Service gives Native Americans a place to reconnect



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Service gives Native Americans a place to reconnect

July 26, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0709}

NOTE: See related e-Review FUMNS article, “Native American committee makes strides in strengthening ministry,” at: http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000038/003823.htm

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

THONOTOSASSA — Nearly 16 years ago Doc Green died while doctors operated on his heart.

Doc Green plays a flute to center the gathering and signal the start of a recent Native American United Methodist service, sponsored by the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #07-0631.

Fortunately, they were able to bring him back, giving him the chance to share his story with a group of Native American United Methodists one Sunday earlier this year at Thonotosassa United Methodist Church.

Green, a chaplain at Tampa General Hospital, shared his near-death experience during a bi-monthly worship service sponsored by the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries.

For two years Native American United Methodists have gathered at the church every second and fourth Sunday of the month for the service. The attendance varies, but as many as 30 tribes have been represented.

Those who attend say the chance to worship authentically and be true to themselves and their ancestors is what makes the service so worthwhile.

Weaving the old and new together

The service began at 6:30 p.m. with Green softly playing his flute. Scattered conversations came to a halt as the men, women and children sat in chairs arranged in a circle.

Green then led the group in a time of spiritual cleansing and sharing, with each person holding the “talking feather” and offering concerns or praises.

Men gather around a large drum in a time of prayer and praise at a recent Native American United Methodist service. With one drumstick each, they played a variety of songs, including “We Thank You,” “Loving Medicine,” “Holy is Yahweh,” “The Victory Song” and “Jesus is Lord.” Photo #07-0632.

Afterward, Green and other men sat at large drums in a circle within the larger group and drummed the beat of a variety of worship songs. The words to “We Thank You,” “Loving Medicine,” “Holy Is Yahweh,” “The Victory Song” and “Jesus Is Lord” were projected onto a screen, but many did not need them as they danced in reverent praise around the circle.

An hour and half after starting worship, Green, who serves as spiritual leader of the group, began his sermon. The topic was seeing God’s signs. That’s when he shared the story of his near-death experience nearly two decades ago.

“I was lifted up … it was like I was wrapped in this incredible energy,” Green said. “I was not afraid. There was this awesome presence; there were no voices. I can’t find the words to describe it. It’s impossible to convey what I felt. I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel. It was really something.”

Green said doctors shocked his heart and he fully recovered, but the images and feelings remain with him.

In his work as a chaplain, Green said he has met people who have had similar experiences. While working at the hospital one day, Green said a young man who was paralyzed from the neck down lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness he told Green he had seen a tranquil forest with a stream. He also requested to be taken off life support and gave the medical staff instructions not to revive him if his body failed again.

Green said he was with the man as he took his last breath. Just before he died, Green said he whispered to him, “Tell Jesus I love him.” He said the man died with a wide smile on his face.

Green said his and the young man’s experience are signs of God’s miracles. He said Jesus gets impatient while waiting to return to his kingdom and performs miracles to show people he is real, not some fictional character.

“We are human, and we may have our doubts here and there,” Green said. “What I have told you today, these are signs. Jesus is not dead. Jesus is alive, and he shows us every day.”

Green said that doesn’t mean people won’t experience hard times. It also doesn’t mean Jesus is punishing people when bad things do happen. He said it just means people have to go through the trials and tribulations of life.

“What it means is that the ticket has been bought and paid from the day you accepted Jesus Christ,” he said. “We all have a time to die, whether we’re young or old, but we don’t die. We cross over. What you have to do is reach out to him, pray. He will not leave you alone — in this life or the next.”

“All of you are disciples,” Green added. “Everyone is doing their part. We’re reaching out and bringing people into the shelter of Jesus Christ. It’s not a small role. You are the ones who will take it to the people. The link is the most important role of being a disciple. The signs are there, don’t ignore them.”

Feeling at home

Dian Barreras, who goes by the name Dreaming Dove, has been attending the services since they began.

Worship at the first annual gathering of the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries in March 2006 incorporated Native American Christian practices, including traditional dress and instruments and a spiritual cleansing ritual. Photo by Dennis Roebuck. Photo #07-0633.

“What I love about it is it’s traditional,” she said. “It’s like coming home.”

Dreaming Dove and the other worshippers are able to enjoy that homecoming thanks to Green’s willingness to lead the services.

Green said he and his wife attended Thonotosassa United Methodist Church on Native American Sunday four years ago and were invited to start a regular service that would meet at the church. He said he gave every excuse he could think of not to lead the group. His wife soon began calling him Jonah because of his futile attempt to escape his calling. The idea of authentic American Indian worship intrigued Green, however, and he decided he could no longer deny the pull to be the spiritual leader of the group.

“I didn’t feel uncomfortable,” he said of those first gatherings. “It felt natural to me. It was in my heart all along and (I) didn’t know it. I love my Methodist church, and what we do here is natural for us. We worship Jesus in the Indian way. We totally feel free to do that.”

Green said Native Americans have been told how to worship for so long that many have “bought into” or adopted a non-Native American worship style as their own. He said many Native Americans stay away from Anglo churches because they feel out of place, that something integral to their very being is missing.

It’s a feeling Green knows well. As a child his Native American grandparents forced him to attend a white church. “It was never natural to me,” he said.

Terry Alderman, a Cherokee, said the worship service didn’t feel odd at all to him. “I enjoyed it,” he said of his first service. “I will be back.”

Guiding Bear Spirit With Two Hearts has attended regularly since the services began.

“I like this because it is real. It’s not fake,” he said. “I can worship the Creator in my way. I don’t have to go to a church with pews.”

More information about CONAM’s work in the conference and the availability of speakers for church celebrations of Native American Ministries Sunday is available on the conference Web site at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1177 or by e-mailing flconam@earthlink.net.
 
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This article relates to Missions.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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