Native American Stories
Native American Ministries Consultation
Transforming into partners in mission
Phoenix, Arizona - “Through our unique Native American perspective, we can bring a lot to the non-Indian churches,” Elder Aaron King said during a small group discussion at the 2012 Native American Ministries consultation in Phoenix, Arizona.
The consultation took place January 24 through January 26. It was organized by the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC) and the General Assembly Mission Council’s Office of Native American Congregational Support.
The group invited pastors, elders and leaders throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from across the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities Native American Presbyterians have in connection with their own congregations and the larger church.
A gift that keeps on giving
Proceeds from sale of property once designated for the development of a Native American congregation will benefit future Native American ministries
Louisville - The recent sale of a historic South Dakota property, originally intended for a Native American Presbyterian congregation, has been designated as an unexpected gift to future generations of Native American Presbyterians.
The property, located in Bennett County, S.D., was deeded to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on May 27, 1913, by President Woodrow Wilson in order to encourage the development of a Native American Presbyterian church in the area.
A dream fulfilled
Sharon Selestewa followed God’s voice to claim her calling
Like many a biblical dreamer before her, the Rev. Sharon Selestewa heard God call her name while she slept. And not just once, but three times.
Raised by devout Christian grandparents of Native American heritage in Salt River, Ariz., Selestewa had at first distanced herself from their faith community and traditions. “Growing up, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the church,” she says. “I was in the world for quite a while.”
Her first dream changed all that.
“About twenty-five years ago I had a dream of a light next to my bed, and a voice was calling my name,” she recalls of the dream she had in 1986. “I looked up and I wasn’t scared. It was soothing and warm and comforting to be in the light.”
In her dream, the voice told Selestewa to go to Cook School. Keep reading.
Walking in her great grandfather’s footsteps
Binghamton, N.Y. - Kathryn Howard’s greatest role model is someone she has never met.
“Although I never had the privilege of meeting my great grandfather,” Howard said, “he taught me that with careful thought and determination, one person really can make a difference.”
Deeply proud of her Native American heritage, which Howard said is all about “family values, standing together and standing up for each other,” she is committed to honoring her family’s legacy by standing with other underrepresented groups to help them seek justice.
Quick support and rebuilding gives Nez Perce church new energy, life
In two days during late April a team of volunteers did a “wall raising,” rebuilding the North Fork Presbyterian Church in Ahsahka, Idaho, that had burned the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2008. Keep reading this story in The Fig Tree - ‘Faith in Action News’ in the Inland Northwest.
Rising from ashes
from fire to factionalism, hoonah church has survived it all
The kitchen area of the one-room Hoonah Presbyterian Church bustles with activity as members prepare a pot-luck supper that will proceed the session meeting.
Two years ago, such a scene was unthinkable. "The church had imploded," says Kathy Ruddy frankly. Ruddy, an elder in Chapel by the Lake Presbyterian in Juneau — the state capital, which is four hours from Hoonah by ferry — has been serving on an Alaska Presbytery administrative commission for the Hoonah congregation.
Like many of the Alaska Native village Presbyterian churches scattered around the islands of southeast Alaska, the Hoonah church has relied on lay pastors for much of its century-old life. In 2008, when the PC(USA)’s last Commissioned Lay Pastor left Hoonah, Alaska Presbytery could not find a successor and so struck an agreement with the Missouri Synod Lutherans to keep the congregation alive. "We wanted to keep a Protestant presence in Hoonah," says the Rev. David Dobler, interim executive for the presbytery.
Native American Ministry in the PC(USA)
From ideas! Magazine Spring 2008
Native Americans — also called American Indians or Alaskan Natives — are the indigenous people of the land known as the Americas. More than 562 federally recognized tribes live on reservations or in rural areas on allotment lands. Some but not all tribes have state recognition. Members and descendants of these tribes also live in cities and large urban areas. They have survived with distinct cultures, languages and traditions.
With the introduction of Christianity, many Native peoples achieved an understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and were impressed by the similarities to many Native teachings.
The missionaries preached the gospel to Native Americans for conversion and salvation. The new Christians were gathered into churches for nurture, discipline and programs that aimed to transform Christian Indians into English Puritans. This meant the need to change their traditional clothing and eliminate their native languages and culture. From the onset there was misunderstanding, lack of respect, indifference and injustice toward the Indians from the missionaries.
It’s important to be familiar with the true history as part of any effort to understand and avoid misunderstandings due to stereotyping.
The history of Native American churches is complicated. The churches were national mission projects of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America before the 1983 reunion into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). These Indian churches were “cared for” as mission churches with 100 percent of their needs paid for by the “mother church.” After reunion, Native American churches were transferred to geographic presbyteries, at which time they were assured that their needs would continue to be met. Many of these churches either have no pastors or are served by a commissioned lay pastor. Some engage ministers for pulpit supply. The challenge is that many of them cannot afford a full-time, ordained pastor. Any available mission funding is used to help pay the bills. There is a critical need to build up the local leadership of Native churches and chapels. Meanwhile, mission work groups have helped maintain Native American church buildings.
