Special Sunday honors Native American people, churches
Native American Ministries Sunday 2017 is April 30.
It is one of The United Methodist Church's six special Sundays designated by General Conference to recognize and support particular ministries annually with a special offering.
Native American Ministries Sunday focuses the attention of church members on the gifts and contributions of Native Americans to society and the denomination. The special offering supports Native American outreach within annual conferences and across the United States and provides scholarships for Native American seminary students.
Of the funds, one-half remains within each annual conference to build and strengthen Native American ministries. The General Board of Global Ministries uses the remaining half to develop and strengthen ministries in the annual conferences and in Native American rural and urban congregations, ministries and communities and to provide scholarships for Native Americans attending United Methodist schools of theology.
North Carolina Conference
In the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, North Carolina has the largest number of Native American ministries established. A majority of the remainder are part of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
North Carolina has approximately 125,000 Native American residents. About 2,400 of those are United Methodist. The North Carolina Conference's Native American Cooperative Ministry brings together 13 congregations in five counties in North and South Carolina.
Pamela Brayboy Baker is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Ministry. Baker, herself a Lumbee, sees the benefits of the offering at work in her conference.
"Our mission focus areas are outreach, leadership development and Christian education," she said. "Our churches do a great job of reaching out not only to Native Americans in the area, but to everyone else, too."
The Rev. Prentis "Trey" Harris III, pastor of Sandy Plains United Methodist Church in Pembroke, North Carolina, benefitted from a Native American Ministries' scholarship when he attended Duke Divinity School.
"While at Duke Divinity, I was honored to receive the Native American Seminary Award," Harris said. "To this day, I view that award as an affirmation of the call upon my life. The United Methodist Church provided me an opportunity through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, to pursue a Master of Divinity."
He added, "When United Methodists support the Native American [Ministries] Sunday, it gives students like myself, the opportunity to further themselves with higher education. As an undergraduate, I would never have thought that I would be able to attend Duke Divinity School because of finances. But, with the help of the Native American scholarship that I was able to receive, that dream came true."
Gifts on Native American Ministries Sunday equip seminary students like Harris who will honor and celebrate Native American culture in their ministries and empower congregations to find fresh, new ways to minister to their communities with Christ's love.
Polly House is a freelance edittor and writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She serves as editorial assistant for Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.