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Commentary: Remembering the Rev. Harry Long

The Rev. Harry Long

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Alvin Deer*

Dec. 10, 2008

Harry Long was not your typical United Methodist minister.

A Muscogee Creek Indian of the "Wotko" or Raccoon clan, Harry wore his hair long. His usual attire was a casual shirt, jeans and boots.

Looks can be deceiving, though, because behind this dress was a spiritual giant. When his home congregation of Salt Creek United Methodist Church honored him in 2000 for 50 years of ministry, I offered the keynote address and likened Harry to John the Baptist, who was clothed in animal skins and fed on honey, and to Elijah, who was fed by ravens. He truly was one of the ones who Jesus said would come after John.

On Dec. 5, after a long illness, the Rev. Harry Long went to his promised reward in heaven. He was 87. With his death in Muskogee, Okla., I lost a long-time mentor, role model, friend and co-worker. The United Methodist Church lost a respected churchwide voice in behalf of Native peoples and against injustice.

Harry began his ministry in 1949 in the Oklahoma area and was ordained as a deacon in 1951 and an elder in 1953 by Bishop Angie W. Smith. He went on to serve various ministries for 26 years. His membership was actually in the church's Desert Southwest Annual Conference, where he served for many years.

“Harry will be remembered as a man of great faith, who knew his Christian heritage as well as his cultural heritage.”

He developed a ministry of presence among Native American people in the Phoenix area in the 1960s when the city was becoming an urban center for many tribes. He ministered on the streets, at Native gatherings and even in "Indian bars," where Natives coming from out of state would gather to find friends and make connections. Harry was comfortable in these settings and would reach out not only spiritually but practically—offering information about services available to sojourning Native Americans.

I met Harry while he was serving in Phoenix in the 1960s. I was a young man who grew up in the Los Angeles area, some 380 miles from Phoenix. We would attend Native pow wows and Indian basketball and softball tournaments in Phoenix.

Harry will be remembered as a man of great faith, who knew his Christian heritage as well as his cultural heritage. Both made him who he was. To me, he was one of the giants of faith produced by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

He once wrote an article for me called the "Traditional Muscogee (Creek) Indian Spiritual Ways," in which he explained why the East is so sacred. He wrote:

"Our homes, churches and ceremonial grounds faced East because East was sacred to them. My own thoughts on why? East was where our ancestors were brought from on the 'Trail of Tears.' And they would to look back and remember. To remember who they were and who they are now, and East is where the day begins with the rising sun. I used to hear the old people coming out of their homes to greet the new day by saying, 'This is a good day because the creator gave it to us.' Looking East reminded our elders of their elders who passed on to them their wisdom to share with others."

I should note that the Muscogee Indians, or Creeks, as they were commonly known, had their ancestral homes in Alabama and Georgia. And the mass removal of the "five civilized tribes" from their ancestral homes in the Southeast in the 1830s was known as the "Trail of Tears."

Harry had a vast knowledge of our history and was a well-known storyteller and hymn singer of indigenous Creek Indian hymns. He knew hundreds of songs by memory and could recall any of them and share with whatever gathering he was in. "Our elders taught us through songs, dances and stories," he once said, "so we must share these things with the rest of the world."

Our Muscogee people are poorer spiritually and culturally by the loss of this great man of faith.

*Deer is pastor of Seminole Hitchitee United Methodist Church near Seminole, Okla., and the former executive director for the Native American International Caucus for the United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Harry Long welcomes GCORR board to Oklahoma (2007)


The Rev. Harry Long: Singing 'Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?' in Muskogee Creek

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