Annual Conference Report Sermon

Sermon June 28, 2015

Annual Conference Reflections     Rev. June Fothergill   Mark 5: 21-43

I always come back from Annual Conference with lots of brochures and papers about the work of the church in the world and resources for my work as a church leader.  This year, for some reason, I came back with less stuff.  Maybe I was too busy handing out my own stuff- I had booth in the information fair about the Intercultural Competency training team and program I have been a part of recently.  Of course this year, with less stuff, maybe I will actually use the stuff I got?

That’s the thing about Annual Conference; it is the place where we all try to tell each other our stories of ministry and share resources, make connections and network with one another. It’s also a time for some of us who have been in the conference awhile, to renew and sustain relationships that matter to our lives and ministry.  I had a friend by the name of Carol Colley, who later changed  her name to Carol Youngbird- Holt who was the first Native American person ordained in our conference.    Sadly she died several years ago of complications from the flu.   I missed her at Conference this year, especially.  I had  made a point of having a meal with her every year, to build and keep our relationship over time and distance.

So at the heart of Annual Conference and our life as a church are our relationships with one another and with Christ.  Together we hold one another to Christ’s calling and grace in our lives. Together we support one another through the difficult places in our faith/life journey.  Together we try to follow Jesus.  This year at Annual Conference we tried to follow Jesus down a path that was new and rocky for us.  I found reflecting upon this story of Jesus in Mark and my experience  at Annual Conference this year to add meaning to each.   I found  some connections between this story in Mark and my experience at Annual Conference:

First of all, the theme of this year’s Annual Conference was Restoring the Sacred Circle.  One of the ways we sought to do this was to bring to the forefront people who have been often forgotten.  I noticed that in doing this, we were following Jesus.  In this story, Jesus stops to establish a relationship with a woman who was bleeding, a forgotten, put down person.  At Annual Conference this year we brought to the forefront our Native American brothers and sisters who have often been in the background, not on the stage, whose wisdom and prayers, spiritual gifts and offerings we have rarely heard or valued.   Each time we gathered at an AC plenary we heard the voices and prayers of our Native American community members. Sometimes they sang a blessing or shared a story. Sometimes they preached, sometimes they spoke to us through stories they had written.  I was impressed by how the wisdom and voices of Native peoples was woven through the three days.  This was something I had never experience before in 30 odd years of attending Annual Conference.

It encouraged me to continue to follow Jesus in taking the time to see and hear the voice and needs of people too often forgotten.   Jesus didn’t have to stop, in fact he had important business- Jaruis’s sick daughter= but he did stop and asked for, invited the coming forth of a person who had lived in the shadows.

Secondly,  at Annual Conference, we wanted to highlight how God restores relationships, how God can be at work restoring our church’s relationship with Native American Persons and communities. In our story this morning,   Jesus offered the bleeding women healing and restoration of fellowship. Stopping not only took her out of the shadows but his attention restored her to fellowship with the community.  Now everyone knew that she no longer bled; that she was whole.  That she was a woman of faith.  The things that had separated her from life giving relationship with others were overcome.   Jesus also did this for the little girl he heals later. When she gets up from her sickbed he tells her family, ”  Give her something to eat- restore this child to table fellowship.”

But at Annual Conference we also recognized that in order to be restored or to find healing or forgiveness we need to recognize and acknowledge our brokenness.  Jarius had to come to Jesus with his need, the woman had to reach out and touch him and fall at his feet.

For the Circle of relationship with Native peoples to be restored we, in the non native community and church need to acknowledge the hurt our community has caused, our own ongoing neglect and lack of understanding and the lack of true authentic relationships with native communities and persons in our midst. This is difficult work and our AC has only just started the process. Yet, I think annual conference was an important first step.  As we in our local churches who make up the annual conference extend that work, as we seek God’s help to continue restoring broken relationship and reach out to those we have forgotten or not heard, we will be part of God’s healing of our world.

Third,  When Jesus stopped to look for and talk to the bleeding woman, he took the time to affirm her faith. Her way of expressing faith was different than the synagogue ruler. He went directly to Jesus with his need and concern and asked frankly for his help.  He felt entitled and in a position to speak up for himself and his family.  The bleeding woman on the other hand did not have that same privilege or sense of ability to ask Jesus for help directly. She decided to touch his robe secretly.  Thus , she expressed he faith in a way that fit her circumstances ( culture).  Jesus acknowledged both as acts of faith.

One of the things that has happened in the broken relationship between the church and native persons has been our lack of understanding and acceptance of Indigenous people’s culturally important ways of worship and faith expressions- we have too often and without thinking asked or required native person to “ become like us” in faith expression and practice. This had the result of alienating communities from their own heritages, cultural roots and practices and caused rifts in family and tribal relationships.  Today we are beginning to see the value and importance of retaining and integrating cultural practices and expressions of faith in Native communities of faith.  Restoring the sacred circle meant at AC receiving the cultural expressions, blessings, stories and words of faith from Native persons offered to the assembly  and letting them teach us about faith and life. We tried to practice truly honoring  cultural diversity.  In doing so we hoped to rebuild some trust between native persons and our church.   Does one act of repentance take care of it? Does inviting Native American leaders to speak take care of it?  No, but it was a beginning which I hope will lead to continued honest self reflection, and constructive dialogue with Native American United Methodists and Native peoples in our community who are wary of the church.  This brokenness exists and it will take time and continued work to restore the scared circle.  Yet, this story of Jesus gives me assurance, that this what Jesus wants to do in our midst- to restore relationships, to heal brokenness, to help us rejoice together in what God can do among us.

In his sermon to us at Annual Conference, our bishop, Grant Hagiya talked about the brokenness but then he said something that struck me.  He said,  Native peoples have chosen life again and again.  We too can also choose life.  I believe that as we listen more and more deeply and build relationships with  Native persons, we will learn more about how to participate with them and with God in not only restoring the sacred circle of human relationships but our relationship with the whole planet.  As one  Shoshone Bannock colleague Ed Galindo said to me long ago when I asked him how to celebrate Native  American Awareness Sunday-  “June, do what you can to care for this planet, our mother.”

So I want to close this reflection on Annual Conference with one of the blessings given to us by a group from the Wilshire Native  American Fellowship our conference’s ministry in Portland.

The  Water Song  was written by Doreen Day at the request of her grandson. She attended a conference about the water in which the internationally known speaker Dr. Masaru Emoto said, the very least we should do every day is to speak to the water:  Water we love you, we thank you, we respect you.  First Doreen and her grandson Maskoonce said the words as they passed a body of water on the  way to school. Then one day Mashkoonce said, “ Nokomis why can’t we say this in our language?”  So Doreen asked her daughter’s language teacher to write it in Ojibwemowin.  Doreen had the words taped to the car visor as they learned the words. One day her grandson asked, “ Nokomis why don’t we sing the words, don’t you think the water would like it to be sung? “ So she thought about it and came up with the tune. They sang this song to the water every morning on their drive to school .  The Native American Fellowship folks then sang it for us and shared,

We sing this song to connect the old ways with the new and remind us to value the gifts the Creator has given us in Nature. We need to continue to honor and protect them.

Ne-be Gee Zah gay e goo

Gee me gwetch- wayn ne- me- go

Gee Zahn Wayn ne- me- goo

Water , we love you

We thank you  We respect you


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