Conference preacher: Listening when the stones cry out

May 27, 2015

By: Christa Meland

During opening worship, this year’s conference preacher Nancy Victorin-Vangerud drew from a story shared by Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett as part of the book Giving Our Hearts Away: Native American Survival (co-authored by Rev. Anita Phillips and Dr. Henrietta Mann). Fassett's story is about his father, Spotted Horse, a traditional pipe carrier from the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota. People brought him stones that they thought were special—stones that they thought may be saying something. So he tried to listen to those stones. He couldn’t figure out what some of them meant through his listening, but he was continually “working on it.”

Victorin-Vangerud said the story invites us to consider that listening to the stones might take a long time—that we have to work at listening. “Why not this week, we ask ourselves, ‘What might the stones across our state be saying to the churches?’” she asked. She talked about a stone in Fort Snelling State Park that she has been trying to listen to for several years. It is engraved with the names of the bands of Dakota interred there over the winter of 1862-1863 as part of the aftermath of the Dakota-U.S. War. Up to 1,700 Dakota—mostly women, children, and elders—had been force-marched 150 miles to the site. That winter, the imprisoned Dakota suffered severe hardship. Up to 300 died. Engraved upon the stone are the words “Mitakuye Oyasin”—“All My Relatives.” It is difficult to hear the words of that stone, Victorin-Vangerud said. It is difficult to hear the words of some of our ancestors.

During the message, Rev. David Bard brought to the stage a stone that came from the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida. He was a delegate that year and attended an Act of Repentance worship service. Each person was invited to select a stone from the worship space to bring back to his or her annual conference as part of a commitment to join the journey of repentance. On Wednesday, Bard placed on the communion table the stone he selected so that throughout the week members of annual conference can listen to what the stone may be saying. “My brothers and sisters, this stone from the General Conference cries out to us, ‘repent!’” said Victorin-Vangerud, adding that the first step on our journey toward healing is to turn, see, and listen to the cries of others’ truth.

“All my relatives, my Methodist relatives here, we are here in St. Cloud because God calls us to mission,” she said. “But if we are to become an authentically missional church, we have some very difficult listening to do. We are called to repentance. Will we be silent, or will we cry out? We are yet alive, and so are Native American sisters and brothers who walk this spirit path.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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