More Native Americans are finding a partner in The United Methodist Church thanks to sensitive and humble outreach efforts of the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM).
As the U.S. readies to mark Native American History Month in November, CONAM is inviting United Methodist churches to embrace Native American culture.
|Ed Taylor, president of the Florida Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM), and his wife, Marsha, “Most everyone will have some (Native American ancestry) in their background,” said Marsha Taylor, CONAM’s secretary and treasurer. They run an American Indian Christian Circle on the third Sunday of the month at 4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Agape House, 915 Seventh St., Clermont. --Photos by Kevin Brady|
“As we approach Natives, we need to develop a relationship with them as individuals; then we can introduce the idea of Christ’s love for them, and what He offers,” said CONAM president Ed Taylor who, with his wife, Marsha, runs a monthly Christian circle for Native Americans at First United Methodist Church of Clermont.
He emphasizes a “contextual” approach to ministry, taking Native American culture into account.
CONAM was founded in 2005. In 2012 Methodists adopted an Act of Repentance and formally asked for God's forgiveness for mistreatment of Native Americans at the 2012 General Conference.
It organized the first Native American Gathering in 2006 at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park near Leesburg. The April 2019 event is expected to draw more than 70 attendees.
Native American Christians see a natural bond between their ancestors’ spiritual beliefs and Christianity.
“Native people have always believed in a Creator, but Christianity was presented in such a negative way by early missionaries that Native Americans turned away from traditional churches, said Dreaming Dove, a member of the Pan-O-Kee tribe.
Some Native Americans also believe Jesus may have visited the Americas, citing He Walked The Americas by Taylor Hansen. The book argues Jesus visited native peoples as he travelled from South to North America.
“So many tribes from North and South America tell stories of how this person visited their tribe,” Dreaming Dove said. “Now we are trying to promote Christianity in a native way to reach them in their own way.”
|Red Eagle encouraged the public to join the Native American campaign to proclaim the fourth Friday of September a state and federal Native American holiday. “President Kennedy was shot before he could sign it and the bill has just sat up there in Washington ever since,” he said. --Photos by Kevin Brady|
Red Eagle has been the chief of the Pan-O-Kee Native American Tribe of Central Florida for 27 years and is a former evangelist minister.
“Howard W. Oxendine is my government name,” he said with a smile.
Events like the Bushnell Pow Wow are designed to “hold onto our history and recognize Jesus Christ as the son of God. Our history is dying out little by little,” he said. “They don’t teach about Native American history in schools.”
What would he like to see churches do to mark Native American history month?
“Pray for us,” he said simply.
That spirit was clear on a sweltering September morning in Bushnell on Sept. 29, when the Pan-O-Kee tribe celebrated its seventh annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow with traditional native crafts, food, storytelling, song and dance.
The only Christian Pow Wow in Florida, Taylor believes, the Bushnell gathering is different because “we give thanks to the Creator for the past as well as the present and look to the future that our culture can stay alive and that people can come to resolution in their own hearts at what has (happened in the past); and that it’s a different day and age, and we can move forward in more unity than ever before.”
It's a far cry from the European’s first encounters with Native Americans.
“I agree with Richard Twiss (the late Native American educator and author), who I think said if the Europeans would have come here with the mindset that they wanted to see where God was already at work and add to it, it would have been a whole different story,” said Vickie Swartz, a former CONAM chair who served on the committee for more than a decade.
|Black Feather, left, and Princess in Pink, wore their Native American dresses for the Bushnell Pow Wow.|
“Instead they came with a superior mindset that they were the cultured and spiritual people, and the indigenous people were heathens.”
Hundreds of years later that type of condescension has left Native Americans wary of Christian outreach. And the attitude persists today, said Swartz who has Native American ancestors.
“Just this past weekend at the Native American gathering in Bushnell, the lead lady dancer, an Apache, was approached by a Christian and asked, ‘Do you know Jesus?’, instead of getting to know the person and realizing you can learn from that person just like they can learn from you,” she said.
“I am a Christian and I want other people to know the Lord, but I have always felt that relationships should come first. What’s most important to native people is relationships and being on an even platform.”
For more information about the Pan-O-Kee Tribe visit the group’s website or call 352-409-3368.
--Kevin Brady is a freelance writer based in Brandon.