Dr. Elle High, chair of the West Virginia Conference CONAM (Commission on Native American Ministries) led the West Virginia Conference CONAM delegation at the 2017 Northeastern Jurisdiction Native American Ministries Committee Annual Gathering. Rich and Deborah Shaffer (Rich is the WVUMC Lay Leader and a member of CONAM) and Deborah Coble, WVUMC Director of Communications, also attended on behalf of the West Virginia Annual Conference.
The three-day meeting, hosted by the New England Annual Conference in Kittery, Maine, was a time of worship, fellowship, and collaboration around issues and concerns that affect Native American peoples. Each CONAM shared reports about their activity over the past year and together, the various conference Native American Ministries strategized best practices for advocating for Native American United Methodists across the jurisdiction.
The NEJ NAMC action plan was reviewed and a commitment to supporting young people in ministry was lifted up. Each CONAM is encouraged to support seminary students financially and to find ways to engage young people in the exploration of their Native American heritage. One of the highlights of the West Virginia Conference report was Elle High sharing about the CONAM ministry to state prison inmates:
The WV CONAM continued developing a Native American spiritual outreach to inmates at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Huttonsville, WV. Ellesa High created “traveling” items to build a sacred space for inmate ceremonies and prayers, ones that could be used both outside on the grounds or inside the facility during inclement weather while also meeting institutional regulations. In addition, the CONAM donated ten abalone shells needed by inmates for smudging with sage as part of their spiritual practices.
All participated in an interactive learning experience shared by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference: The Loss of Turtle Island.
The Loss of Turtle Island is a participatory learning experience that depicts the historic relationship between European settlers and Indigenous nations. Using historical documents and blankets that represent the land, participants learn about colonization, genocide, broken treaties, forced removal, assimilation, and termination. This is part of a larger program and training that was designed by the Mennonites. The group agreed that the training could be helpful so plans are being made for a jurisdictional training event in 2018.
Before the groups departed a commitment to raise funds for the people of Puerto Rico was made, with an initial offering of $1500 taken, all from private funds. A commitment to send teams to help Puerto Rico with recovery and to offer advocacy and support for all indigenous peoples affected by the recent Hurricanes was also made.
Our time ended with the celebration of Holy Communion. We give thanks for the ways that God gathered us together from the various corners of the jurisdiction and look forward to gathering in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference in 2018.
For photos from the 2017 NEJ NAMC gathering visit this album on Flickr.
For more information about the NEJ Native American Ministries Committee follow this link. For more information about the West Virginia CONAM follow this link. For more information about Native American Ministries in the United Methodist Church follow this link. For resolutions in support of Native American people follow this link.