March 1, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Ann Saunkeah
Youth with the United Methodist Native American Gathering greet denominational leaders.
Ariz. (UMNS)—Seeing a growing need in the Phoenix area, a United
Methodist initiative is nurturing a new Native American congregation.
United Methodist Native American Gathering, one of the newest
fellowships for Native Americans, has been meeting for three years. The
United Methodist Church’s Native American Comprehensive Plan has played a
major role, providing the fellowship with funding support.
new fellowship in Phoenix is one of six urban ministries funded by the
Native American Comprehensive Plan in the past five years, according to
Ann Saunkeah, the plan’s executive director.
by the 1992 General Conference, the plan emphasizes Native American
spirituality, congregational and leadership development, and involvement
in the life of the United Methodist Church. The denomination has more
than 18,000 known Native Americans among its 8.2 million U.S. members.
Many are members within the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, but
native United Methodist ministries can be found from the tip of Florida
plan is guided by a 19-member task force that held its semiannual
meeting Feb. 11-13 at the temporary site of the United Methodist Native
American Gathering in Tempe. There, the task force witnessed the work
the fellowship is doing.
main reason we met near the church was to come and support this
ministry and to meet some of the people and offer our support," Saunkeah
plan awarded the ministry a $25,000 grant two years ago to help it get
started, she said. The funds came from the plan’s congregational
development committee, which helps new church starts. In February 2004,
the plan awarded $159,000 in grants to 11 programs for the year.
ministries begin as cottage ministries and small groups, led by a
layperson and sometimes taking the form of a ministry of presence or
fellowship, Saunkeah said.
|A UMNS photo by Ann Saunkeah
Matthew Smith, a youth member of the United Methodist Native American Gathering in Tempe, Ariz., performs the Hoop Dance.
and the surrounding area are home to several Native American tribes as
well as a growing number of Native Americans who have moved there for
employment. Native American laypeople organized the fellowship in
response, said the Rev. David Wilson, plan chairperson and
superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
fellowship meets on the campus of Cook Theological School, a ministry
of the Presbyterian Church USA. The Rev. Larry Norris, a United
Methodist clergyman, is the interim pastor and also serves as vice
president of Cook.
congregation holds weekly church services and Bible studies, and it has
an active youth and children’s group, said Betty Westin, a member of
the Creek tribe, founding member of the fellowship and certified lay
speaker. The fellowship averages about 25 people from the Phoenix area.
goal is to become a church someday," Westin said. "That’s what we are
working towards, but it will take more people to get it done."
funding from the plan has helped, she said. "It helped us to get
started, and it also gave us encouragement and support. The plan has
been very, very helpful by providing resources and training
opportunities for the fellowship.
lay persons at the church continue to be very excited about their
progress, and they were excited to have us come and have a meal with
them and to enjoy their presentation," she said. "And our members were
excited and pleased with what we saw."
appreciated the persistence and commitment of the current leaders in
getting the word of God out to native people in the Phoenix area," said
Carla Sineway of Grand Rapids, Mich., a Chippewa and member of the
plan’s congregational development committee.
"The young people at the church ensure that the ministry will continue to grow," she said.
2004 General Conference continued the Native American Comprehensive
Plan with $1.1 million in funding for 2005-2008. The money will support
- strengthen existing native congregations, ministries and fellowships, and develop new ones;
- provide native leadership development training; and
- strengthen contributions of native leaders, congregations and fellowships to the denomination.
The plan also is focusing on increasing the involvement of youth and young adults in church life during 2005-2008.
plan’s coordinating group comprises Native American representatives
from the church’s five U.S. jurisdictions, Alaska Missionary Conference,
Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, Native American International
Caucus and National United Methodist Native American Center. It also
includes a youth and a young adult.
other business, plan members focused on projects for 2005-2008. Three
events are planned for 2005 and 2006, aimed at preparing people for
Native American ministry in the annual conference.
events begin this fall to train committees on Native American
ministries in the annual conferences. The first event will be Oct.
14-15, at a location to be announced.
American representatives to churchwide boards and agencies will meet
July 8-10, to discuss their role in advocating for Native American
Native American Lay Speaking School will be Feb. 17-19, 2006, at
Scarritt-Bennett in Nashville, Tenn. The event is for Native American of
all ages interested in becoming local or certified lay speakers,
according to Saunkeah. The presenters are all Native Americans, and a
special emphasis is placed on Native American culture.
Other events include a gathering of youth and elders and a gathering of clergy and lay Native American women.
plan’s officers for 2005-2008 are the Rev. David Wilson, Oklahoma City,
Choctaw, chairperson; Daphine Strickland, Jamestown, N.C.,
Lumbee/Tuscarora, vice chairperson; and Diana Fitzpatrick, Norman,
Okla., Ponca/Chickasaw, secretary.
The Native American Comprehensive Plan receives donations as an Advance special (#982615) of the United Methodist Church.
story was adapted from a press release by the Rev. David Wilson,
superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and
chairperson of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.