Saturday, November 12 was a crisp, windy day. Details of the worship service, the journey to Kellytown and the ‘what-ifs’ were sent up our great Creator God. The answer to the ‘call for repentance’ from General Conference 2012 was upon us.
Forest Hills UMC was our host church and I am thankful for their willingness and location as it facilitated Bishop McAlilly’s request that the service be at a native site. Forest Hills City Hall had been gracious and so willing to welcome us to the Kellytown site. Kellytown, (named after the owners of the property at the time of the discovery of the village), was a village thriving during the 1400s, at a time known as the Mississippian Period. We do not know what tribal connection there was at the time.
The beauty of the altar, the procession and our presentations were so meaningful. There was a proclamation from Mayor Barry, naming November 12 as a Day of Repentance. A staff given by Deen Thompson was part of the presentation. Our leadership of the church shared in a litany with native thought interjected.
Our speaker, Ray Buckley, wore a blanket coat which conveyed a powerful testimony of survival. On the battlefield of Wounded Knee in 1890, his family member, age 18 months, was picked up and wrapped in that blanket and carried to the Episcopal Parrish in the area. Adorned with ermine and beading that represented family tribal background, he would tell you the fringe on the sleeves was there for one someone needed a piece to tie something with.
Ray’s message was strong. Strong in the sense that harsh reality has to sometimes be spoken for people to sit up and listen, to sit up and say, “I didn’t know that.” The message also included hope. Lifting up the ministries of the TN Conference, Ray spoke of the different projects that had blessed Native Americans across the U.S. I teared up, realizing that, yes, we had done a lot. Backpacks and coats, 500 lbs. of yarn and knitting needles after a village burned in Alaska (so elders could teach the younger ones how to knit), partnerships with community workers and teens who live in Oklahoma, who now come to Providence UMC and work alongside them, little knitted hats making their way to the Alaskan Native American Hospital in Anchorage, quilts for the Houma after Katrina and Rita- ministries that stick in my head at the moment as the good that has been done.
Ray spoke of Holy Ground. We stand upon it. We work upon it. Our journey takes place on it. As Ray quoted the angel in Joshua when Joshua asked the angel “’Whose side are you on-ours or our enemies?’ How perplexed Joshua must have been to hear the angel reply, ‘Neither, I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.’ As Joshua fell to his knees, he asked, ‘What orders does my Master have for his servant?’”
As Ray spoke of what people categorize as ‘historical trauma’ and rightly so, I heard the challenge. Are we like Joshua, falling to our knees asking, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?” Do we digest what we have heard or learned about the traumatic past heaped upon indigenous peoples? Do we go back to that first book, Genesis, and realize we have failed taking care of this earth and the four leggeds and those of the water and the air? Do we hear the good news of ministries, not missioning, but having a mission heart?
We journeyed to Kellytown to walk out into the middle of what had been a large village of about 60 families. During the archeological studies done due to road construction, there was still evidence of foods such as corn and nuts and the graves of babies. Home. We stood upon holy ground at a lone tree in the middle and hung prayer bundles. *Due to Metro Codes and burn restrictions, we could not leave them in the tree or send them up on the winds to our Great Creator God. They were removed and will be handled respectfully.
Bishop McAlilly led communion and Tammera Hicks sang Oh Jehovah in Cherokee. Jimmy Yellowhorse explained the Cherokee way of walking into a cemetery from the East, taking cedar and as we walk away, leaving from the West and leaving the cedar behind. Tradition. Oral history kept alive and brought forward was a blessing.
As we left that sacred place and entered back into the hectic roles of our lives, I know ‘for the moment’ we stood and asked, “Are you for us or against us?”
The resolution that was birthed at General Conference 2012 ends with:
“Be it further resolved, that every conference, and every local congregation of The United Methodist Church develop and nurture relationships with the indigenous persons of the place where that conference resides through a process of deep listening and learning, and
Be it further resolved, that every conference, and every local congregation of The United Methodist Church is encouraged to implement specific actions to demonstrate a genuine attitude of repentance such as 1) encourage and resource the education and training of indigenous leadership including laity and pastors, by providing culturally sensitive learning environments, 2) wherever the church is holding land and/or property in trust, consider transferring a portion of that land and/or property or its income to indigenous persons’ projects, and 3) in conjunction with ¶2547.2, whenever a conference entity is closing a charge or holds excess land, consider transferring any land and property to an indigenous community, and
Be it further resolved, that full implementation of the recommendations in this resolution be proposed to the Council of Bishops for consideration, and
Be it further resolved, that Bishops of The United Methodist Church shall provide spiritual leadership and pastoral guidance for the fulfillment of this essential work to heal the soul of our church, our people and the land.”
A large task before us. Is it too large? Is it asking too much of us? Is it the same as Joshua falling to his knees? As the Coordinator of Native American and Indigenous Ministries, I pray for discernment. I pray for opportunities. Many times our local churches have powerful testimonies of ministries with Native American communities I may not have heard about. I would love to hear those stories. The Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) is comprised of some dedicated folks. We are in all the districts and willing to work throughout the church. Please contact Mary T Newman at 615-695-2760 or firstname.lastname@example.org for dialogue, scheduling small group discussions or speakers. Audio/visual resources and books are listed on the Native American Ministries page.