Native Americans bring many unique languages, cultures and more to their 124 churches. Through Native American Ministries Sunday (NAMS), United Methodists can equip and empower Native American pastors, congregations and seminary students to preserve their heritage and honor their past.
Although St. John Fordville will not be having an in-person NAMS service with the ceremonial table as its back drop amid sounds of Native American flutes, turtle shells, blankets and creek stones, Rev. Roy Bundy will continue to offer an online worship service every Sunday via Facebook so that the power of this message is not lost and so he can stay connected to his congregation. This important day:
- Celebrates a commitment to racial reconciliation.
- Believes in funding justice efforts for Native Americans.
- Embraces the idea that when we give together, we do more than any individual can.
- Believe in taking care of our own family.
- Believes in modeling generosity for our communities and future generations.
The Book of Discipline requires a special offering, which is administered by the Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM), but it is more than that. Some churches have said this rule of service is not applicable since there are no Native Americans in attendance at their church.
“Our answer to these churches is to refer them to the Act of Repentance held at the 2012 General Conference,” said Cynthia Mosely of St. John UMC. “This was not a once and done action; it was designed to assist indigenous people to address the challenges faced by their churches and communities.”
In New Jersey, the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribe, the largest group of indigenous people in the state, live primarily in Fairfield Township in Cumberland County. The township represents one of the lowest incomes per capita in the County, which itself holds the distinction of being the County with the highest rates of poverty indicators in New Jersey.
Founded in 1841 St. John United Methodist Church is the church of the Tribal people. It is the only Native American Church in New Jersey and one of five in the Northeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church as well as the fifth oldest Methodist church designated as Native American.
Direct descendants of the founders still worship with by Rev. Roy E. Bundy. The gifts of time and resources provided by the NAMS offerings include, but are not limited to the following opportunities for the community:
- Students have received scholarship assistance for college and continuing education;
- Church and community leaders are provided the opportunity to attend training to use in church and community life;
- Vacation Bible School and afterschool programs reach children with cultural and scriptural education using a locally designed curriculum;
- Elders have been able to gather to study and learn within their own cultural community;
- Clothing and food giveaways sponsored by the church reach more than 200 people every month.
This is a short list of the benefits of the NAMS offering.
“However, more importantly on NAMS the general church family can learn and understand more about the Native American community right here in New Jersey,” said Mosely. “We share our drums, our dancers, our speakers and our love of the Creator with everyone.”
And by the way, we are reported to be good cooks!”
Mosely extends this invitation to honor Native American Sunday with a special worship service, an offering or a visit to a Tribal church or activity. All of these can be done remotely. Resources to facilitate this can be found on the GNJ website.
At the onset of the coronavirus, St. John’s congregation increased the amount of food they give away. The small church averages about 135 unduplicated families served monthly but added 50 more families.
“Normally we give away 7,000 pounds of food per month plus 400 pounds of clothing per month, but we will be adding more food to serve the extra families throughout our partnership with Community Food Bank of New Jersey and local businesses and farmers,” Mosely said, adding that a produce giveaway day has also been added.
“We are a designated healthy pantry, and we know healthy nutrition helps fight illness. We unfortunately had to cancel our nutrition classes, but we continue to have nutrition information upon request.”