Native American culture is not new to me. Growing up in Grand Rapids, my family used to travel a few miles west to watch traditional dances, which were open to all. I liked the dances for the music, the dancing, and the food.
My first foray into Volunteers in Mission trips involved traveling with summer youth teams to work with the Navajo in Farmington, New Mexico. Again, I loved the culture, the music, and the food (fry bread!). I worked with the Aymara Indians in Chile one winter and distinctly remember many times sitting together under the stars in the desert at night, talking about everything under the sun.
Today, we’re doing good ministry right here in Minnesota—but there’s still a lot for us to learn from our Native American brothers and sisters in Christ.
One example of a strong Native American ministry in Minnesota is All Feathers Spiritual and Community Center, which is located in Cass Lake. Directed by Rev. Jim Allen, the center holds worship services, runs a Vacation Bible School, and hosts family dinners and children’s parties throughout the year. Volunteers teach prayers, Native American culture and language, public speaking, Ojibwe hymns, and leadership skills. In conjunction with a number of surrounding United Methodist churches, the center gives hundreds of shoebox Christmas gifts to children on the reservations.
Additionally, Minnesota United Methodist Guy Sederski does ecumenical work in the Twin Cities area with the Native American population there—and Deer River United Methodist Church supports a teen center. These ministries are supported by our Native American Ministries Sunday offering.
Even though I grew up next to a reservation and have learned a little about my Native American sisters and brothers through some great experiences, I’ve come to realize I am pretty uneducated about Native American history and culture. At the very least, I’ve come to understand that their perspective is different than mine—different but equally important. For insight into this, I highly recommend the book On This Spirit Walk: The Voices of Native American and Indigenous Peoples by Henrietta Mann and Anita Phillips, two strong United Methodist advocates of mutual cultural understanding and reconciliation.
We all have a lot to learn in this area. Over the next few years, the Native American Ministries Action Team (NAMAT) will lead retreats for clergy and laity in the fall and spring. Presentations will be made at next year’s annual conference session. Members of the team are willing to come and talk to you and your church at any time. Please consider taking them up on that offer. To learn more, call Rev. Gary Walpole, NAMAT chair, at (651) 484-2226.
Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church