|Commentary: Remembering the Rev. Harry Long|
A UMNS Commentary
The Rev. Harry Long
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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