The United Methodist Church is taking steps to extend to regional units and local congregations a ministry of repentance and reconciliation with Native American and other indigenous people as part of an effort to build a church of integrity and inclusiveness for all people and all of God’s creation.
The work continues years of effort by the denomination to overcome centuries of mistreatment of native people in the United States and elsewhere. The church’s 2012 General Conference, its highest legislating body, engaged in a formal Act of Repentance Service for the Healing of Relationships with Indigenous Persons.
A General Conference resolution mandated an ongoing process to improve relations with indigenous persons through dialogue, study, and local or regional acts of repentance and handed responsibility for this work to the Council of Bishops.
The council has invited the General Board of Global Ministries to work with it in a two-year plan to implement the mandate. It is providing funds for general expenses and half-time compensation for a Global Ministries staff person to coordinate the follow up to the 2012 Act of Repentance.
Bishop Michael McKee of North Texas, chair of the council’s Justice and Reconciliation Table, announced the arrangement with Global Ministries. The Act of Repentance work also relates to the church’s Native American Comprehensive Plan, administered by the General Board of Discipleship.
The coordinator is the Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell, who is executive secretary for Native American and Indigenous Ministries at the General Board of Global Ministries, who will devote 50 per cent of his time to bishops’ project for two years while he continues with the other 50 per cent with his Global Ministries responsibilities. The Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference is providing office space in Oklahoma City.
“We are pleased to help in this important undertaking,” said Thomas Kemper, the chief executive of Global Ministries. “We recognize the limitations of a half-time position and are glad we can link it to our ongoing work with Native Americans and other indigenous people.”
Bishop McKee in a letter asked US bishops to welcome and assist Rev. Kernell in interpreting and promoting local and regional response to the 2012 mandate to heal relations with indigenous people.
The bishop told colleagues that “through this we potentially have the opportunity to change the course of history by creating a future that does no harm but rather affirms and creates an environment of respect, mutuality, and equality between the church and indigenous communities.”
The 2012 resolution makes several specific proposals for healing in addition to formal services of repentance. These include special educational campaigns and the sharing of incomes from trusts or designation of excess church land and other property with native communities.
Rev. Kernell has been with the Native American and indigenous ministries office of Global Ministries since September, 2011. He formerly was pastor in charge of the First American United Methodist Church in Norman, Oklahoma.
Global Ministries, the United Methodist mission agency, will administer the funds coming from the bishops for the Act of Repentance work. Rev. Kernell will relate closely to the board’s Justice and Relationships program area within its Mission and Evangelism unit.