Nov 02, 2023 | John W. Coleman

November is National Native American Heritage Month, a great time to learn about Indigenous culture, history and concerns. Members of Eastern PA’s Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) learned a lot at 182-yea-old St. John UMC in Bridgeton, NJ, when they attended its Native American heritage celebration on Sunday, October 29.

St. John honors its Nanticoke-Lenni-Lenape tribal heritage every fifth Sunday. This latest celebration included a recounting of its history, a special litany read by the congregation, a performance of local tribal dances and the dedication of a new, donated pavilion that provides shelter for the church’s monthly, outdoor food and clothing giveaways and other ministries.

The special litany* honors our Creator God and our creation as a human family. The standing, turning congregational prayer, spoken while facing the earth’s four directions, included adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication for wisdom, healing, purification and reconciliation.*

In addition, a family of Nanticoke-Lenni-Lenape dancers presented and explained several songs and dances that were accompanied by drumming.

And St. John’s Lay Member to Annual Conference Cynthia Wilks-Mosley briefly shared a history of her people—offering a very short telling of a very long story—from their early habitation in the Delaware Bay region; to the invasion by early settlers and the oppression they suffered, along with their introduction to the Christian faith; to their forced relocation to the western U.S. by President Andrew Jackson. Today, as a result, many live in Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin and Canada.

However, she told how many tribal families defiantly remained in the area, some hiding in churches like St. John’s. Although at first, they were made to worship at Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bridgeton, there was a church split and Nanticoke-Lenni-Lenape Methodists left to form the St. John congregation in 1841. They and their descendants became active, generous citizens of the economically struggling Bridgeton/Fordville community, sharing food and other necessities with their neighbors.

St. John and Trinity together received a $1,000 grant in 2019 from the UMC’s Council of Bishops to encourage and support their pan-Methodist efforts to serve the Bridgeton area together as partners in food drives, youth ministry and educational programs.

Eastern PA Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) members attended St. John UMC Bridgeton’s Native American heritage celebration, Oct. 29. (From left) Terri Leone, Ann Abbott (a non-CoNAM visitor from St, Luke UMC, Bryn Mawr), the Rev. Bob Coombe, Paula Shiflet, Barbara Revere, Mike Shiflet, Joy Frazier, Bob Hinderliter and Cynthia Wilks-Mosley, who is St. John UMC’s Lay Member to Annual Conference and also GNJ CoNAM interim chairperson. John Coleman photo

The church welcomes special guests at the October 29 service, including Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) members from Eastern PA (EPA). EPA and Greater New Jersey (GNJ) CoNAM members have become partners, sharing in ministries in recent years, leading the way for the current affiliated relationship of their two conferences .

Finally, St. John members and friends dedicated a new pavilion that provides shelter for its popular, monthly distributions of healthy food and clothing to neighbors in and beyond Bridgeton. The pavilion, donated a year ago by GNJ’s CoNAM with funds from the Native American Ministries Sunday offering, is also where about 90 children a day come for free lunch during the summer.

St. John ‘s pastor, the Rev. Douglas Goldsborough offered a prayer of dedication (below) under the Amish-built structure.

* For special Native American litany and other worship resources for this observance, see Discipleship Ministries web page, Worship Resources for Native American Heritage Month.