November is National Native American Heritage Month, a great time to learn about Indigenous culture, history and concerns. St. John UMC in Bridgeton, NJ, honors its unique Native American heritage every fifth Sunday. It did so October 29 with sacred traditions, a recounting of its history, special guests and the dedication of a new, donated, outdoor pavilion to provide shelter for its popular food distribution ministry.
Among the traditions was a special litany that honored our Creator God and our creation as a human family. The standing, turning prayer, spoken while facing the earth’s four directions, included adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication for wisdom, healing, purification and reconciliation.
In addition, a family of Nanticoke-Lenni-Lenape dancers presented and explained several songs and dances, accompanied by drumming.
And St. John’s Lay Member to Annual Conference Cynthia Mosley briefly shared a history of her people—offering a very short telling of a very long story—from their early habitation in the Delaware Bay region; to the invasion by early settlers and the oppression they suffered, along with their introduction to the Christian faith; to their forced relocation to the western U.S. by President Andrew Jackson. Today, as a result, many live in Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin and Canada.
She told how many tribal families defiantly remained in the area, some hiding in churches like St. John’s. Although at first, they were made to worship at Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bridgeton, Nanticoke-Lenni-Lenape Methodists left to form the St. John congregation in 1841. They and their descendants became active, generous citizens of the economically struggling Bridgeton/Fordville community, sharing food and other necessities with their neighbors.
St. John and Trinity together received a $1,000 grant in 2019 from the UMC’s Council of Bishops to encourage and support their pan-Methodist efforts to serve the Bridgeton area together as partners in food drives, youth ministry and educational programs.
Among the guests attending the October 29 service were Committee on Native American Ministries (CoNAM) members from both Greater New Jersey (GNJ) and Eastern PA (EPA). EPA and GNJ CoNAM members have become partners sharing in ministry in recent years, leading the way for the current affiliated relationship of their two conferences .
“Whenever EPA and GNJ CoNAM members visit one another, it is truly a family gathering that ignores our (conference) borders,” said Mosley. “And each visit seems to deepen our relationship.”
Finally, St. John members and friends dedicated a new pavilion that provides shelter for its popular, monthly distributions of healthy food and clothing to neighbors in and beyond Bridgeton. The pavilion, donated a year ago by GNJ’s CoNAM with funds from the Native American Ministries Sunday offering, is also where about 90 children a day come for free lunch during the summer.
St. John ‘s pastor, the Rev. Douglas Goldsborough offered a prayer of dedication under the Amish-made structure.