Tag Archives: Spirituality

Native Americans and Christianity circa 2010

Without researching actual statistics, I doubt whether the percentage of native Americans within any Lutheran denomination is significant.  Although the ELCA has general goals for minority membership, the reality remains that most of us are descended from northern  European immigrants.  The reasons are primarily historical; when our ancestors arrived to make America their new home, they were not here as missionaries, and their communities remained insular.  My home congregation in Upsala, Minnesota, formed by Swedes in the 1880’s, continued with services in the language of the homeland until the 1920’s.  Even the small pockets of Danes in the neighborhood were largely outsiders.  When my grandfather Julius (the son of Swedish immigrants, and the youngest, rebellious sibling) married grandmother Olga (daughter of Danish immigrants) around the time of WWI, it was a mixed marriage.

Not so with Roman Catholics and Anglicans who came to the midwest first as missionaries to native Americans, and thus there are vestigial pockets of Catholic and Anglican native Americans.  This was especially obvious to me as I attended several Episcopal Diocesan conventions this fall.  In the Minnesota delegation and the northern Wisconsin Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Ojibwe lay and clergy presence was significant.  Two years ago, an Ojibwe priest was a finalist for the office of presiding Bishop for the Minnesota diocese.

Native American dancersTo what extent should native American cultural and religious heritage be reflected in their Christian religious practices?  Earlier this fall, I attended a weekend religious retreat consisting of mostly Lutherans.  A young man, a native American from Minneapolis, who had been raised Lutheran by his adoptive parents, was asked to offer a prayer.  He did so with a native American chant, which I found refreshing and spiritual, but I wondered how others received it.  No one said anything.

Yesterday’s Star Tribune newspaper (the leading Minnesota daily) contained an article about a small Roman Catholic congregation located within the native American community of Minneapolis whose members are nearly all native American.  Seems the local archdiocese is coming down hard on certain of their rituals:

Buffalo hide adorns the altar. Sage is burned to help cleanse the heart, soul and mind. Ojibwe and Lakota languages are used in many of the prayers and songs. Traditional Indian elements like these have been part of the worship service for decades at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis, the only Twin Cities Catholic parish with a predominantly Indian congregation.

Founded in 1975, Gichitwaa Kateri has added Indian elements to the Catholic ceremony for nearly two decades. A lodge made of willow, structured like a dome-shaped Ojibwe wigwam, contains a bundle that holds sacred things, including the Eucharist. Traditional Ojibwe medicines such as tobacco, cedar, sage and sweet grass are used as regular parts of the Sunday Eucharist. Drums and prayers and songs in Ojibwe and Lakota are also prominent.

The future use of Indian practices, however, is being questioned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which temporarily suspended mass at the church last month after conflict arose over the use of specialized wine.

The congregation had been using mustum, a grape juice with minimal fermentation, as part of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Not only does mustum have linkages to native American culture, it also is safe for the numerous recovering alcoholics within the congregation.  Not good enough, says the archdiocese, and mass has been suspended at the congregation.

Maureen Headbird, 54, a church trustee, said the nearly 100 members of the tight-knit parish would be greatly saddened and disappointed if their church lost its distinctive elements, because they are an important part of their Indian heritage.

“We want to make sure our community stays the way it is,” said Headbird, who is Indian and was raised Catholic. “When you come to our parish, you really have to have an open mind to see what we do. Sometimes that doesn’t work out for everybody.”

A historic day—and insignificant: UPDATED WITH VIDEO

The title of this post comes from St Paul area ELCA Synod Bishop Peter Rogness. 

At the Saturday press conference prior to the Rite of Reception held in St Paul, Minnesota for three lesbian pastors (Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Anita Hill), Bishop Rogness alluded to the obvious historic significance of the formal ELCA welcome to the roster of ordained clergy but also reminded those assembled that the three pastors will now do the same things they did last week, last month, last year and for many years before that.  Everything has changed and nothing has changed.  Pastors Frost and Zillhart will continue with their hospice ministries and Pastor Hill will return to her pastoral call to St Paul Reformation Lutheran Church.  For over sixty years combined, these three have been responding to their calls to the ministry, and now they will continue as before. 

“Few who have personal knowledge of them as persons or of the ministries they’ve done would question that the love of the God we meet in Jesus Christ has been proclaimed and lived through them,” said the bishop.

“What then has changed?” came the question from the assembled press corps.

Pastor Hill responded, “It is the message of welcome we now hear from our church.”

Pastor Frost added, “And the message goes out from here to the ears of other gays and lesbians who hear the call to ministry, but even more importantly, to the whole host, the entire gay community.  Here is a church where you are welcome.”

Pastor Zillhart spoke symbolically, befitting the religious ceremony to follow.  “Today we will join hands with all those who blessed our call over the past twenty years and with all those who will come after.”

