Apr 25, 2023 | John W. Coleman

Both the Eastern PA and Greater New Jersey annual conferences in May will begin with a traditional ceremony acknowledging the land we occupy as once owned by Native American people, particularly the Lenni-Lenape nation who inhabited land in what is now Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There were no state borders then, an interesting precedent for this current season of EPA&GNJ affiliation.

Indeed, the Committees on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) in our two conferences are also not constrained by state or conference borders in their support for one another. That has certainly been the case since a few EPA CoNAM members first visited GNJ’s St. John UMC in Bridgeton in 2017 to start a friendship—or one might say, an affiliation.

“Since Pennsylvania has no federally or state-recognized tribes, we were looking for a Native American organization to support that was close to us geographically,” recalled Sherry Wack, a former co-chairperson of EPA’s CoNAM. She now lives in upstate New York but is still an active member who participates in meetings online and yes, beyond borders.

St. John UMC in Bridgeton, NJ

“I believe it was Bob Hinderliter who brought to our attention St. John UMC in Bridgeton,” said Wack. Home to many members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, St. John UMC is the fifth oldest Native American Methodist Church in the U.S.  “St. John celebrates a Native American service on every fifth Sunday. So, Bob and I traveled to New Jersey to help celebrate their 146th anniversary on October 29, 2017.”

There they met Cynthia Mosley, then chairperson of GNJ’s CoNAM. “That was the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between our two CoNAMs” said Wack. Since then, EPA has supported their GNJ siblings financially, especially when St. John’s church was vandalized recently in a vicious hate-crime.

“Their CoNAM lent us their MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) awareness banner and poster to display at several events; and we have purchased T-shirts (in bulk) together.” Both CoNAM’s are actively engaged in advocacy for justice and mercy around this important concern and others affecting Native people.

Last Sunday, April 23, Cynthia Mosley, who is Delaware Nanticoke Lenape, came across the Delaware River to speak at Native American Sunday services at First UMC of Germantown. (Watch the livestream recording. Mosley speaks at 47:37.) She has done so several times to speak at FUMCOG, Evansburg UMC, which is Wack’s former church, and other EPA churches. She also participated in the Land Acknowledgement ceremony for the 2022 EPA Annual Conference.

“More than anything, I think getting to know one another, encouraging one another, lifting each other in prayer and sharing information has been the biggest blessing,” said Wack. “We are indeed relatives, and we treasure that bond.”

Cynthia Mosely also shared some reflections also on the bond, the affiliation her church and CoNAM shares with EPA’s CoNAM:

“I shared the Native American Ministries Sunday message with FUMCOG. We have partnered with them at least four times on this (United Methodist) Special Sunday. FUMCOG members have volunteered with our Vacation Bible School and attended our Native American Ministries Sundays on occasion. Same with EvansburgUMC. 

We partnered with West Chester UMC virtually (on Zoom) last year to participate in EPA’s Annual Conference. We also work together as part of the NEJ (Northeastern Jurisdiction) Native American Ministries Committee as a vehicle for partnering.

We have worked on MMIW educational materials, some of which we modified for large events. We loan those materials to EPA when they need them. EPA and GNJ have attended community events together, such as book signings and marches to address social issues.

A few members from Prospect Park UMC collect food and deliver it to our (St. John) church for our bimonthly food giveaways. They have done that at least twice a year for the past six or seven years. The First UMC in Kennett Square supported our winter gear giveaway one year. They brought us lots of coats, hats, gloves of all sizes and for all ages.  And we have a very important partnership with Verna Colliver and Lansdale UMC. They have supported our VBS financially every year for the last six years. That is a huge blessing for us.”