Editor's note: Wilshire United Methodist Native American Fellowship is now Great Spirit United Methodist Church.
When the Rev. Allen Buck, an ordained elder in the Oklahoma Annual Conference, first heard about Wilshire United Methodist Native American Fellowship in Portland, it was on a list to be closed. It was the last identifiable Native ministry in the Oregon-Idaho Conference.
“The fellowship was just barely hanging on with 12 to 15 people in worship every week. There wasn’t any money for a full-time pastor, and it had been struggling for more than a decade,” said Buck.
After years of struggle, the Oregon-Idaho Conference Committee on Native American Ministries asked Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky, episcopal leader of the Greater Northwest Area, to help the Fellowship.
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.
Members of Wilshire United Methodist Native American Fellowship celebrate Christmas Eve services. The fellowship is the last identifiable Native ministry in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. Photo courtesy of Wilshire United Methodist Native American Fellowship.
In early 2017, the bishop and conference staff members visited Wilshire Native American Fellowship with the assumption that it was time to shut it down.
“After our meeting with the Fellowship, we reflected that this was the last thread of relationship between the conference and Native communities,” Stanovsky said. “We couldn’t close it.”
Erin Martin, district superintendent of the Columbia District, which includes Portland, said they were unsure of what to do next to support the ministry. Then, she got a call that changed everything.
“It felt like providence,” recalled Martin. “We had been praying for the Native American Fellowship and felt like everything hinged on having a Native pastor.”
Buck, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma with a successful track record for building new church starts in the Oklahoma Conference, reached out to Martin looking for opportunities to relocate. He had worked in partnership with the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference but had never led a Native church.
Martin invited Buck and his wife to visit the Oregon-Idaho Conference.
“It felt like a good fit because the need was so great in the Native community and the conference was willing to take risks and support congregation development,” he said.
He and his family moved to Portland in July of 2017. In a little more than six months, the membership of the Fellowship has already doubled.
The Fellowship has since opened its doors to different Native organizations throughout the week such as the Cherokee Nation and the Red Lodge Group, which helps Native women get back on their feet after incarceration. The church provides a meeting space for some of the groups and works alongside others in ministry.
Members of Wishire United Methodist Native American Fellowship honor elders during a luncheon. Photo courtesy of Wilshire United Methodist Native American Fellowship.
“I think the growth will continue once we put out there what we are becoming,” Buck said.
“Native people understand what it takes to be in relationship with others. We are family oriented, respect our elders, and believe in being in service to others,” he said.
“As a full-time pastor, Allen brings a spirit of cohesion into the church,” said Ed Edmo, who along with his wife, Carol, has been a member at Wilshire United Methodist Church for 16 years.
“We feel very hopeful having him here,” said Carol Edmo. “Oklahoma cannot have him back.”
Ginny Underwood, freelance writer and communication consultant with ties to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary 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.