Gifts to Offer

January 20th, 2012
This article is featured in the Call to Action (Feb/Mar/Apr 2012) issue of Circuit Rider

Our denomination has been wrestling with the concept of what is believed to be “best practices” for some time. There are many who believe that we have to become more adept to changes in our society. There are many who believe that new church starts and revitalizing current congregations is necessary. There are those who believe we need to become leaner financially in order to be more effective in reaching persons for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

These are certainly questions and issues that the Native American population in the United Methodist Church is grappling with as well. Although small in numbers, Native people understand and feel that we are an important part of this denomination. We have gifts to offer the United Methodist Church, and our presence is important as we help each other understand what it means to be a diverse denomination. Many of our Native churches have been in existence longer than many other congregations in our denomination, and we are proud of our longevity in our denomination.

One of the most exciting ventures going on in several Native American churches across the connection is the effort to look at new church starts. The Native American Comprehensive Plan and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference both have partnered with the Lay Missionary Planting Network through Path One (GBOD) to work at being intentional in ways that new church starts are developed in Native American communities. Native ministries have been able to look at the models that are currently being used in the denomination and to determine by our own experience what works and what doesn’t work. It is important to note that the model that many conferences are using for new church starts won’t necessarily work in Native communities. We measure success not only by numbers, but in other ways as well.

For Native Americans, perhaps the most important component of any new legislation at General Conference will be how Native churches will be able to adapt these changes and programs to fit their cultural component. I attended the Alaska Native Youth and Elders Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, and was reminded of the importance of a shared heritage in our Native communities. The conference brought Alaska Native elders and youth from all across Alaska to learn and interact with each other. In this exercise, the youth and elders were seated in a circle. A youth or elder would ask questions and if that question related to the participants, they would run to change seats as one chair was removed. Two examples of questions asked were, “How many of you have participated in a whale hunt? How many of you have picked berries?” Participants would change seats quickly and prepare for the next question.

Then the question was asked, “How many of you have ever been ashamed of your culture?” Not a single person moved, and then we all clapped and cheered with that affirmation. I believe that is true for our 150 plus Native American churches and ministries across The United Methodist Church. We are proud of our culture and also yearn to be included and recognized by this denomination that we have served faithfully for so long.

Our hope is that the delegates to the 2012 General Conference will recognize us and our contributions and be reminded that we have a lot to share with our United Methodist sisters and brothers around the world.

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