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'We are still here'

The Rev. Roy Hilburn, from the Waccamaw Siouan tribe, has been the minister of Coharie United Methodist Church in Clinton, North Carolina, for eight years. The church's name comes from one of the local tribes and a river that is less than a mile from the church. The Coharie tribe is one of eight state-recognized tribes in North Carolina.

When Hilburn came to Coharie, there were only eight members. However, with the adoption of The United Methodist Church's mission statement — "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" — he was able to increase the membership to 50.

Rev. Roy Hilburn at Seminary.

With the UMC mission in mind, Hilburn created a mission statement tailor-made for his congregation called "R.E.A.C.H."

"What we do with R.E.A.C.H. is we want to Restore lives with the proclamation of the word; Exalt God in praise and worship; Actively seek the lost; be Compassionate towards others; and Help those in need," Hilburn says.


Hilburn has seen the benefits of embracing this concept for his congregation.

"The folks are on fire and actively seeking the lost. When we hear of needs in the community, we are compassionate to those needs. And we're always looking to help those who are hurting around us," he says.

Coharie is a Native American church, but their worship services are diverse, welcoming any and every one  — African Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians and, of course, Native Americans.

"[When I arrived], I had the [congregation] envision a circle around the church, a five-mile circle, and I asked them, 'Who could we find within that five-mile circle?' And I told them, within that circle, there would be a diverse of people around us, and if those people were not sitting in our pews, then we were a dying congregation."

Hilburn believes that diversity is the only way the church will survive in the future.

"I think the church has to take off that racial card and be proactive, actually seeking those who are lost and being compassionate to those who are lost, and extending the salvation of Christ to them," he says.

Coharie is a typical United Methodist church with food and fellowship events. They believe that fellowship is important and that it is missing in many congregations today. As a Native American church, family is a focus. With family comes tradition and a value system unlike many non-Native congregations.

Rev. Hilburn and Santa.

"We have a lot of high values. We live with integrity. We value family. We value a person's word. Some people would say Native Americans are gullible. We're not gullible; we're very trustworthy — we want to be able to trust you because we trust one another."

The Coharie congregation believes in nurturing its children and youth. They plan many activities to help strengthen their children's involvement in the church.

"We just try to get together and have normal activities that children love to do — keep them involved in church. Just doing what we can to build the kingdom one soul at a time. We find teachable moments where we can help build character and help them grow in faith and grace and compassion."

Hilburn was a recipient of the Native American Seminary award through the General Board of Global Ministries.

"It was a blessing —  my wife and I were in school, so the money helped out tremendously in our livelihood and the debt we had incurred in school," he says.

"I was not raised in the Methodist church, so being brought into the Methodist tradition, I was not aware they supported a Native American Ministries Sunday.

"I felt honored. I felt respected, but most importantly, I felt noticed."

Hilburn wants to encourage the church to continue to support the Native American Ministries Special Sunday offering. Each designated conference uses part of this offering to help Native Americans in their educational pursuits.

"Continue this ministry because it gives Native Americans exposure to keep people sensitive to the fact that we're still here," he says. "We're very small in number, so it would be of great benefit."

Lladale Carey, web content producer, United Methodist Communications

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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