Preparing the path to repentance

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Acts of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples

It has been on the minds of some United Methodists as we approach the end of this quadrennium whether or not we are truly repenting as a church for historical abuses against Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.

I wrote an article in 2012 for the United Methodist Reporter concerning our denomination’s Acts of Repentance. It drew some comments and questions posed to me, in addition to some defensiveness. I asked if we were ready as a church to engage in this action. Had we had taken the time to listen to our Native American sisters and brothers before jumping into the repentance waters?

Four years later I haven’t heard many people talking about the Act of Repentance outside of Native American communities. Though I am not surprised, it does make me wonder. I wonder if people – and I mean Non-Natives – don’t really understand why we are doing it. Or are we afraid to ask? Or is it that we just don’t care? Maybe we think there are many more imminent concerns for us to consider?

The Eastern Pennsylvania CoNAM (Committee on Native American Ministries) worked for the past four years to educate United Methodists here about our Native American brothers and sisters living amongst us. We offered workshops about our Methodist heritage with Native peoples. We shared some of the struggles and gifts of Native Americans and their history in this part of the world. We also celebrated the Native American ministries within our church. We resourced congregations so that they might engage, reengage, or continue to engage in ministry with and amongst Native Americans in our communities and churches.

Some of you took us up on these opportunities. Some congregations have already begun to work through Thom White Wolf Fassett’s curriculum Giving Our Hearts Away: Native American Survival. Some churches hold Native American Ministry Sundays every year.

For those of us still struggling to understand, I ask that you have a look at the CoNAM web page on our Annual Conference Web site and the resources that are available.

In June the Eastern PA Annual Conference will be one of the last conferences to hold a worship service that includes an Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples. This is not because we don’t want to repent or don’t feel the need for it, but rather because we in  CONAM wanted to prepare the people of this United Methodist conference for what we are about to do.

This Act of Repentance is not just a piece of legislation that we need to fulfill, nor just words written on a page that will be spoken during a worship service. Just as the words spoken over us at our baptism convey the action of the Holy Spirit working within us, these words hold the potential to transform us. Our baptismal vows bind our very bodies to the promise to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they appear. We are invited to declare to the world that we intend to make good on that promise.

If you believe that words hold power and liturgy can transform us, then I invite you to dive deep into your baptismal waters this year and discover the transformation that awaits us all when we acknowledge the pain that has been, and continues to be, perpetuated in our church. I don’t know if you are ready to jump into these waters, but I do know that you are not alone. We the people of The United Methodist Church are in this together and we have the Holy Spirit to lead us on to experience the freedom and grace God offers to all of us, Native and Non-Native alike.

By the Rev. Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne  
Eastern PA Conference Committee on Native American Ministries

The Rev. Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne  is a Ph.D. Candidate in Liturgical Studies at Drew Theological School