The Rev. Martha Sadongei is the most recent guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Martha Sadongei encourages Native American siblings who follow Christ to blend their faith with their Indigenous practices, and she had a ready story to illustrate just how during last week’s episode of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” which can be heard here. Sadongei comes in at the two-minute mark.
Sadongei is pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a consultant on Native American Ministries to the Presbytery of Grand Canyon. “A Matter of Faith” is hosted each week by Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe.
Sadongei recounted the story of attending a Kiowa Gourd Dance in Oklahoma with a cousin. That morning the two attended a worship service that included communion, then headed to the dance grounds afterward. “To hear that strong singing, to see men and hear them shake the gourds and feel the cool breeze — I got shivers, the same shivers I get when I know the Spirit is moving within me,” Sadongei told Catoe and Doong. “I told my cousin it’s the same Spirit that was at table this morning when we took communion. Then she said, ‘Look!’ It was the pastor [who’d led worship that day], dressed in his regalia and dancing the Gourd Dance.”
Sadongei has had several conversations with Indigenous siblings “over whether they can do things traditionally or not” while maintaining their Christian faith.
“Many will do traditional things and then come back and say, ‘I didn’t feel like I was turning my back on God. I was able to recognize God in the midst of it,’” Sadongei said.
“God comes to us in so many different ways. Be aware of it,” Sadongei advised. “The sanctuary isn’t the only place we will find God.”
On a recent Sunday, Central Presbyterian Church concluded worship with the hymn “I Danced in the Morning.”
“We were happy and joyful” singing the beloved hymn, said Sadongei, who sometimes walks with the help of a cane. That Sunday, she told the congregation, “If I had a top hat, I would dance my way off this chancel area because I’m so joyful.”
What’s not so joyful, Sadongei said, is the number of General Assembly overtures helpful to Native American ministries that commissioners have approved over the past two decades but have not resulted in, for example, additional training at the congregational level for church officers.
Sadongei envisions “a system to assist rural churches,” and “not just Native churches,” Sadongei said. “There’s something wrong with a denomination that lets the little churches go by the way[side].”
“There was a time when all our Native churches had pastors. There were active programs,” including music programs, and elder and deacon training took place regularly, Sadongei said.
“Those older elders knew the Book of Order better than anybody else because they had that training,” Sadongei said. “A lot of our Presbyterianism was lost in that transition, and it became a matter of lay leaders doing the best they could with the knowledge they had just to keep the church alive.”
Near the end of the conversation, the hosts asked Sadongei for any additional comments.
“I think of my grandfather. I went off to college and I asked him, ‘How will I know the good people to hang out with? I have no idea who those people are,’” Sadongei said. “He said, ‘Don’t be too quick to be part of a group. Sit back for a couple of days and watch what they say and do. Anybody can say anything about themselves. It’s what they do that will tell you what kind of person they are.’”
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