From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodists to fund Native American ministries on May 7

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 19 Apr 2000 15:04:24

April 19, 2000 News media contact: Linda Green·(615)742-5470·Nashville,
Tenn.     10-34-71B{211}

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - United Methodists across the country will open
their wallets on May 7 for a special offering dedicated to enhancing Native
American ministries.

Native American Awareness Sunday recognizes and supports the contributions
of American Indians to the church and society. The observance, approved by
the 1988 General Conference, is one of six special churchwide Sunday
offerings to be celebrated in each of the 35,986 United Methodist churches
in the United States. 

"Have all things in common" is the theme for this year's special Sunday
observance. The funds collected will allow the United Methodist Church to
partner with existing native ministries and create programs on behalf of
American Indians. Money collected also supports seminary scholarships for
United Methodist Native Americans.

Fifty percent of the offering remains in the annual conference to develop
and strengthen local Native American ministries. Should no such ministries
exist within the conference, the offering is remitted in full to the General
Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA). The funds are then distributed
equally between the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry
to provide scholarships for American Indians attending the church's schools
of theology and the Native American Urban Initiative of the Board of Global

A 1990 Census report estimated that 1.9 million American Indians live within
the boundaries of the 66 United Methodist annual conferences, and more than
60 percent live in urban areas.  The denomination has 200 Native American
churches, ministries and fellowships in the country, and 28 are in urban

Oklahoma, with 49 tribes, has the largest concentration of American Indians
in the United States. The largest amount of the nearly 19,000 Native
Americans in the United Methodist Church resides in the Oklahoma Indian
Missionary Conference, which has 7,500 members and 91 churches. Native
American United Methodists and ministries may be found from the tip of
Florida to Alaska, and the denomination has large populations of American
Indian members in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi,
Arizona, New Mexico and California.

The strong United Methodist presence in the Southeast and Southwest and in
Oklahoma is due to the "comity agreements" of the late 1800s and early
1900s, according to the denomination's Native American Office of
Communications. Agreements were made between major mainline denominations
and the U.S. government in the late 1800s, and the denominations were
assigned regions of the country for their work among native people.

GCFA figures indicate that United Methodist awareness of American Indian
ministries is steadily increasing. Local churches have given $650,000 in
support of Native American Awareness Sunday in the past three years. In
1999, offering receipts totaled $335,000, up from $315,000 in 1998 and
$290,819 in 1997.

Giving for the special Sunday has increased 15.2 percent in the past three
years, said Kent McNish, director of marketing at United Methodist
Communications (UMCom) in Nashville, Tenn. "We have had a 14 percent
increase in the number of churches ordering Native American Awareness Sunday
promotional materials over the past three years." The increases are the
result of greater commitment on the part of local churches to take the
offering and higher awareness of native ministries in annual conferences, he

The increases also can be attributed to an innovative idea that originated
in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said Ray Buckley, director of
the United Methodist Native American Communications Office in Nashville.

Several years ago, the conference began training a team of individuals who
could speak of the concerns and needs of American Indians and about ministry
opportunities within their communities, he said. Those individuals are known
as "interpreters."

Although some Native American communities no longer possess tribal languages
and culture, the Oklahoma Indian Conference represents unique faith
communities, strongly connected to tribal histories and culture, Buckley
said. Individuals trained as interpreters represent their people and the
United Methodist Church.

^From that original idea sprang a series of "interpretation" programs within
non-Indian conferences of the United Methodist Church. Interpreters serve to
answer questions regarding Native Americans and "put a face" on native

Many local churches and annual conferences struggle with Native American
Awareness Sunday promotions, Buckley said. They seek more in-depth ideas
that can be used in a variety of settings.  

Scheduled for release in July, Sharing the Heritage is a guide for annual
conferences in the promotion of Native American Awareness Sunday and the
work of conference committees on Indian ministry. This guide, produced and
written by the Native American Communications Office and UMCom, is an effort
to assist annual conferences in moving beyond the yearly promotions to
developing effective, long-term, meaningful programs. The resource includes
ideas for sermon illustrations, quarterly children's bulletins and programs,
developing a conference theme and emphasis, ideas for ministry and

Although Native American Awareness Sunday is generally observed with an
offering on the third Sunday of Easter, some churches designate an alternate
time in the year to emphasize it.

In particular, four Native American United Methodist churches in the
Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference will conduct a special event on July
1. Together, these congregations in the Oklahoma City area - Norman First
American, Mary Lee Clark, Billy Hooton Memorial and Angie Smith Memorial -
will host a powwow and invite all area United Methodist churches to attend
and learn about American Indians. A powwow is a traditional Indian social
gathering that involves tribal dancing, celebrations, food and fellowship.
Exhibits will explain Native American Awareness Sunday and provide
opportunities for conversations about the offering and how it is used in the
United Methodist Church.

Delegates to the 2000 General Conference will consider legislation brought
by a joint task force of the GCFA and the General Council on Ministries that
is proposing the reduction of special Sundays with offerings. The proposed
legislation recommends that Native American Awareness Sunday be changed to
Native American Ministry Sunday in 2001. The name change would highlight the
fact that the fund supports specific ministries with and for native people
at the annual conference and general church levels. 

General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, will meet May
2-12 in Cleveland.

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United Methodist News Service
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