CLINTON, Okla. — On Oct. 8, mainstream communities in the U.S. were preparing to usher in Columbus Day, a noncelebration for Native people. In North Dakota, the Standing Rock standoff continued on the land where many tribes have gathered to voice their fears for the Earth by opposing the construction of an oil pipeline.
Meanwhile, North American Mennonites gathered in Clinton to thank Lawrence and Betty Hart for their service to the Mennonite church. The program was planned by Native Mennonite Ministries, Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Central Committee, specifically Iris de-Leon Hartshorn and Michelle Armster.
Songs and testimonies were brought by Cheryl Bear, who also closed with an honor song. The Harts’ children and grandchildren all attended and helped in the program.
Among those who came to show their appreciation to the Harts for their decades of service to the broader Mennonite church and its outreach were Erica Littlewolf, who thanked Lawrence for his mentoring; Howard Zehr, spokesperson for restorative justice; Willis Busenitz, part of a delegation from the Northern Cheyennes; Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, for the Return to the Earth repatriation project Lawrence helped to initiate with MCC; Edith and Neill von Gunten, from Canada’s Native Ministries (First Peoples); Dorothy Nickel Friesen, for Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA; and Doug Penner, representing Bethel College.
Prophetic peace voices
I had come to thank Lawrence and Betty Hart for the time they gave me to write Lawrence’s story, Searching for Sacred Ground: The Journey of Chief Lawrence Hart, Mennonite (2007), based on my interviews with the Harts. All who spoke mentioned the Harts’ tireless mentoring and their service to their peoples — tribal and denominational. I am most grateful for their voices, prophetic peace voices calling the Mennonite and Cheyenne/Arapaho communities to new understandings of peacemaking and restorative justice through Lawrence’s prayerful understandings of Scripture alongside Cheyenne justice and peace traditions.
My own journey of understanding began when Peace Chief Lawrence Hart delivered the commencement address at Bethel in 1998 and linked the destinies of the Mennonites and the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples as they settled and worked together in Oklahoma. He saw his own service to Mennonites and tribal people as a divinely ordained destiny that brought together two peace traditions and two rural peoples. Mennonites continue to need their peace witness and their strong voices on behalf of creation care.
On Sunday morning we worshiped together at Koinonia Mennonite Church, where the Harts have pastored together for more than 50 years. We sang from the Cheyenne song book and we dedicated the MCC school kits their congregation had made.
Betty’s meditation from Mark 14:22-26 noted the various accounts in the gospels of Jesus’ breaking of bread with his disciples. But she said it is not in the details of how we commune together but rather that we stay in communion together as believers.
Assisted by Neill von Gunten of Winnipeg, Man., Pastor Lawrence Hart served the frybread we broke together as believers. He also led us in singing the Cheyenne songs, his voice still strong.