Native American worship services go online

Date Posted: 10/28/2021

 
By Lindsay Peyton
 
Members of the Texas Annual Conference’s Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) found a way to continue their hallmark Third Sunday Native American Worship during the pandemic. While COVID-19 may have forced in-person worship to close, a new digital experience took its place.
 
CONAM member Rose Brewer has organized Third Sundays for more than a decade. She clearly recalls watching the news about COVID-19 spreading abroad, before it appeared in the U.S. “We were all waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. “By March, we canceled. It became clear that it was in our country.”
 
Brewer said that CONAM had long wanted to livestream or record their Third Sunday Native American Worship services, which feature a guest speaker, sermons and song. The goal was to make the event more available to those interested but perhaps too far away to attend.
 
Because of the pandemic, however, Brewer was convinced that the time was right to venture into the online format. “People needed this,” she said.
 
Luckily, she found a solution close to home. “My husband Ben Brewer is a techno-wizard,” she said.
 
By May, the couple geared up go virtual. “It took us about a month,” Brewer said. She called around and organized the speakers, how they could record their segments, and then asked her husband to stitch it all together.
 
For the first video, the Brewers even drove out to Crosby to capture a sermon by the Rev. Richard Amador at Son Harvest Church since he did not have the technology yet. “He’s been a pastor for quite some time and now has retired to serve Native people,” Rose Brewer explained. “He believes there will be a surge of Christianity in Native people.”
 
Ben purchased all of the needed software and tools to create the videos. “My husband was right on the mark, putting it all together,” Rose said. “And it all worked out.”
 
Now about a year and a half have passed since the couple began producing the Third Sunday online experience. In July and August, the worship was held in-person but then was forced back to digital by the Delta variant.
 
The most recent Third Sunday was broadcast on Oct. 17. All videos are available on YouTube.
 
The next two Third Sundays are scheduled in-person for Nov. 21 and Dec. 19 at St. Mark’s UMC in Baytown, 3811 N. Main Street, 77521.
 
The November event will feature Crystal and James Stephenson. Crystal is from the Alabama Coushatta tribe and James is from the Lumbee tribe. “They are a wonderful team,” Brewer said. “He’s a singer and a drummer, and they’re both lay preachers. They work with youth and are very strong Christians.”
 
In December, the Rev. David Wilson, assistant to the Bishop in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of the UMC will serve as guest. He will be joined by the Rev. Ross Hyde, senior pastor of Maud UMC and Old Boston UMC. Hyde is the only Native American clergy member in the Conference and serves as chair of CONAM in the TAC.
 
CONAM has yet to decide its path forward into 2022. Still, Brewer is glad that Third Sunday was able to continue despite the challenges of COVID. “I give all the credit to God,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without Him.”
 
Answering the call
There have only been a handful of times that Rose Brewer can remember hearing a voice, distinctly not her own, calling her to action. And that happened during her first meeting with Glenna Brayton.
 
Brayton served as chair of CONAM, and Brewer was learning about her work as part of the UMW group at her church, St. Mark’s UMC in Houston. Around the same time, Brewer learned of her own Native American ancestry. Brayton’s work resonated with her in a unique way. “It hit me very strongly,” Brewer recalled.
 
Then, during Brayton’s presentation, Brewer received the calling to help. Still, she wasn’t sure exactly what to do. She asked if Brayton needed help carrying books to her car.
 
Brayton admitted that she had been trying to sell a few of the titles, and Brewer offered to the buy them and set up a lending library at her church. “That’s how it all started,” Brewer said.
 
Before long, Brewer was a member of CONAM herself. Then, when Brayton moved, Brewer took over planning the Third Sunday Native American Worship.
 
“When Glenna began talking about leaving, I started praying, Lord what am I supposed to do?” Brewer recalled.
 
She was worried about finding speakers and organizing the events.  Still, whenever she thought about Third Sunday, she had a warm feeling. “I had a sense I was supposed to do it,” she said. And she successfully carried the event on for years.
 
“Third Sunday has been going for quite a while,” Hyde said. “We try to reach not only Native Americans who come but also others from the Conference. It’s an educational opportunity for those who are not Native.”
 
Past guest speakers have represented Mescalero Apache, Alabama Coushatta, Seminole, Creek, Cherokee and Choctaw tribes. There are also leaders from various denominations. Songs and music are regular features of the sessions.
 
The Rev. Hyde has also been a member of CONAM for about a decade. He started serving as chair about five years ago.
 
He explained that there are a number similarities between Christianity and Native American faiths, specifically with Methodism. Both celebrate the presence of God as the Creator, call for holy living and emphasize the responsibility to care for earth.
 
Hyde explained that people might not understand how Native American beliefs mirror those in the church. For instance, the practice of “smudging” or burning sage for cleansing and blessing is similar to churches that burn incense. The pow wow drum, he added, is considered the heartbeat of God.
 
“The dancing we do is all based on prayer,” Hyde said. “We ask God to come in and bless the dancers and lift up our prayers.”
 
He hopes to raise awareness of these shared beliefs. “It’s the same thing,” he said. “There are just different names and different ways of worship.”

Spreading the word
CONAM has been a regular presence at a number of events, including the Katy Folk Life Festival. The organization also supports Native American Pow Wows. “We’ll come and feed the dancers,” Brewer said. “We do whatever we need to do.”
 
There are also scholarships offered by CONAM. Relationships have grown, as members and guests enjoy worship together.
 
As the Conference restructures, CONAM has become a part of the Committee on Race and Ethnic Ministry.
 
Hyde explained that now districts and local churches will be invited to take up mantle to ensure they are ministering to Native Americans in their congregations.
 
CONAM will be able to provide specialists for Native American Ministry, which are essential, Hyde explained. “We can’t do this, unless we have built trust,” he said.
 
Hyde explained that there are a number of Native Americans in the area served by the Texas Annual Conference. Many more could also be added.
 
He has also noticed that many congregations are interested in starting a Native American ministry. “But this has to be done correctly, with sensitivity and by building trust,” Hyde said. And he has offered to help provide trainings, workshops and expertise to help.
 
Volunteers and donations are needed to continue CONAM’s efforts, Brewer added. She said that the organization has a list of churches with Native members. “It’s a long list,” she added. “There are probably more, and you have to serve the members of your church.”
 
Historically, Brewer explained, churches have played a part in pushing the Native American population from their lands. “We need to remediate that; we need to repent,” she said. “We’ve done harm, and we need to fix it.”
 
“It’s part of the discipline,” she added. “If you want to be serious about being a Methodist, this is an important part.”
 
Becoming part of Native American Ministry is joyous, Brewer added. “You will meet some of the best people you’ve ever met,” she said. “You can cry with them. You will laugh with them – and you will learn so much.”