Embracing Native American Ministries Sunday

The ceremonial water table is typically used on Native American Ministries Sunday, along with flutes, turtle shells, blankets and creek stones. Photo courtesy of Fordville St. John UMC, Bridgeton, New Jersey.
The ceremonial water table is typically used on Native American Ministries Sunday, along with flutes, turtle shells, blankets and creek stones. Photo courtesy of Fordville St. John UMC, Bridgeton, New Jersey.
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United Methodist Native Americans bring unique languages, cultures and more to their 124 churches. Through Native American Ministries Sunday, celebrated on the Third Sunday of Easter, United Methodists equip and empower Native American pastors, congregations and seminary students to preserve their heritage and honor their past.

The gifts of time and resources provided by the special Sunday offering make a huge difference for the Native American community. Students receive scholarship assistance for college and continuing education. Church and community leaders take advantage of training opportunities. Vacation Bible school and after-school programs reach children with cultural and Scriptural education. Elders gather to study and learn within their own cultural community.

This year’s Native American Ministries Sunday celebration was notably different from that of previous years at Fordville St. John United Methodist Church, Bridgeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1841, St. John is the congregation of the tribal people. It is the only Native American church in New Jersey and one of five in United Methodism’s Northeastern Jurisdiction, as well as the fifth-oldest Methodist church designated as Native American. The Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribe, the largest group of indigenous people in the state, live primarily in Fairfield Township in Cumberland County.

Fordville, St. John UMC is a part of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

Worshippers at St. John are accustomed to attending in-person services with a ceremonial table as a backdrop with Native American flute music, turtle shells, blankets and creek stones. However, as COVID-19 restrictions began, the Rev. Roy E. Bundy stayed connected with his congregation through online Sunday worship via Facebook.

At the onset of COVID-19, the St. John’s congregation increased the amount of food they distributed. The small church averages about 135 individual families served monthly but added 50 more families.

“Normally we give away 7,000 pounds of food, plus 400 pounds of clothing, per month, but we will be adding more food to serve the extra families throughout our partnership with Community Food Bank of New Jersey and local businesses and farmers,” said Cynthia Mosely of St. John UMC. A produce giveaway day was started.

“In June, we distributed 13.75 tons of food sourced from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Governors Pandemic Relief Fund, Feeding America and private donations,” she continued. “That was our highest ever. We started with 12 people 4 1/2 years ago, and at the close of 2019, we served 65 families consistently. We average 240 families per day today.”

Mosely is enthusiastic about Native American Ministries Sunday. Perhaps its greatest benefit, she said, is the chance for “the general church family [to] learn and understand more about the Native American community right here in New Jersey. We share our drums, our dancers, our speakers and our love of the Creator with everyone.”

Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retired from UMCom

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.

– Adapted from article by Cynthia Mosely and Heather Mistretta, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, April 9, 2020, and updated July 8, 2020. Used by permission.