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Moving toward repentance

Posted: May 1 2012 at 02:33 PM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt, Dir. of Communications

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Michelle Oberwise-Lacock (3rd from left) joins other Native American women during the April 27 service, Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples, which was part of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

How do we engage in any real repentance?

That was the question asked at the Act of Repentance Toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples at General Conference April 27.

“Keep on repenting. Don’t dare stop,” challenged the Rev. George Tinker, a citizen of the Osage Nation and a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Tinker shared some painful chapters in the lives of Native people and Methodists with delegates and visitors inside the Tampa Convention Center.

“There’s a lot of history that has been concealed; you have to go and dig it up,” said Tinker. In 1864, nearly 170 unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho were massacred near Sand Creek, Colo. The raid was led by John Chivington, an ordained Methodist pastor and local army officer. Tinker also told a lesser-known Methodist chapter of that tragic event. After refusing to meet with Cheyenne leaders, John Evans, a Methodist serving as governor of the Colorado territory, ordered the massacre.

Tinker said in spite of that action, Evans is celebrated as the founder of the University of Denver, Northwestern University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, a city named for the Methodist leader.

“I respect The United Methodist Church for beginning this process,” said Tinker, “because it is fraught with danger, it takes a great deal of courage and it is difficult and complex.”

Co-chair of the Northern Illinois Conference’s Committee on Native American Ministries (CCONAM), Elisa Gatz, watched the Friday evening service from her home via livestreaming.

“I really hope the United Methodist Church heard Rev. Tinker’s words,” she said. “But the true test of the meaning of the words that were spoken and the pledge that was given will be played out over time. There is a long history of oppression of Native and Indigenous peoples, and it will take some time to repair, build trust, and form a new relationship.”

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung said the hope is to hold an Act of Repentance toward indigenous people at the 2013 Northern Illinois Annual Conference as suggested by the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concern. He said it will require conference-wide preparation, including Bible study.

“It was a very moving evening,” Bishop Jung remarked following the General Conference Acts of Repentance service. “I have received it as God’s amazing call to an act of repentance. We must follow our promise and commitment toward restoration.”

CCONAM’s co-chair Michelle Oberwise-Lacock says the Northern Illinois conference began the process of repentance in 2005 with the first Native American worship services at annual conference. Churches were encouraged to be part of the reconciliation. At the 2011 annual conference, Native American storyteller, Ray Buckley, moved participants to tears as the main speaker. Oberwise-Lacock says the committee is also actively present with several northern Illinois Native American organizations, such as the American Indian Center and Kateri Center of Chicago. But she says more needs to be done.

“I have high hopes, and yet I, too, wait to see if something will be done differently. I look forward to being a part of the process and pray that we will actively work to stop oppression and racism in all forms and be continually repenting so we can truly be a transforming church for all,” she said.

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