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Native American leaders listen to a report to the 2016 General Conference about the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, United Methodist Communications.

Photo by Paul Jeffrey, United Methodist Communications

Leaders of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes listened to and participated in a report to the 2016 General Conference on the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, and ministries of reconciliation.

Representatives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes are recognized  at the 2016 General Conference, where delegates heard about the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and representatives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes presented to the 2016 General Conference, a report on the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, and ministries of reconciliation.

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Discover the treasures: Finding God in our woundedness

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino
May 19, 2016

We know the sting of being hurt by another. We have been victims of tragic circumstances. We have experienced emotional and physical pain.

We often struggle with how to deal with it. We may try to minimize, or rationalize it. We may want to push it to the recesses on our minds, hoping our forgetting will lessen the pain. Alternately, we may try to convince ourselves to accept the pain as the will of God.

Sand Creek Massacre report is presented to General Conference 2016

Representatives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes are recognized at the 2016 General Conference, where delegates received a report about the Sand Creek Massacre. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

During the report from the Joint Advisory Committee appointed by the Council of Bishops to study Methodist involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, the General Conference heard a different way of dealing with tragedy.

Remembering the hurt

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, who co-chaired the Joint Advisory Committee with Otto Braided Hair of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, introduced their report saying, “We are here to listen and to tell the truth about a tragic chapter in American history. This is an historic day when descendants of the victims of a brutal act of violence and the descendants of those responsible for the violence meet to remember and to honor those who were ruthlessly murdered in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.”

Historian Gary L. Roberts, author of the report, told the General Conference the truth about what happened at Sand Creek that day. The report, titled Massacre at Sand Creek: How Methodists Were Involved in an American Tragedy, is available as a book and an ebook.

Roberts reports that on the morning of November 29, 1864, the Colorado Volunteer Cavalry, under the leadership of Colonel John Milton Chivington, attacked a peace camp at Sand Creek in the Colorado territory, brutally killing 230 Cheyennes and Arapahos.

Bishop Stanovsky and Gary Roberts presented the history of the Sand Creek Massacre.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and historian Gary L. Roberts share what happened at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

Chivington was a Methodist minister who had served as the presiding elder of the Rocky Mountain District. Governor John Evans, whose policies led to the Arapahos and Cheyennes being at Sand Creek, was a prominent Methodist layperson. When the United States government and public opinion damned the actions of Chivington and his men, the response of The Methodist Episcopal Church “was tepid at best,” according to Roberts.

The truth was difficult to hear.

Searching for treasure

Following Roberts’ presentation, William Walks Along, member of the Northern Cheyenne, and a descendent of Sand Creek massacre victims, spoke about moving toward reconciliation between The United Methodist Church and the Cheyenne and Arapho tribes.

“We now extend our hands in friendship to The [United] Methodist Church.”

“Although November 29, 1864, can never be erased from the memory of our people,” Walks Along continued, “we can share our humanity, our essence, with the coming generations, including The [United] Methodist Church, and especially the larger world.”

Maybe you have a date that cannot be erased from your life: the day of your parents’ divorce, the day a loved one died, the day the doctor gave the diagnosis. As Walks Along reminds us, we cannot erase those days and the pain we have felt, from our lives.

However, we can choose our response. Rather than allowing the pain to consume us, we can opt to look at things differently.

William Walks Along of the Northern Cheyenne spoke to the General Conference.

William Walks Along encourages the General Conference to discover the treasures we can learn from painful events. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

“Together let us discover the treasures we can learn from hardships and from the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow human beings,” he said.

The painful events of our lives are not treasures, but we can seek the treasures in them. Treasures about ourselves, about God, about those whom we love. Treasures that will strengthen us for another day, will guide us in a new direction, will give us the courage to try something we might not have attempted otherwise.

Seeking God in all

At the end of his ordeal with his brothers, Joseph was able to declare to them, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it” (Genesis 50:20 CEB). Paul was able to see the pain of his “thorn in the flesh” as something God used for his benefit (2 Corinthians 12:6-10). Jesus told his disciples that a man was not born blind because of the sin of his parents, but so that God’s work could be displayed in him (John 91-7).

None of this lessens the tragedy, but finding the treasure in it helps us to move forward. May we follow Walks Along’s advice to be people who remember the tragedy, but are able to continue on, looking for the treasures of what we can learn.

In the words of Walks Along, “May Maheo [the Creator] guide us and grant us wisdom, and may all of you and your families live in peace and free from violence.”

Have you discovered a “treasure” in the midst of tragedy? Share your story in the comments below.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.