April 16 – Native American Ministries Sunday Next Week

A Moment for Mission

“Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. … You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” —Psalm 16:1, 11, NRSVUE

In former times, the Rev. Glen Kernell would have been called an “Indian.” His name in the language of his tribe is Chebon. 

As European settlement of North America expanded westward, the indigenous population with cultures going back hundreds and thousands of years was overwhelmed, oppressed and massacred. Families were split up and children reeducated.

Kernell said only 0.004% of Native Americans in North America survived after the relocation and dispossession period when Native Americans were forcibly removed from their lands and taken from their families. Today’s Native population are the descendants of those survivors. 

“I’m one of them,” he added. 

Kernell is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. He is also of Muscogee Creek ancestry. The U.S. federal government recognizes 574 such nations of North America’s indigenous population spread out across what today is the territory of the United States.

He has been working as a United Methodist pastor in churches in Oklahoma for more than 10 years. Oklahoma is today home to members of multiple tribes, who were relocated from their original territory in the U.S. southeast.

Kernell studied politics before getting a master’s degree in theology. For the past three years, he has been executive director of the United Methodist Native American Comprehensive Plan, which aims to give a voice to the concerns of Native American people and to find ways of carrying out their aspirations. These include preserving the individual languages of the groups, acquiring an understanding for their very original spirituality and advocating to prevent violence against Native American women and children. 

Next week, United Methodists will celebrate Native American Ministries Sunday. On this day, the Third Sunday of Easter, we remember the gifts and contributions made by Native Americans to our society. The special offering enriches annual conference Native American ministries; provides scholarships for Native American seminary students; and strengthens, develops and equips Native American rural, urban and reservation congregations, ministries and communities.

Celebrate—and give generously.

Children’s Story
Next week is Native American Ministries Sunday. It’s a special time for us to celebrate all the wonderful things that Native Americans bring to our church and our community. We take a special offering to help Native Americans who are trying to become pastors and also to make new ministries.

More than 9 million Native Americans live in what is now the United States. They come from hundreds of groups we call tribal nations and bring different languages, different music and different ways of doing things.

Did you know that Native Americans spoke more than 300 languages? A long time ago, people did not understand the Native American languages and they were asked to not speak them, so many Native Americans do not remember how to speak their special languages and we do not have those special languages anymore.

Did you know that the United States has 574 Native American tribes that we recognize—which means we make sure these special tribal nations are taken care of. Most—229—are found in Alaska.

Did you know that Native Americans grew many of the things we love to eat? Native Americans grew corn, beans, squash, potatoes and tomatoes. 

Did you know that Native Americans were forced to move by the Indian Relocation Act of 1830? Native Americans were forced out of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee and sent to “Indian territory” located in what is now Oklahoma. Thousands died on what we call the Trail of Tears.

Did you know that Native Americans were granted American citizenship in 1924? Even so, many Native Americans were not allowed to vote until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.

Did you know that the Navajo Nation has the largest tribal land in the United States? It’s almost 25,000 square miles and extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Do you have Native Americans in your church, school or community? If you do, ask a grown-up to invite a Native American leader to share stories of their life and their culture. I think you’ll learn a lot in the process!

Let’s talk about this:

What did you learn about Native Americans today?

If you study about Native Americans in school, what other facts do you know?

Why is it important for our church to support Native American ministries and future pastors?

Offertory Prayer
Loving God, we can learn so much from others, if only we take the time to listen. Open our eyes and ears to the lessons our Native American sisters and brothers can teach us. Amen.

From Discipleship Ministries: Second Sunday of Easter — Fullness of Joy. Holy and loving God, you treat us not like the stern disciplinarian but like the forgiving parent who runs to embrace us when we’ve rebelled or disappointed. Your mercy gives us the opportunities to try again, to return into your grace, to pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off. You forget how many strikes we have against us but invite us back into the inheritance you desire for us. May our offering this day reflect our gratitude. In Christ, we pray. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Newsletter Nugget
One explicit objective of the United Methodist Native American Comprehensive Plan, said the Rev. Glen Kernell, focuses on the ever-growing efforts for climate justice.

This is why he doesn’t agree with the biblical phrase normally used in the church that describes people as stewards, given responsibility to take care of the land. In fact, he said, it should be the other way around. 

“It’s not that the earth belongs to us and we take care of it. Instead, we belong to the earth and it takes care of us,” he said. “For countless generations, it has given us everything we need—air, water, fruit—and never kept anything from us.”

“I want my church to understand that ‘we’ [Native Americans] have our insights, knowledge and understanding of God and people’s well-being, something that is still waiting to be given its due respect today, even in the church.”

Next week, United Methodists celebrate Native American Ministries Sunday. On this day, we remember the contributions made by Native Americans to our society. The special offering enriches annual conference Native American ministries; provides scholarships for Native American seminarians; and strengthens, develops and equips Native American rural, urban and reservation congregations, ministries and communities.

Adapted from “Native American Leader Discusses Threatened Cultures,” Ulrich Ruof, U.M. News, Oct. 17, 2022

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