By Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell Jr.
Those of the Christian faith have entered into one of the most sacred times of the Christian year, the Lenten season. Many of our communities began a process of fasting, prayer and repenting. Many even placed ashes upon their foreheads as signs of contrition and new beginnings.
As people of faith, we are called daily to walk in life in this same way, to constantly search out the areas of our reality that need change. We search for space to become better human beings and even better members of creation. It is also during these moments of searching that we find ourselves realizing that we are not as close to God as we would like, and must find space for our Creator. We often forget this reverent obligation to our spiritual lives.
We must be reminded to repent, to turn away, to begin again, to come to new knowledge. We must be reminded of how we are supposed to love, care and give with no end to our neighbors, to our elders, to our children and, yes, even those who are different from us.
Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples
A delegate picks up a stone in the center aisle during an April 27 “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
Over the course of the past few months, I have been asked to assist our denomination in a process of repenting. Repenting to the Native American and Indigenous persons of the world for atrocities committed throughout history and for atrocities being committed today. As one might guess, this is the most futile of assignments, for where do we even begin. Questions have already been raised such as: “Will it end racism?” “Will any change come?” And even the most hurtful: “Why don’t you just get over it?”
The reality is often that we do not even recognize the depth of wound that exists in our Native American community and even the difficulty of expressing a way of life counter to both popular culture and popular church culture. And even Native American leaders from throughout our United Methodist Church have had to continue to sacrifice and work diligently to mobilize a Native American community that is more than skeptical of this repenting endeavor. It is nothing new for us to hear an apology all the while watching the stealing of land, water, resources and even children.
The time for the church to repent has come. In 2012, we witnessed our General Conference engage in a service of repentance, sending a message of contrition to indigenous peoples across the world, but it did not end there. The General Conference of The United Methodist Church also left the rest of the church a mandate to continue “to heal relationships with indigenous peoples” at Annual Conferences and local churches. A select few conferences have begun this work. Conversations have taken place and trainings have occurred with Native American communities, but for many it has been business as usual.
We must realize that we hold in our hands the potential to change the course of history. By repenting and acknowledging the truth, we can help to facilitate an era of healing of relationships and mutuality between Native and non-native persons. Today, bishops, clergy and laity, I give this invitation to repentance toward the indigenous peoples of our world.
How to Begin the Process of Repentance
For churches or persons throughout the connection who would like to begin the process of repentance or have other questions, please contact your annual conference office, The Conference Committee on Native American Ministries, or the Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries of The General Board of Global Ministries at firstname.lastname@example.org.