Written by Jimi Izrael
What kind of credentials does the Rev. Kim Mammedaty bring to the office of Executive Director for the UCC's Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM)?
Some of them you might expect. Mammedaty (pronounced MAH muh day) has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern College, a Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota Law School. Impressive, all, but this probably isn't where Mammedaty draws her strength and passion.
As a Kiowa Indian, she also brings her heart and first-hand knowledge of some of the issues facing native people in this country.
"I would really like to be a part of strengthening Indian churches," says Mammedaty "and right now we have an issue with the lack of leadership. I'm all about nurturing those leaders."
The churches are really looking forward to a new day as far as their ministry is concerned, she says. She's finding out that people want to reflect on their own ministry and the way in which they reach out to their communities. The UCC has a relationship with a number of American Indian churches, she says, and CAIM is about fostering those relationships.
What name to use?
There are also quite a few Indian members of the UCC and Mammedaty is intent upon addressing issues that involve those parishioners. Not the least of these issues is, what do indigenous people in this country want to be called?
"Well," she says, breathing the question in, "'American Indian' is the designation a lot of people use because of our relationship with the U.S. Government and our relationship to the church; it has historical significance to some. Some people want to be called 'Native Americans' and still others want to be addressed by their tribal name. So it's a broader inquiry, and identity issues are among those I hope to address. This is a very important identity question."
American Indians are also determined to put some of CAIM's work in a wider context.
"We need to interpret our work in the context of the whole UCC," she says. "The UCC wants to know us better: who we are and what we do. The short answer is that our churches are involved in a lot of the same activities that other churches are involved in. It's just that the context is different—it's more urgent. We have to look at the reservations we are a part of, the tribe we are a part of, and discuss how best to solve the problems there."
Mammedaty also wants to do some writing and explore the implications of Indian Theology. Indians have not had an opportunity to begin their own theological reflection on what it means to be Christian in their native context, she says.
"I'm really interested writing and learning about that," she says. "It may be that I find nothing new, but it could be that we have a lot to reveal and bring to the table, as we help the wider church examine its own identity. How do we think about God? How do we think about Jesus? These are important questions for all of us."
Mammedaty wants to reach out to the UCC community and help establish an identity and a history of her people.
"I want the UCC to get to know who we are and how we came to be in this church," she says. "I think that when you have small numbers in the church, you sometimes have a small voice. Often that voice isn't heard. In the future, I think the church will clearly hear the voice of the Indian people, and what we have to bring to the wider church."