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Native American committee makes strides in strengthening ministry

Native American committee makes strides in strengthening ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Native American committee makes strides in strengthening ministry

July 26, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0708}

NOTE: See related e-Review FUMNS article, “Service gives Native Americans a place to reconnect,” at:

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

Participants at the conference’s first annual gathering of Native American United Methodists in March 2006 dance during a time of praise and worship. The event was sponsored by the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin. Photo #07-0629.

LAKELAND — The Rev. Jeff Ramsland remembers being worried no one would attend the Florida Conference’s first annual gathering for Native American United Methodists last year.

To his surprise more than 50 people did.

Given that turnout and the birth of a bi-monthly Native American worship service, Ramsland is optimistic about the future of the conference’s ministry by and for Native Americans.

Ramsland is chairman of the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM). The team sponsored the first gathering and a second one held earlier this year to highlight Native American Christian praise and worship. CONAM also works to encourage churches to observe the denominational Native American Ministries Sunday each year. Additional goals are being formulated.

Ramsland, who is of Mohawk lineage, said it has taken some time for the conference to fulfill the mandate from the 1996 General Conference that every annual conference establish a CONAM. He said the Florida Conference’s committee evolved from the foundation laid by the former Native American Task Force.

Since CONAM’s first meeting in October 2005 the core group has increased from 10 people to 17, with several Native American tribes represented. CONAM members include both Native American and non-Native American United Methodists from throughout the conference.

Ramsland said one of the team’s first tasks was determining how many Native Americans are or aren’t being reached. The team mailed a survey to the conference’s 700-plus churches, but Ramsland said he was extremely disappointed to receive only 30 completed surveys.

Despite the lack of response, Ramsland feels CONAM is off to a good start with its bi-monthly worship service at Thonotosassa United Methodist Church. Ramsland attends on a regular basis and describes it as a dream that has evolved into reality, “a calling I have felt for a number of years.”

He says European people have done a poor job evangelizing native people and this country’s history, from the time Christopher Columbus “stepped on these shores,” is one “steeped in genocide.”

“The church was a part of this country’s history,” he added, “with boarding schools where American Indians were stripped of their heritage and children.”

While CONAM may not be able to right years of wrongdoing, it is bringing believers and seekers together on a journey of faith.

The Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries’ first annual gathering in March 2006 drew both younger and older members and gave participants the chance to experience Native American Christian worship and music. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin. Photo #07-0630.

“We have a lot of ground we have to cover in terms of representing God through Jesus Christ to the native people,” Ramsland said. “We didn’t embrace who they are. The policy was kill the (Native American) Indian, save the man. We thought of them as savages, disliked their traditions and beliefs. We wanted to make them like us. God never said it was bad to be an (Native American) Indian, the same way he never said it was bad to be English or Irish.”

The goal of the worship service is to affirm Native Americans as complete beings in the eyes of God and allow them to worship God in their own way, Ramsland said. He said the white culture falsely labeled Native American worship practices as hedonistic and not worthy to properly worship God.

“They said if you are going to worship God, you must come into our church like we do,” he said. “No one had the right to say you can’t worship God this way.”

Now that Native Americans are learning about the worship opportunities at Thonotosassa United Methodist Church, Ramsland said he is optimistic the service will continue to grow.

“We’re really excited about what’s happening,” he said. “We hope it can serve as a model of worship for other areas of the conference.”

Ramsland says clergy need to be aware that Native Americans are in every city and district.

“American Indians can be found in every community where our churches are,” he adds. “We just need to look.”

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 or by e-mailing

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.