|Connections on the Hoop: Native people and United Methodism
There are over 18,000 known Native people in The United Methodist Church. The largest group are members within the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, but Native United Methodists and ministries may be found from the tip of Florida to Alaska. Native people serve the church in every capacity: laypersons, seminary professors, district superintendents, conference directors, employees of general boards and agencies, Christian educators, lay missioners and pastors. Native churches have the highest percentage of female pastors in the denomination.
Which is proper: Native American or American Indian? Either is acceptable. In The United Methodist Church we generally use Native American/Alaskan Native in official publications. Most Native people in the lower 48 states still call themselves "Indian". Some prefer to be tribally specific, such as " I am Hidatsa".
The term Native
American was developed to include American Indians and Alaskan Natives together. In
Canada, Native people are called Aboriginal People, or Natives. Currently, the word
Native is used to describe the collective indigenous population of North and South
There are over 554 federally recognized (those with nation-to-nation status with the U.S. federal government) Native tribes, nations and villages in the United States. This does not include state recognized tribes, or those in the process of recognition with states or the federal government. In addition to these, there are over 500,000 people of primarily Native blood who are ineligible for tribal membership for one reason or another. Add these to the numbers of indigenous people from Central and South America and Canada, and one gains a picture of the complexity of cultures and backgrounds that represent Native people in the United States and The United Methodist Church.
Most tribes still retain unique language, culture, religions, government and a physical tribal home. Some have lost original languages and many customs, but have retained a sense of identity as a people. There is simply no one "Indian" way of thinking, feeling, or worshipping. In order to become aware of Native people, one must be intentional in the process of ministering to them.
Native American Ministries Sunday affords the opportunity of Native and non-Native United Methodists across the denomination to become aware of the lives, gifts and ministries of Native people. Conferences are encouraged to develop ministries for and with the Native people who live within them. It also allows Native people the opportunity to fully participate in the life of the conference. They cannot do that unless we, the Church, know who they are.
Proceeds from Native American Ministries Sunday offerings support Native ministries
within conferences, provide educational assistance for Native Americans in the form of
scholarships, and assist with the establishment of urban Native ministries..
Primarily, no. Native United Methodists believe in the theology and polity of The United Methodist Church. In visiting a United Methodist Native congregation, you would find many similarities. Like any other local congregation, Native churches incorporate elements of culture, work, and interest into their worship experiences.
There are unique features in some Native churches and ministries that are often a part of the worship experience. Most Native worship services include the singing of hymns in one or several Native languages. Some churches do not have piano or organ, while some choose not to use them during traditional hymn singing.
Prayers are often offered in a tribal language. Many Native churches include an "altar call" or invitation as a regular part of worship. Public prayer serves as an opportunity for strengthening the importance of community in the worship experience.
There usually is not a special emphasis on written liturgy. Native churches are especially sensitive to the movement of the Spirit within a worship setting.
Depending on the local church, cultural/tribal background, and worship setting, other traditional elements may be included in worship. One or several diverse traditional instruments may be used during the service. Native people have traditionally burned the leaves of plants during some prayers, much in the same fashion of incense in Orthodox, Episcopal, and Catholic churches.
Older persons (elders) have a place of special importance in Native communities. Elders are often extended the same position in a
local worshipping community.
The Native American Communications Office at UMCom produces a monthly newsletter for Native congregations, entitled Voices of Native People. It is available via e-mail. Subscription information is available on this website. You may contact the Native American Communications Office at 615-742-5414, or e-mail, rbuckley @ umcom.umc.org.
A special edition of Voices, Dancing with A Brave Spirit: Telling the Truth About Native America, and a guide to Native organizations and agencies, Native America: Making a Connection are available on this website
The following are a list of official United Methodist organizations working directly
with Native people:
The General Board of Church and Society of The
United Methodist Church:
The Rev. Kenneth Locklear (Lumbee), Executive Director
* Denotes office, individual, or organization which deals with Native and indigenous people exclusively.