Phoenix, Arizona

“Through our unique Native American perspective, we can bring a lot to the non-Indian churches,” Elder Aaron King said during a small group discussion at the 2012 Native American Ministries consultation in Phoenix, Arizona.

The consultation took place January 24 through January 26.  It was organized by the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC) and the General Assembly Mission Council’s Office of Native American Congregational Support.

The group invited pastors, elders and leaders throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from across the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities Native American Presbyterians have in connection with their own congregations and the larger church. 

 “I want you to know that we are a better church because of Native American Presbyterians,”  Rev. Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women, told the gathering.  Rev. Hunter spoke and met with attendees on the last day of the consultation.

During the three day event, the group of about forty people was asked by NACC members to break into smaller discussion groups and focus on obstacles and solutions for three key areas: leadership development, denominational relationships and financial realities.

“Native people can teach the whole church something about doing more with less,”  Rev. Hunter said referring to the financial strain being felt by much of the country.

The group shared how their individual congregations are creatively raising funds and making their dollars last longer.  Some organized craft days; others offered more transparency so donors can see why their donations are important.

“We are able to open ourselves up and say, ‘see, these are our books and why you are helping us reach more people through God,’” King told his discussion group. “We also encourage pledge giving so people can give quarterly and it usually means many of them will give more than they usually would.”

The attendees spent several hours discussing how to encourage and empower leaders within Native churches while providing materials and resources that are relevant in the Native American context.

 “I don’t think we have encouraged our Native people to believe in their leadership capabilities,” Rev. Buddy Monahan said during one group session. “We have committed Presbyterians in our pews and they can become committed leaders.”

 “I agree. We need to transform ourselves from objects of mission to partners in mission,” Elder June Lorenzo said. “Leadership training also means training for our treasurers and staff. Their roles are important so we have to have those fundamental skills to become self supporting.”

“We also have to remember to stay positive. No one wants to take on leadership if there’s no positive reinforcement.” Elder Madeline Terry added. “As an Elder, I would like to see good and wonderful things happen in our church.”

 “The ‘how’ is one of our challenges,” Lorenzo continued. “We must look at ‘how’ to adapt materials to our own needs, foster cultural competency among church leaders and make them relevant to our youth.”

Many of the attendees also discussed how to strengthen partnerships with other congregations throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); how to encourage youth by being “positive examples of change” within communities; and how to improve communication with the larger church. Most in attendance felt there was need for both non-Native and Native worshipping communities at all levels of the PC(USA) do their part. It’s a point Rev. Hunter agreed was important.

 “We recognize that communication is needed. We must look at how we all can communicate better with each other, and I’m excited about what’s happening here,” she told the crowd during her comments on the final day.  

The group listed its top priorities for Native American congregations in 2012 and beyond.  The consulting committee, with the help of Rev. Martha Sadongei, the church Specialist for Native American Congregational Support within Racial Ethnic and Women’s ministries, is compiling all the information and will submit recommendations for Native American ministries to the General Assembly Mission Council.

The hope is to not only to focus on the future and help Native American Presbyterians become an even more integrated part of the PC (USA) but to share the gifts native people have to share with all Presbyterians.

“If you tell Native Americans there is a need, they respond,” Rev. Irvin Porter said. “That’s something we do really well as a culture. We help our own.”