Today there are 109 Native churches and chapels within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Most are on reservations or in rural areas where the people live on historic allotment lands. Eight synods and 20 presbyteries have active ministries within their bounds. The number of Native American churches in each presbytery ranges from one to 23, as in the Presbytery of Grand Canyon. The nongeographic Dakota Presbytery comprises 21 churches. Central Presbyterian Church (Intertribal), established in 1914 and now in the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, is the only Native American Presbyterian Church in an urban area — Phoenix.
A Reservation Church
Since 1884, the Indian Presbyterian Church has been the oldest congregation on the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation located in east Texas. The Rev. Samuel F. Tenney, a minister from Crockett, Texas, was traveling to a presbytery meeting in Beaumont, Texas, when he became lost and sick. The “Indians” (Alabama-Coushattas) living in the area nursed him until he was able to travel. The Rev. Tenney reported the incident at the presbytery meeting and suggested there should be a way to help this tribe of “Indians.” So missionaries were sent, a school was established, and on October 27, 1884, the Indian Presbyterian Church was chartered.
Today the focused ministries of Indian Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of New Covenant include a young adult and a youth ministry. The youth plan and lead an evening service each month, and each year they are involved with mission projects. Among them are making Christmas boxes for seamen and delivering holiday cheer cards and fruit to persons who are elderly, shut-in and residents in nursing homes. Members are very active in presbytery, synod and national committees.
A Native American Multicultural Congregation
In 1854, the Medicine Creek Treaty established the Puyallup Indian reservation. In 1865, a blacksmith named John Flett settled among the Puyallup people and shared Jesus Christ with them as he taught them from the Bible. Many were converted. The Rev. G. W. Sloan began to work among the Puyallup people in 1871, and the Rev. Matthew Mann arrived in 1876. A church was built near the Puyallup River and dedicated in 1881 as Puyallup Presbyterian Mission Church, with 24 members. Hymns were translated and sung in the Puyallup language. On May 6, 1946, the congregation was organized as the Church of the Indian Fellowship (CIF). In August 2001, the congregation called Irvin Porter as its first Native American pastor.
Originally the congregation was composed of Puyallup tribal members. As many tribal people have come to the Tacoma area for economic reasons, today the membership is composed of various tribes from the Northwest and throughout the United States. The church has welcomed many non-Indian people into CIF as their church home. The church’s activities include monthly potlucks and dinners after worship, a monthly men’s fellowship breakfast, cultural arts and crafts and outreach to youth in the community. The CIF continues to have a good working relationship with the Puyallup Tribal Council.
Ministry in Urban Areas
Engaging in Native American ministry is possible in urban areas where many Native Americans have relocated since the 1950s. La Mesa Presbyterian Church has undertaken a ministry of outreach to Native Americans residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Presbyterian Native Fellowship in Anchorage, Alaska, is a new church development serving Natives in the area.
The Office of Native American Congregational Enhancement in Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women maintains contact and works with these congregations.
From Presbyterians Today magazine | November 2007
Building a spiritual community for Native Americans in Albuquerque
Presbytery and church collaborate in outreach project
By Kristin Searfoss
Building a spiritual community with urban Native American people is the goal of a project undertaken by Santa Fe Presbytery in partnership with La Mesa Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, N.M.
The project officially began last November, when Judy Wellington, whose tribal heritage is Pima and Dakota, was installed as associate pastor of La Mesa Presbyterian Church.
There are about 25,000 Native American people from more than 150 tribes in greater Albuquerque. Previous mission endeavors among Native peoples have not always been successful, Wellington says.
“The Indian community has seen Christian leaders come and go. Some Christian communities have lasted and others have not ... The historic missionary approach to Native peoples taught them that Indian cultures were in opposition to Christian faith. Today that teaching is still promoted some.” Wellington’s approach is to create “a Christian ministry that respects the value of Native wisdom and teachings among the tribes.”
Already, a spiritual community is being formed, built around “a quarterly community-wide gathering that is mostly for fellowship and mutual support,” Wellington says. A Bible study last summer allowed individuals from tribal backgrounds to bring their own observations to the discussion. “Several people have said they didn’t expect to be able to participate like this in a Bible study in a way that touches their experiences, makes sense and lets them know there are others with the same kinds of questions they have.”
Wellington spends a lot of time meeting Native Americans at events and places where they gather. “It’s important that I’m out in community whenever possible, because I believe that’s where Jesus would be. My presence … means that I am interested and willing to be with my own people.”
She is learning about the realities of urban life. “Native people in the urban setting continue to face the challenge of retaining their clan, tribe and extended family connections while living in a highly individualistic society.”
The project is having an unexpected effect, Wellington says. “While the goal of this new effort is not to increase the membership of La Mesa, we are finding that Native Americans are more curious and willing to ‘check out’ the service because there is a Native associate pastor.”