Leaders from the United Church of Christ’s national offices took a trip to South Dakota last weekend to advance the relationship with Native American churches and associations in the denomination. It was during that gathering that they learned about and experienced the growing ministry of Native American spirituality in the UCC.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president, the Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister of the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries, W. Mark Clark, the UCC’s chief administrative officer, and the Rev. Elizabeth Leung, minister for racial justice, spent a day-and-a-half August 1-2 on a Cheyenne reservation in Eagle Butte, S.D.
"We were all impressed to learn of the creativity and the viability of the Dakota Association churches," Moos said. "This was one step on the road to understanding with Native American churches within the UCC what the work with CAIM (Council of American Indian Ministries) and the national office needs to be doing going forward. It was a positive and fruitful discussion."
The purpose of the visit, Moos said, was to "visit the Dakota Association, and meet with the Native American Churches for a wide-ranging discussion. We talked about furthering the national offices’ relationships with CAIM, the conference and associations, and the churches there."
"I think this is really incredibly helpful to have national leadership here at this point. We’ve been working and improving the relationships within the conference, and I thought it was an excellent weekend with leadership here and offering their input," said the Rev. David Felton, interim conference minister for the South Dakota Conference.
"We have been building many positive relationships, and one manifestation of that is the election of Louie Bluecoat as the first Native-American moderator of the conference," Moos said.
The groups talked about the implementation of the resolution that repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, which was passed in early July during General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. As part of her work with the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries, Leung will work with the association and other Native American churches in the UCC on developing learning resources to help the church live into its call of repudiating the doctrine and restoring seized lands to their rightful owners. Part of that process is already underway, as the South Dakota Conference has already turned over titles to church lands back to Native Americans of the Dakota Association.
Felton also mentioned that the conference is working to return more land in the near future. "That’s a huge step," Felton said. "We’re active and working diligently on that."
During General Synod, Moos spoke in favor of the resolution when it came to the floor for debate, pledging to CAIM and Justice and Witness Ministries to help any way he could in its implementation. Moos is familiar with the Dakota plains, having served in Bismarck, N.D., as a church pastor for 15 years before being called to lead Wider Church Ministries in 2007.
"Having the national leadership here broadened the conversation from just the South Dakota Conference to the whole UCC," Felton said. "Between their visit and the [resolution], it’s a much larger conversation, and it really connected the Dakota Association to feel a part of the church."
Felton hopes to have future conversations on implementing the resolution on repudiating the doctrine in the future, as well as more conversations on race through JWM’s Sacred Conversation on Race. It is a church-wide initiative for UCC settings to speak and connect how faith, race, and justice issues affect our lives.
"Sacred Conversations on Race have transformed the conference, and they’ve helped to get clergy together," Felton said. "The third will come up this fall."