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PC(USA) chapel service focuses on Wednesday’s observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

The Rev. Irvin Porter and Ruling Elder Carla Alexander lead a moving and informative half-hour service

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Irvin Porter is associate for Native American Intercultural Congregational Support in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (File photo)

LOUISVILLE — Nearly 60 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s national staff joined the Rev. Irvin Porter and Ruling Elder Carla Alexander of Brook Presbyterian Church in Hillburn, New York, Wednesday for an online chapel service celebrating the gifts of the world’s Indigenous population, estimated to be 476 million people living in 90 countries.

Wednesday is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Alexander led the call to worship and the gathering prayer, which included these words: “O Great Spirit, whose breath gives life to the world and whose voice is heard in the soft breeze: we need your strength and wisdom. Cause us to walk in beauty. Give us eyes ever to behold the red and purple sunset. Make us wise so that we may understand what you have taught us. Help us learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Make us always ready to come to you with clean hands and steady eyes, so when life fades like the fading sunset, our hearts come to you without shame. We stand before you — we worship you, Creator of the universe. Amen.”

Carla Alexander

Porter led the hymn “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!” by singing the first verse in the Nez Perce language. Porter’s mother is Nez Perce, a nation situated in north-central Idaho.

Porter chose the familiar words of Micah 6:8 for his preaching text, reading from both the New Revised Standard Version and The Message.

“What does the Lord require of us? You may have a passion for evangelism, or you might be focused on worship,” he said. “God tells us to ‘do justice,’ but for some of us, that’s a struggle. What does justice look like? We place it in the political or economic or judicial realm, but those can be distant from our daily lives.”

For many of the world’s Indigenous people, “the systems their ancestors have followed continue to yield positive results,” said Porter, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate for Native American Intercultural Congregational Support who also serves as pastor at the Church of the Indian Fellowship in Tacoma, Washington. On the other hand, “there are efforts by government to control their lives.” Even in the United States, “people of color and women have continued to struggle to be included in ‘we the people.’”

“The church as the body of Christ seeks to establish the kin-dom of God,” Porter said. “We can’t do that by collaborating with unjust structures.” Repudiated by the 222nd General Assembly in 2016, the Doctrine of Discovery nevertheless is “a destroyer of human rights, and it’s not what Micah was telling us,” Porter said.

While late-18th century Russian missionaries in Alaska saw the Tlingit people as “deeply religious,” Porter said more often, Christian missionaries “did not view Native populations as spiritual. Instead, they demanded their attendance at boarding schools, where many became victims of abuse for generations. More than 500 American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children were killed over the course of 150 years in Indigenous boarding schools run by the government and by churches to force assimilation, according to a Department of Interior report issued last year.

“There was a day in the Christian church that Native Americans would not be allowed to preach as I am today,” Porter said.

Porter said repentance and confession “are two ways to help make amends for turning a blind eye to the destruction of Indigenous cultures.” The prophet Micah “invited nations to reconcile and restore relationships. What does God expect? Faithful relationships and unfailing testimony,” Porter said.

“The journey of justice and peace must be part of our Christian life today,” Porter said. “Loving our neighbor is not an emotional feeling; it’s an action verb. Our acts of justice should be part of our liturgy, but words don’t matter if they are not followed by action.”

If we are to please God, we must walk with God, Porter said, adding, “We must give up all the nonsense that gets in the way of justice and rely on God as our help and our shield. God is with us in the pursuit of reconciliation.”

During the service, worshipers prayed a version of the Lord’s Prayer provided by Hattie Enos, Porter’s great grandmother and a member of the Nez Perce Nation:

“O Great Spirit, Creator of the universe, you are our Shepherd Chief in the most high place, whose home is everywhere, even beyond the stars and the moon. Whatever you want done, let it also be done everywhere. Give us your gift of bread day by day. Forgive us our wrongs as we forgive those who wrong us. Take us away from wrong doings. Free us from all evil, for everything belongs to you. Let your power and glory shine forever. Amen.”

Porter suggested those worshiping consider donating to the Native American Church Property Fund, an ongoing fund established by the Presbyterian Foundation to help with urgent and immediate repairs and necessary improvements at the PC(USA)’s nearly 100 Native American churches and chapels. Learn more here. Donate here.

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