Dec 05, 2023 | Verna Colliver

EPA&GNJ to host 2024 Northeastern Jurisdictional CoNAM meeting

Five members of Eastern PA’s Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) attended a meeting with their counterparts from across the Northeastern Jurisdiction in October to explore how the “new reality” of a changing United Methodist Church may affect their mission and structure.

Verna Colliver, Joy Frazier and Sherry Wack, traveled to the Western PA Conference Office near Pittsburgh to attend the Northeast Jurisdiction Native American Ministries Committee’s (NEJNAMC) annual meeting, October 21-22. Greater New Jersey Conference Director of Connectional Ministries Eric Drew, who serves on EPA’s CoNAM as a EPA&GNJ leader, also attended.   

Barbara Revere and Suzanne Duchesne joined the meeting on Zoom. EPA&GNJ’s CoNAMs will cohost the annual meeting in 2024, tentatively scheduled for September 27-29. NEJNAMC’s nine conferences extend from New England in the north, to West Virginia in the west, to Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware in the south.

Members heard the Rev. Chebon Kernell, Director of the UMC’s Native American Comprehensive Plan, acknowledge the impact of the Covid pandemic and disaffiliation in the UMC on the work of Native American Ministries. He celebrated the survival of CoNAMs and cited four challenges of Indigenous peoples they should seek to address together:  Women, Spirituality, Climate Justice and Language Preservation.

How will NEJNAMC function in the future?’

The body further discussed the UMC’s “new reality” created by disaffiliating churches and declining denominational membership and giving support, and the impact on the mission and structure of NEJNAMC. They asked, “How will NEJNAMC function in the future as we face a new reality?” And, “Will the traditional structure with committees, rules, bylaws and regulations of a settler-colonial mindset be feasible?”

The answer, members suggested, may be in Native American practices and values that “focus less on hierarchy and more on building consensus through conversation and listening to each other.” After some discussion on the hierarchal structure of NEJNAMC, the group decided to organize a committee to continue the discussion online.

The assembly spent time learning local Native American culture, history and concerns, including a presentation of Seneca and Western PA history by Miguel Sague, of Taino heritage. With remarkable knowledge and storytelling skill, he provided a sweeping overview of the original inhabitants of the area, including their culture, beliefs, and origin stories. His review of their history was a clear reminder of how Indigenous lands have been impacted over the years by settler colonialism and its continuing impact.

Attendees also visited the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center in Pittsburgh to learn about their work with Native and non-Native peoples to provide education, job training and other social needs of the community.

The Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, of the Morningsky Leadership Initiative, shared with the group the importance of Self-Care and Community Healing through stories, core cultural values, and advice on recognizing trauma and ways to deal with its impact. She also led members in a hands-on healing activity of stringing beads.