April 23 – Native American Ministries Sunday Today

A Moment for Mission

“This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.” —Acts 2:39, CEB

Jeremiah “Jerry” Wolfe (1924-2018) was, according to all records, the first Native American to be elected a delegate to General Conference from the Western North Carolina Conference (1976). A native of Cherokee, he was a quiet and strong force for his people and their rich culture and heritage. As long as he was able, he opened the worship each Sunday at Cherokee United Methodist Church with a wonderful and heartfelt prayer in his native language. Wolfe was an active leader in his church, serving at various times as lay leader, lay delegate to annual conference and council chair. He also was a member of the conference Commission on Religion and Race (1972-80).

While he was sent to an “Indian school” at age seven, where his native culture was repressed, Wolfe quietly obeyed, always making sure that he never forgot his roots. As the Rev. John Ferree said, “Jerry was one of those who had every opportunity to be bitter about the treatment of his people, but he made the choice to do something different. He did not want to poison the minds of the next generation.” Instead, he became an advocate for preserving and cultivating the Cherokee language and culture. Western Carolina University awarded him an honorary doctor of humane letters in 2017.

A mason by trade, Wolfe was one of the last Cherokee stonecutters. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was a D-Day survivor. The only Native American in his unit, he was well respected. In 2013, Wolfe was named Beloved Man of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians—the first man to receive this honor in over 200 years. Four years later, he was bestowed with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Today, United Methodists celebrate Native American Ministries Sunday. It’s a wonderful opportunity to honor influential people like Jeremiah Wolfe and to learn about other Native Americans who have contributed to our church’s amazing history.

Adapted from Celebrating Native American Heritage Month in the Western North Carolina Conference, Jim Pyatt, Nov. 3, 2022

Children’s Story
Whether we are splashing in the lake, sipping from a fountain after recess or brushing our teeth before bed, we depend on water to get us through the day. However, in some parts of the world, healthy and safe water is not easy to find. In some communities where Native Americans live, they do not have good, clean water like you and I do.

Autumn Peltier is a member of the Aniishnabek Nation in Canada and has been talking to as many people as she can about safe water in her community since she was eight years old. She was inspired by her great-aunt, Josephine Mandamin, who also tried to help her family and friends have good, clean water. Her community even called her “Grandmother Water Walker” because she did so much to help get safe water for everyone. In Autumn’s Native American culture, water is very special and what we call sacred, so when she heard that the water they were drinking and using was not good and could make people sick, Autumn made the decision to help where she could.

Autumn has had to be brave and stand up to people in power. When she was 12, she spoke to the prime minister of Canada—which is like speaking to our president of the United States. Before Autumn gave her speech, some people told her not to speak to the prime minister. However, through tears, she told the prime minister that she was unhappy with the choices he had made that resulted in the water being less safe for people to use. These brave words spoken by a child surprised people around the world.

Since then, she has made speeches to big groups like the United Nations and was a finalist for the International Children’s Peace Prize. She is now the chief water commissioner for the Aniishnabek Nation.

Our Christian faith asks us to be kind and take care of the earth and all the people, plants and animals on it. This Native American Ministries Sunday, we can be as brave as Autumn by talking about ways to care for God’s creation so that it can be a healthy and happy place to live.

Let’s talk about this:

Who in the Bible did what was right, even when people around them tried to get them to do the wrong things?

How can the church support  people, like Autumn, who speak out to save the earth?

Why is it important for Christians to care about the earth’s water?

Offertory Prayer
Loving God, you call us to follow you and to share our faith with others. Help us to reach out in love to all of your children—and to learn from them. Amen.

From Discipleship Ministries: Third Sunday of Easter — Loosening the Bonds. Creator of all we know and all we don’t know, as we bring our gifts this day, we ask you to help us trust you more. Forgive us when we entertain the thought that our future lies in bank balances and the accumulation of stuff. Remind us as Peter reminded the early followers that through Jesus, we “have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God” (1:21). May our lives reflect that trust to others. In the powerful name of Jesus, we pray. Amen. (1 Peter 1:17-23)

Newsletter Nugget
The United Methodist Native American International Caucus (NAIC) recently received a General Board of Church and Society grant to support its 2023 Family Camp for Native American United Methodist Families. The camp, scheduled for July 20-23 at the Asbury Retreat Center in Silver Lake, New York, is returning after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Bishop John Schol graciously accepted the grant on behalf of the NAIC,” said Cynthia Wilks-Mosley (Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape). She chairs the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference Committee on Native American Ministries and is a NAIC board member-at-large. Campers will learn about missing and murdered Indigenous women, former Native American boarding schools, healthy lifestyles and other concerns.

“We are hoping churches may provide camperships for Native American families who cannot afford the modest tuition and travel,” said Wilks-Mosley, who recently appealed for camperships at a regional meeting of United Women in Faith. “Family Camp is a great experience for tribal families.”

Today is Native American Ministries Sunday. We remember the contributions of 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 Caucus Receives Grant for 2023 Family Camp,” Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, Jan. 18. 2023

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