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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 America.
 
Why do we observe Native American Awareness Sunday?  What makes Native people special?  Within the Body of Christ, every person, every culture has unique gifts to refresh the Church.  The contributions of Native people, as individuals and groups are not more important than the contributions of other Christians.  Native people, however, are among the poorest and most marginalized of society and also the Church. The unfortunate fact is that people without "power” of wealth or social status tend to be overlooked.

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..
 
Do Native Christians worship differently than other Christians?

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. 
 
Where can I find resources and information about Native people?  The United Methodist Publishing House carries several excellent resources:  The Good Mind, a video resource exploring the diversity of Native people and the Christian experience Eagle Flights:  Native Americans and the Christian Faith, a 13 session curriculum resource, for youth and adults, Native and non-Native people and, Voices:  Native American Hymns and Worship Resources, a multi-tribal hymnbook with phonetical pronunciations produced by Discipleship Resources. 

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:
--Washington D.C. office--100 Maryland Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 2000 Fax: 202-488-5619
--New York office--Church Center for The United Nations, 777 UN Plaza, New York, New York 10017 Phone: 212-682-3633 Fax: 212/682-5354
 
The General Board of Discipleship
A. JoAnn Eslinger (Eastern Cherokee/Native American staff person) (615) 340-7144,
1908 Grand Ave., POB 840
Nashville, TN  37202-0840
Phone: (615) 340-7200 Fax: (615) 340-7006
 
The General Board of Global Ministries
Cynthia Kent (Southern Ute),
Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries  *
475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY   10115
Phone: (212)870-3830 Fax: (212)870-3932
Email::  ckent@gbgm-umc.org
 
The General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
Anne Marshall, (Muskogee Creek/Native American Staff person)
Associate General Secretary
475 Riverside Drive, Room 1300,
New York, NY 10115
Phone: (212) 749-3553, Fax: (212)749-3556
 
The General Commission on Religion and Race
The Reverend Kenneth Deere, Muskogee Creek/Native American staff person)
Associate General Secretary
110 Maryland Ave NE, #48
Washington, DC  20002-5680
Phone: (202) 547-2271, Fax: (202) 547-0358
 
The National United Methodist Native American Center *
The Reverend Cynthia Abrams (Seneca), Executive Director
1325 N. College Ave
Claremont, CA  91711-3199
Phone: (800) 626-7820 ext. 283, Fax: (909) 624-8384
 
The Native American Communications Office/UMCom *
Ray Buckley (Lakota/Tlingit), Director
P.O. Box 320
Nashville, TN 37202
Phone: (615) 742-5414 Fax: (615) 742-5413
Email::  rbuckley@umcom.umc.org
 
The Native American Comprehensive Plan *
Ann Saunkeah (Western Cherokee), Executive Director
P.O. Box 4609
Tulsa, OK 74159-0609
Phone: (918)592-3600 Fax: (918)592-3601
Email::  asaunke@gbgm-umc.org
 
The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference *
The Reverend Dr. Thomas Roughface (Ponca), Conf. Supt.
The Reverend David Wilson (Choctaw), Communications and Interpretation Specialist
3020 South Harvey Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
Phone: (405) 632-2006 Fax: (405) 632-4402
 
The Southeast Jurisdictional Agency for Native American Ministries (SEJANAM) *

The Rev. Kenneth Locklear (Lumbee), Executive Director
P.O. Box 67
Lake Junaluska, NC  28745
Phone: (888) 825-6316 Fax: (828) 456-4040
 
The following are unofficial organizations which work directly with Native people in The United Methodist Church:
 
The Native American International Caucus *
The Reverend Alvin Deer (Kiowa/Creek), Executive Director,
616 SW 70th St.
Oklahoma City, OK  73139
Phone: (405) 634-2005
Fax: (405) 634-2181

 * Denotes office, individual, or organization which deals with Native and indigenous people exclusively.


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