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Presbyterian Mission Agency Board sympathetic to Shinnecock Nation’s fight

Board hears a poignant plea for Native voices to be amplified

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Bryan Polite is Chairman of the Shinnecock Nation. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — A request for mutual aid by Shinnecock Nation tribal leaders via the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee and the Native American Consulting Committee fell on welcoming ears Friday among members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

Friday was the second day of the board’s two-day spring meeting, which was held online.

Shinnecock Nation continues to struggle with the state of New York after it erected two monuments along State Route 27, a route that leads to the Hamptons on the East End of Long Island, communities that include expensive homes and high-end shopping opportunities. State transportation authorities have threatened to destroy the monuments and fine Shinnecock Nation $2,000 per day. REAC and the PC(USA)’s Native American Consulting Committee have taken up the cause of Shinnecock Nation, 60% of whom live in poverty, by writing to both the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the PMA Board.

“The cultural pride that went into those monuments can’t be overstated,” Bryan Polite, Chairman of the Shinnecock Nation, told the PMA Board on Friday. “Our elders look at the [tribal] seal 65 feet in the air with tears in their eyes.”

“It’s a small project,” Polite added, “but it’s indicative of our struggle to be heard and just to put food on our tables.”

“We could have put a Porta Potty out there,” Polite said, “and they would say, ‘It’s the end of the Hamptons.’ … We are going to fight for what’s ours and for our economic sustainability.”

Tela Troge (contributed photo)

Tela Troge, a tribal attorney, told the Board, “We have an obligation to take care of our people and get extraordinarily needed resources to our people.”

One Shinnecock elder told the Rev. Holly Haile Thompson, who led a Friday devotion and is a REAC member, “Our roots go 10,000 years straight into the ground.”

“We are responsible for being caretakers for this part of Creation,” Thompson said. “My people are not going to disappear for the convenience of those who have swindled us. May all we do help us to live in peace on good Mother Earth.”

“Indigenous people are fighting for their rights in every state,” said the Rev. Michelle Hwang, a PMA board member and the REAC chair. “We want to amplify all their voices. We are doing our part to make sure we partner with First Nations people.”

“Thank you for troubling our spirits and messing us up,” said the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr., PMA Board chair. “That’s what we needed to hear.”

“This is what it means to be Matthew 25 people — to write, support, advocate and cry out,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “We will do what we can to help justice happen.”

Ray Jones portrait

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III

In a prayer that followed the presentation, the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of Theology, Formation and Evangelism, asked God to “help us know this is a worthy fight” and a “cross-bearing battle.”

“Take away the many roadblocks, God,” Jones prayed. “May we be part of removing those roadblocks. May we not only talk but put this discussion into action now.”

Visual Implementation Process

The job of aligning the PMA with the work of the Matthew 25 vision is set to pivot early next month as an interdisciplinary team gets to work beginning the transformation of the mission agency.

“We aren’t doing renovations here,” Moffett told the board. “We are building new homes. This is the embodiment of the Church as the Church leans into the future.”

“It’s going to be an exciting time,” Moffett added.

“We are talking about real people with real lives,” said the Rev. Kate Murphy, a PMA board member. She asked the Rev. Dr. David Hooker, a consultant helping the PMA through the process, to “speak about the extent of the transformation we can anticipate.”

The Rev. Dr. David Hooker

“I am most excited about the disruption,” Hooker replied. “God does her best work in the midst of chaos.”

Structural change is one thing, Hooker said, but “ultimately the transition has to happen in our narratives and the way we live our lives within that narrative and trajectory.”

“I do expect this to be somewhat disruptive,” Hooker said, “but a productively, faithfully disruptive process.”

“I am excited about the possibilities,” Moffett said, “but it’s also scary … God is going to have to change me and all of us so we can let go of what it is we are doing now and re-envision something more suited to serve the Church and to give agency to the Church and throughout the world.”

“This thing,” said the Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), “has been stoked, energized and invigorated.”

“How do we do what Jesus did? How do we name Legion?” Bentley asked. “What spiritual disciplines do we need to be engaging in?”

the Rev. Gregory Bentley (Photo by Randy Hobson)

He said he asks parishioners at the church he serves, Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, to spend at least 10 minutes each day praying and reading their Bible. A few years ago, the church’s clerk of session told him, “Reverend, this stuff works.”

“I said, ‘It works when you work it,’” Bentley said. “It’s in the doing that our thinking will change. The doing will change the thinking.”

A bit of board business

The board concluded its final meeting session by approving reports from its three administrative committees — Resource Allocation and Stewardship, Personnel and Nominating and Property and Legal — as well as its three program committees, Mid Councils, Nurture the Body and Outreach to the World. It also heard from the Coordinating Committee.

Two new worshiping communities — The Open Table in Heartland Presbytery and Ormewood Church in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta — were announced as Sam and Helen Walton Award recipients. Tim McCallister, associate for Mission Program Grants, said The Open Table plans to spend its $30,000 award on renovating its sanctuary space to make it more conducive to livestreaming and hybrid worship, as well as upgrading its sound, video and lighting capabilities. Ormewood Church has similar plans for its $20,000 award.

Denise Hampton, the PMA’s controller, said the agency’s income was about $100,000 higher than anticipated during the first quarter of 2021, while expenses were about $2.4 million under budget.

Kathy Lueckert, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, told the board that plans for PC(USA) entities not to meet in person through 2021 are still in place. But with COVID-19 vaccines becoming more widespread, that decision is subject to change in a couple of weeks when an emergency response team meets again. “Stay tuned,” Lueckert said, “for additional adjustments.”

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