By: Christa Meland
On Wednesday afternoon, the St. Paul City Council designated the week of June 12-18 “Urban CROSS Week” in the City of St. Paul, and Mayor Chris Coleman issued a city proclamation declaring Wednesday “Mounds Park United Methodist Church Community Powwow Day.”
Urban CROSS (Christians Reaching Out in Service in St. Paul) is a grass-roots, locally grown mission project of Mounds Park UMC that aims to meet the needs of its neighbors living on the East Side. Urban CROSS 2016 is taking place from June 12-18.
“We are both proud and humbled by the actions of Mayor Coleman and the Saint Paul City Council,” said Mounds Park UMC Rev. Dennis Alexander. “As neighbors living together on the East Side, we seek to assist those in need and celebrate together the various cultures that make up the beautiful urban mosaic we call home.”
Every year, youth and adults from around Minnesota participate in Urban CROSS, now in its seventh year, by helping to fix, rebuild, maintain, paint, and landscape properties in need while getting to know the people they are serving. Every evening, participants worship together—and on Wednesday, the church hosts a community-wide picnic, which this year took the form of a powwow.
“The City of Saint Paul supports and celebrates the work of faith communities like Mounds Park United Methodist Church and their activities such as Urban Cross that enhance neighborhoods by reaching out to help neighbors in need, increase the livability of our neighborhoods, and strengthen the fabric of our community in Saint Paul,” says the city’s Urban CROSS Week resolution. (See full resolution.)
This year, 35 Urban CROSS campers are working on 32 projects.
“Urban CROSS always helps youth see beyond themselves to help their neighbors,” said Alexander. “Usually they see God in the midst of that relationship. They also come to understand neighbors who are very different than themselves and see that people struggle in different ways. They learn what it means to be a presence of grace to another person. Many tell us they walk away with more than they gave.”
On Wednesday, both campers and area residents came together for a community meal and to learn about Native American culture and some of the sacred Native American sites of Mounds Park at a community powwow at Indian Mounds Regional Park. (See Mayor Coleman’s full “Community Powwow Day” proclamation.)
Alexander said the theme of this year’s Urban CROSS is “Sacred Ground.” It prompted Urban CROSS leaders to invite Native American leaders in the community to partner with them in planning the powwow—which included a free community meal, dancing, and crafts. The event’s sponsors included The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; The Ain Dah Yung Center in St. Paul, which provides a healing place for American Indian youth and families; American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul; The American Indian Education Program in St. Paul; and the American Indian Family Center in St. Paul.
Between 150 and 200 people attended the powwow—which Alexander said was a healing experience for some community members. The park has been the site of several recent violent acts, including shootings, and as a result, the location had instilled fear in some residents. But after having a positive and powerful experience with a multi-generational and multi-cultural group at the powwow, many said the park returned to being a safe place for them.
In addition to Native American groups helping to plan the powwow, Native American leaders have delivered the message to Urban CROSS participants each night during worship.
“The youth now understand the sacredness of land and the relationship between land and native culture,” said Alexander. “They learned what makes land sacred—story, blood, and dust of ancestors—and that it’s customary to always enter native, sacred spaces with prayer and carefulness.”
For Alexander, seeing firsthand the connection between Urban CROSS youth and the people they serve is the most rewarding part of the week.
“Churches are called to be outwardly focused and organically related to their communities,” he said. “As we go and help others, others have shared their faith, their story with us. It’s a mutual exchange of gifts.”
Mounds Park UMC was founded in 1857 and has served the Dayton’s Bluff community of Saint Paul in various ways since 1919. Within the past seven years, hundreds of youth and adults have participated in Urban CROSS and completed hundreds of projects within the community.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church