with the hymn “Many and Great are Thy Works” (UM Hymnal, #148) sung to a Native American melody. 

Plan your Native American worship and activity celebration

These stories may inspire you to plan a service at your church. If you want to go further and deeper, here are more suggestions.

SUGGESTIONS FOR LOCAL CHURCHES

  • Be an ally—Create a Red Dress Display to raise awareness about violence against women and indigenous women in particular. An exhibit, “The REDress Project, “ created by Jaime Black, a Metis Canadian artist, will give you a start.  Do an online search for more information. Contact your legislatures to ask them to pass laws that will protect women and girls against violence. A liturgy for “Remember Their Names,” created by the Rev. Suzanne Duchesne (Ph.D), is available here: CONAM-Liturgy-MissingMurderedIndigenousWomen.pdf
  • Research local geography for precolonial inhabitants, those who were removed, where and what happened to them, what place names remain. Search for historical markers or plaques for your county or local area. Go to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission website.  For Historical Marker search, use “Indians” as your keyword.  
  • Research the Doctrine of Discovery. Learn the history not taught in schools and share it with your small group or congregation. A good website:  www.dofdmenno.org
  • Storytelling—Find stories of Native peoples and their origins.  Coyote Places the Stars by Harriet Taylor is a good example. Tell your own stories of how your ancestors came to settle on the land. Reflect on how your stories intersect with those of Native peoples.  Note the impact of this intersection on both your settler ancestors and Native inhabitants. Incorporate these stories into a worship service.  
  • Share stories about the impact you are making with your gifts to Native American Ministries Special Sunday Offering.  Find them on the website at umcgiving.org. Rev. Terry Wildman’s story, “The Fall of Man,” can also be found there. 

Finally, you may have your own story to tell about what your church has done or is planning to do for Native American Ministries Sunday on the designated Sunday or at another time during the year. Let us know at epaconam@gmail.com

Our Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) is grateful for your contributions to the NAMS special offering. It shows your love and concern for our Native American brothers and sisters in the UMC and throughout our communities.

Verna Colliver

*Verna Colliver is Secretary of the Eastern PA Conference Committee on Native American Ministries and a member of First UMC Lansdale. This article was adapted from the report CoNAM presented to the 2019 Eastern PA Annual Conference.

** “The good road”: “Hear me, four quarters of the world–a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.

Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the wind and walk the good road to the day of quiet. This is my prayer; hear me now!”

– “Black Elk’s Prayer for All Life” (Walker, “A Social Ethical Analysis of BLACK ELK SPEAKS”Southern Methodist University.)