Native Mennonite Ministries meeting honors faith, language and tradition

Representatives gather for the Native Mennonite Ministries biennial meeting in April. — photo provided by MC USA

Representatives of Native Mennonite Ministries, a Mennonite Church USA Indigenous assembly composed of three congregations in Montana and Oklahoma, gathered for a biannual business meeting in Billings, Mont., on April 26-27. NMM is a racial/ethnic constituency group of MC USA.

The three Indigenous churches were founded as Mennonite field missions and have endured and lasted for generations. Lame Deer Mennonite Church in Montana was established in 1908 and is 116 years old. White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mont., was established in 1904 and is 120 years old. Koinonia Indian Mennonite Church in Clinton, Okla., is the oldest Mennonite Indigenous church in North America and was established in 1894. This congregation is celebrating 130 years of faith along with its fellow churches.

The group enjoyed a time of theological education in Indigenous religious culture and fellowship.

In organizing the NMM spring meeting, Koinonia Pastor Susan Hart, MC USA Executive Board member and chair of NMM, said she was reminded of Psalms 107:1-3: “Give thanks to Maheo’o (God), for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of Maheo’o tell their story — those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.”

“On behalf of NMM we truly appreciate MC USA’s support in ensuring that we had and will continue to have a forum for the Indigenous churches to discuss the importance of integrating our culture and our Anabaptist values and of walking the path led by Maheo’o,” said Hart.

“This year, we focused on providing safe spaces for our congregants and what it means to implement ‘Safe Church’ into our policies. We looked at ways that we, as Anabaptists who strive to walk Jesus’ path, welcome newcomers, volunteers and teachers yet keep our churches safe from harm,” she added.

Margaret Behan, a Cheyenne and Arapaho elder, spoke about Indigenous faith and the Thirteen Grandmothers. Elder Behan is a well-known Indigenous artist and a member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, an alliance of 13 female elders from across the globe that work to uphold Indigenous peace and culture.

Nancy Kauffmann, MC USA interim director of church safety, and Teresa Martin, Koinonia youth minister, introduced MC USA’s Safe Church ministry practices and resources.

Richard Littlebear, an author, public speaker and authority on Cheyenne language, discussed his experience and stressed the importance of the “survival of language and tradition.” Littlebear is also the former president of Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Mont.

Randy Woodley, an author, speaker and former distinguished professor at Portland Seminary, discussed his early hermeneutic ideals and efforts of integrating Indigenous values and traditional Western-viewed theology. Woodley presented information and data from his academic studies in a talk called “Christian Theology and Indigenous Thinking.”

Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director of operations and human resources and MC USA staff liaison to NMM, attended the meeting to support NMM in its endeavors to create a welcoming space for MC USA Indigenous Mennonite churches.

“NMM would like to thank MC USA, as well as other Anabaptist organizations and individuals who contributed to the success of the NMM spring event,” said Hart.

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