Exchanging gifts is an honored tradition for many Native American peoples. Sherry Wack will exchange the gift of visitation on Sunday, Nov. 19, when she leads her congregation at Evansburg UMC in celebrating the nation’s Native American Heritage Month. (The United Methodist Church celebrates Native American Ministries Sunday annually on the third Sunday after Easter. The 2018 date will be April 15.)
Wack, a Christ Servant Minister, is not Native American, but she co-chairs the Eastern PA Conference’s Committee on Native American Ministry (CoNAM). She will emphasize Native American cultures and concerns as worship leader and as her church’s CoNAM representative. She may also share her impressions of St. John UMC in Fordville, NJ, a historic Native American church she visited just weeks ago, on Sunday, Oct. 29.
Wack and fellow CoNAM member Bob Hinderliter attended a ceremony honoring the church’s remarkable longevity as the only Native American UM church in New Jersey, one of only five in the Northeastern Jurisdiction and the fifth oldest in the nation. The church received a new, official designation as a Historic Native American Methodist Church during the ceremony.
But Wack won’t have to say much about St. John at Evansburg on Nov. 19 because her guest speaker that day will be a leader of the 176-year-old, interracial congregation. Cynthia Mosley accepted Wack’s invitation to return the favor of a visit. She serves on the Greater New Jersey Conference’s CoNAM and is St. John UMC’s Lay Delegate to Annual Conference and Staff-Parish Relations Committee Chairwoman.
“I went to St. John on their celebration Sunday because I had heard it was the closest Native American church to us in Eastern PA,” said Wack, who offered greetings there on behalf of our conference’s CoNAM. “In the past, our CoNAM had talked about establishing a relationship with them. I also wanted to help them celebrate this honor and invite one of their leaders to come speak at my church.”There are no Native American UM churches in Eastern PA, but there is one in central Delaware.
During St. John’s celebration, the Rev. Glenn Conaway, District Superintendent, preached a homily titled, “How Long Will You Tell the Story?” He compared their perseverance to that of the Israelites getting to the Promised Land. Near the end of the service, a drum circle and dancers blessed the ceremony.
Celebrating 176 years of continuous operation, “through oppression, fire and finally recognition,” St. John has been home to many members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, and some members have served on the tribal council. According to a resolution at their 2017 Annual Conference, “The church building has been a place of meeting for tribal affairs when none were available or allowed and a place of ministry to help (with) spiritual and physical needs…”
This historic acknowledgment is a significant contrast to the tribal nation’s pursuit of reaffirmation and its struggle for sovereign recognition by its state. Visit the church’s Facebook page to see images and learn more. St. John UMC is located at 680 Fordville Road in Bridgeton, N.J.
By Sherry Wack
Co-chair of the Committee on Native American Ministries
I Joined The United Methodist Church on November 6, 2010, when I married Dennis Wack. The following autumn our new DS, Anita Powell, insisted that our church, Evansburg UMC, designate a representative to Native American Ministries. Since I had an abiding interest in Native Americans, I volunteered… Continue reading