The bishop's Opening Remarks to the NEJNBMC remember the trauma and proclaim hope for the future as we continue the path of Repentance
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, Healer of our Brokenness, and Hope of the World!
What a joy and privilege for me to welcome you, the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Native American Ministries, to The Susquehanna Conference. I bring you greetings on behalf of our over 850 congregations and the approximate 141,000 persons who call themselves United Methodists in this region of the world.
I am so glad that you have come to meet for the next few days in this very important place.
I am sure you know that the name Susquehanna is not only the name of our Annual Conference, but also the name of the river that flows through our Annual Conference. The river winds its way from central New York, south through all of Pennsylvania and finally flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
This river that we have come to love has played an enormous role in our history. Before the European invasion, a Native American tribe called the Susquhannock lived along the banks of the river.
The name Susquehanna stands as a legacy to those early Native American people who called this area home. We give thanks that the mighty river that flows throughout this area gives recognition to the native peoples who were here long before any of the English.
While you are here, I know you will be taking an emotional tour to the hallowed grounds where once stood the Indian Industrial School Project. According to the website on the history of the School, this school had the dubious distinction of trying to integrate the Native Americans into the white culture. This was supposedly because of the prediction that the Native American people would be extinct.
As you know, the mistaken understanding was that to acculturate and integrate the Native American children, they had to, in the words of the person in charge, Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt they must, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” They also felt that it was necessary to “transfer the savage born infant to the surroundings of a civilization and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit.” It was out of this terrible belief that the Carlisle Indian School Project began.
The sad and sinful truth is that this process denied and tried to eradicate the very essence of what it meant to be a part of a people who appeared to be different than the English, a people who roamed free, who understood the land, and who had been part of this land for so much longer than anyone else. The reality of that time in our history was that being different was not to be celebrated but rather to be stamped out.
Not only was their heritage, their beliefs, and their customs to be eradicated, the children and youth were deprived of their family and home, as well as their heritage. Not only were they taken from their family and their land, they were told their very background and the essence of what it meant to Native American was bad.
Life in the Carlisle Indian School Project was not only hard, it could be deadly. Disease and harsh conditions took their toll. Hundreds of children died. In addition, there are still children buried on the site today. Many of those whose name and tribe are only known to God because when the children arrived here they were stripped of their name and tribe and made to take an English name. They were buried away from their land, their families and their ancestors. Thankfully even to this day, there is ongoing work to reunite those children with the earth of their tribes, their mothers, fathers and their homeland.
Isaiah says that God will do a new thing.
The written history of the Carlisle Indian School Project says that from “the ranks of Carlisle alumni rose many noted activists and advocates who championed the cause of cultural preservation.” So even out of the horribleness that existed, God raised up men and women who worked hard for the cause of celebrating and preserving the Native American culture and heritage.
While this is a part of history that is painful – we cannot ignore the reality of evil in the world. It is critical that we in this time and this place do not allow that history or even the thought of doing away with a native culture and its customs to gain any traction.
That is why I’m so glad to be here to welcome you to this sacred place. The United Methodist Church has vowed that this kind of genocide and erasing of culture and heritage will never ever again be allowed to exist. By who you are and by being part of CONAM, together we can be “advocates for ministry with Native Americans and to share the diverse culture, history and traditions of Native peoples.”
We in the United Methodist Church stand together – hand in hand embracing cultural diversity and celebrating each of our heritages. By you gathering throughout our jurisdiction you meet to hear the stories of each other. You gather to participate in scripture that says when one weeps, we all weep and when one celebrates – we all celebrate.
Weeping because of the past sins of the majority allow us to remember. But joining hands together across conference boundaries allows us to not only find comfort but strength and power to confront the insidious sin of racism and to find pathways working with each other to ensure that our children and the children yet to be born will find joy and honor to celebrate who they are – and from whom they have come.
Our God is a God who creates diversity with differing hues, differing languages, differing traditions and differing heritages. Our God is a God who creates all and proclaims it good!
All of us who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior must become co-creators with God in affirming, celebrating, and embracing the diversity that makes us unique yet all part of the one family of God.
I give thanks for each of you and your passion for Native American ministries. You bring a richness and a voice of the past, present and future not only to your annual conference but to the United Methodist Church and beyond.
Please know that I will be praying for your meeting – especially as you go to the sacred ground of the Carlisle Indian School Project. May God not only hold you in the palm of God’s hand, but may you feel God’s presence and power as you plan for ministries that will help all of us remember the harms and pains inflicted on the Native peoples, repent the evils of racism and atrocity, celebrate and share the diverse cultures, history and traditions of Native Americans, and reclaim the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ for all with faithfulness, commitment, and courage.
Thanks be to God for you!
I serve on the board of the General Commission on Archives and History of our denomination. The Commission defines its work as the ministry of memory. Its task is to preserve the past. But it’s not all about the past. The ministry of memory is about keeping the stories of the past alive so that they can enliven and enrich the present and enlighten the future.
Native Americans have amazing stories to tell for the sake of the Kingdom of peace, justice, reconciliation, and harmony. There’s power in the story.
Keep telling the stories. Keep your stories alive.
May God continue to richly bless and honor you and the ministry and witness of CONAM! And may your time here be a blessing. Amen!
Mission: With God’s grace and guidance, the NORTHEASTERN JURISDICTION NATIVE AMERICAN MINISTRIES COMMITTEE will serve as the body that gathers to listen to and support fellow Native United Methodists, partners with all Native Peoples, educates non-Natives, and advocates for Native issues with our strong Native communities in the Northeastern Jurisdiction and beyond.