The UM caucus that advocates for Native Americans said its members would pray for the vandals who tore down flag poles and toppled a memorial stone honoring veterans at a Native American church. The vandals caused thousands of dollars of damage at St. John in Bridgeton, N.J.
On August 13, the property of St. John UMC in Bridgeton, GNJ’s only Native American church, incurred thousands of dollars of damage to its property due to vandalism overnight–flag poles were pulled down, memorial garden flower boxes torn apart, a new memorial stone honoring veterans pushed over and grave markers in their sacred cemetery damaged. This reckless act in a small city plagued by gang violence and poverty caused fear among the congregation and community and more heartache in the wake of the recent death of their pastor, Rev. Roy Bundy.
It also followed news that surfaced several months earlier of the bones of hundreds of children found near boarding schools across North America, uncovering the truth once again that between 1869 and the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were removed from their homes and families and placed in boarding schools operated by churches and the federal government to “Americanize” them.
“We pray for the lost souls who feel it is okay to attack our Native American church, which means they have also chosen to attack our people,” members of the Native American International Caucus (NAIC) said in a statement. “Elders are afraid to visit the graves of their loved ones. Neighbors are nervous and have a right to feel frightened. But we will fight back. We will not be made invisible ever again. We are a people who honor our ancestors. We continue to seek their wisdom even after they have walked from this place to place beyond.”
Bishop John Schol, leader of the Greater New Jersey Conference (GNJC) also responded in a joint letter with the Rev. Glenn J. Conaway, District Superintendent. They credited the church with being “a source of hope and healing” in its community, especially during the pandemic, and they called on all United Methodists to “pray for the people of St. John UMC, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe and the community. Let us all continue to work toward ending the sin of racism in our church, communities and world. Let us be the difference makers in sharing the love of Christ.”
GNJC writer Heather Mistretta wrote a compelling story, “Ripping off the mask of racism to see the gaping wounds and heal,” about the incident and about historic and ongoing acts of racism inflicted on Native Americans. “At a time when the church should be celebrating its rich heritage and looking toward the future, this violence has opened wounds that are many layers deep,” she writes. Read story.
Members of the Eastern PA Conference Committee on Ministry (CONAM) visited St. John UMC in 2017, and the historic, interracial congregation’s Lay Leader Cynthia Mosley reciprocated with a visit the next year. That cross-conference friendship continues to this day. The CONAM members are responding to an appeal for funds to help the church recover from the destructive acts of vandalism.
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.
excerpt from a story by Heather Mistretta, Greater New Jersey Annual 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.