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CONAM's Annual Conference Report

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

Pope Francis’ much reported Penitential Pilgrimage to the First Nations in Canada which began in July represents the kind of process we might expect can succeed in attempts to face the horrific realities still affecting Native peoples in the US and Canada. The basic formula seems to be that genuine authenticity and outreach begets new understandings and new connections; this is a lesson well known to United Methodists.

Thankfully, there is an answer for how to we might move forward, one evidenced by Pope Francis’ process in recent weeks.  It requires an open-eyed, authentic, and spiritually driven response.  It promises not the kind of quick resolution naturally desired in facing a painful need for repentance and reconciliation, but, instead, a genuine beginning for a healthy and spiritually authentic future.

The most instructive lesson to be noted was the response of the First Nation leaders at that gathering.  After his statement, Francis was given a ceremonial status, complete with a ceremonial Native headdress, pictures of which have circulated widely in the media.  Reactions of various Native leaders in Canada and the US have been mixed.  Some reportedly saw this action as an appropriate symbol of acceptance of Pope Francis’ sincerity, while others have said it was not an appropriate response.  Nonetheless, Pope Francis’ statement did have an impact as a step in the right direction.  Even as some feel it was not enough, it was an historic event that can open new doors of dialogue.

Those of us of predominantly European descent participating in the Conference Committee on Native American Ministry continue to be gratified by the graciousness of our Native colleagues.  A saving grace of our relationships is found in connection with the deep spirituality of Native peoples, which remains orientated toward the good of all people, despite the history. 

Your gifts on Native American Ministries Sunday helps support the ministries of the Committee on Native American Ministries in their annual conferences. This offering serves to remind United Methodists of the gifts and contributions made by Native Americans to our society.

Can we face our own culpability and inaction?  Can we say that the California-Nevada Annual Conference has made significant shifts, following our historic Act of Repentance at the 1996 Annual Conference Session?  Conference leadership has long taken an interest and continues to do so. There was much help provided which enabled CONAM to bring multi-media presentations to ACS 2016.  That resulted in a heartfelt and genuine act of joint Worship and intention which was received by CONAM’s Native members as authentic.

Frankly, though, not enough has changed.  For example, giving to the Native American Ministries Sunday fund did not significantly increase after 2016, and of course, declined along with other giving as a consequence of the pandemic.

A more complete accounting of the history of this fund will explain how little we’ve been able to support, along with our hope that recent media attention to Native peoples will help increase resources available for these ministries.

But most important is that we all realize the opportunity we have to facilitate a new history which can exemplify reconciliation in Christ Jesus, even in the midst of this horrific and largely hidden history.  The past history declared that followers of Christ were justified in their decimation of Native peoples.  A new history can emerge if we can humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, while we actualize our tradition of connection.  If we are sustained and sincere in our efforts, we firmly believe that an amazingly warm embrace from our Native friends will emerge which can instruct and inform our next step, and lead to a profound and transcendent faith journey.  CONAM commits to walking with anyone from the Annual Conference interested in this path.

excerpt from a report by the Committee on Native American Ministries, California-Nevada Conference.

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Native American Ministries Sunday serves to remind United Methodists of the gifts and contributions made by Native Americans to our society. The special offering supports Native American outreach within annual conferences and across the United States and provides seminary scholarships for Native Americans.

When you give generously on Native American Ministries Sunday, you equip seminary students who will honor and celebrate Native American culture in their ministries. You empower congregations to find fresh, new ways to minister to their communities with Christ’s love. Give now.  

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