[With apologies to the speakers, I have paraphrased their comments as I heard them at the press conference]

With the conclusion of the press conference, I joined my wife and friends Phil and Barb from Northfield in the spacious sanctuary of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the same venue that had witnessed the extraordinary ordination of Pastor Hill nearly a decade earlier.  The assembled crowd stirred and swelled as a Woodwind Quartet played variations on a “Hymn of Gladness”, the Chancel Choir sang “Al Shlosha D’Varim”, and the Chancel Brass announced the beginning of the processional with a “Fanfare and Chorus”.  Through my tears, I struggled to sing the words of the processional hymn.

Here in this place the new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away; see in this space our fears and our dreamings brought here to you in the light of the day.  Gather us in, the lost and forsaken, gather us in, the blind and the lame, call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.

Lutheran Church of the RedeemerThe entire procession of bishops, active and retired, and countless clergy filed past through four stanzas of the hymn and more before all had reached their place, and then former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Herb Chilstrom, led us in halting voice and failing eyesight in a litany of confession, which concluded with words of encouragement from the prophet Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overcome you.  You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

Hymns and prayers and greetings and readings followed and then the gospel acclamation of the Chancel Choir with the congregation joining in the refrain as a procession carried the gospel book to the center of the gathering:

My heart shall sing of the day you  bring.  Let the fires of your justice burn.  Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.

Preaching Minister, Pastor Barbara Lundblad, professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary, read the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 20, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  And then she preached from this text, as only she can do, with gentle humor and prophetic insight.  She said that this Matthew text was suggested by Pastor Hill in an email, which addressed those who question her ministry.

We are doing you no wrong by being received to the ELCA roster. … So why must our reception be seen as sullying the ministry for everyone? Do you not see the pain of not having … [our work] acknowledged for all these years?

Or, as the gracious master in the parable asks, “are you envious because I am generous?”

Then came the Rite of Reception.  Pastors Frost, Zillhart, and Hill knelt before the altar.  They and the congregation exchanged promises “to give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may be known”.  The ordained clergy clustered about and laid on hands. Then the three moved to the center aisle and heard the words of their bishop,

By Joey McLeister, Mpls Star Tribune Let it be recognized and acclaimed that Ruth, Phyllis, and Anita are called and ordained ministers in the church of Christ.  They have Christ’s authority to preach the word of God and administer the sacraments, serving God’s people as together we bear God’s creative and redeeming love to all the world.

The applause from the standing congregation was long and loud.

The website of St Paul Reformation Church broadcast the ceremony live online, and the webcast is still available.

The video of the news report on Twin Cities television, KARE 11, is copied below:

A look back at Holy Week

As a blog that wrestles with denominational politics, it was pretty quiet here last week, and that’s a good thing.  I’m sure the temperature will rise again on ELCA, Lutheran CORE, NALC, and LCMC controversies, but Holy Week was an appropriately peaceful interlude.  The one item to note from last week was the positive news from the ELCA that 2010 has seen forty-one new mission “starts” according to an ELCA press release.

These new starts represent what America is becoming, as 23 (of the 41 new starts) are among immigrant populations … Of the 41 new starts 12 are “worshiping communities” authorized by the ELCA’s 65 synods. These are communities with ministry potential.

Several of these are residuals of ELCA congregations that voted to leave but with a remnant of ELCA supporters pursuing an ELCA mission start.  Lilly, one of the frequent commenters on this blog, reports on such a group in her Wisconsin community.

Before moving on to the inevitable skirmishes, allow me one look back at Holy Week at my
ELCA congregation (Bethel) and the rest of the Northfield ELCA community.  Thursday morning, the normal “Blue Monday” gathering of six or eight ELCA clergy was rescheduled as a “power lunch” to coordinate weekend events.  The Maunday Thursday service at Bethel was a dramatic skit themed around Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” masterpiece.  While the thirteen actors portraying Jesus and the disciples held their Da Vinci pose, each in turn stepped to a microphone and offered a monologue.  I portrayed Andrew.  The skit ended with Jesus sharing the bread and wine with his disciples who then stepped in front of the table and shared the meal with the congregation.  Good Friday evening at Bethel featured a Stations of the Cross presentation.  Saturday, most of the local ELCA clergy gathered for a traditional Easter Vigil in Boe Chapel on the campus of St. Olaf.  Bethel’s new associate pastor–Charlie Ruud (a St Olaf graduate)–was honored to preside over the eucharistic liturgy.  Dramatic readings were accompanied by the pipe organ riffs of St Olaf music professor John Ferguson and rising incense followed by candle lighting and bell ringing.  A combined choir concluded with Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.  The Hallelujah chorus also highlighted each of the three Easter Sunday services at Bethel.

After a week of familiar Lutheran liturgies, I borrow a Youtube video from Lutheran Pastor and blogger John Petty which is a delightful sampling of Eastern Orthodox Easter music, Christos Anesti, Christ is risen.