The 19,000 United Methodists who identify themselves as Native people are a small part of the 8.5 million member denomination in the United States, but ministry involving Native people is the focus of significant legislation before the 2004 General Conference. The 998 delegates from around the world include seven Native Americans, according to the General Council on Ministries.
General Conference has already renewed The Native American Comprehensive Plan (NACP), first approved by the 1992 session. It provides programmatic grants to Native congregations, annual (regional) conferences, and jurisdictional ministries, as well as offering training and development in congregational development, leadership development, and denominational presence. Funding was approved at $1,140,000.
The General Board of Global Ministries coordinates NACP. It is implemented with input from representatives of each of the five U.S. jurisdictions, as well as The National United Methodist Native American Center (NUMNAC), The Native American International Caucus (NAIC) and United Methodist program boards and agencies. Due to the large populations of Native people in those regions, additional representatives are included from the Alaska Missionary Conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. Developers also include an at-large youth and young adult representative. Jurisdictional and at-large members are members of Native congregations appointed by their bishops.
General Conference will also consider petitions to reaffirm Native American Ministries Sunday as one of the denomination’s special Sundays of the denomination. The offering is used to fund Native American scholarships and urban ministries. Annual conferences which have established a Committee on Native American Ministries may retain 50% of the offering for annual conference ministries with Native people.
The National United Methodist Native American Center (NUMNAC), located at Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology, has petitioned General Conference for funding into the next quadrennium. Although originally not included in the funding recommendations by the General Council on Finance and Administration, the center is requesting $977,572 for continuation. NUMNAC is mandated to encourage the recruitment of Native people for full-time ministry, as well as to provide scholarship assistance and nurture of Native American seminarians. A major NUMNAC responsibility is the annual Seminarians’ Gathering featuring Native educators, theologians, and writers.
A petition from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) asks General Conference to affirm the sacredness of Native people, their languages and cultures and to recognize Native traditionalists in a spirit of ecumenism. OIMC is the church’s only Native-specific annual conference. OIMC members represent 89 active tribal churches. Historically, Native people were corporally punished for speaking their languages and practicing their traditional cultures. Many Native persons survived the boarding school experience, some in Methodist institutions.
A petition calling on General Conference to renew a commitment to respect the image and legacy of Native people comes from the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the Kentucky Annual Conference, and the General Commission on Religion and Race. It calls on United Methodists to hold meetings only in those cities which do not sponsor sports teams using Native images, symbols, or names.
The General Board of Church and Society has called for a plan of economic development in Native American communities. It asks United Methodists to support the economic development efforts of tribes and calls on the U.S. government to work in partnership with tribes. It also requests the General Board of Global Ministries and NACP to co-sponsor the Native American Economic Development and Empowerment Task Force and the General Board of Church and Society to work with the National Congress of American Indians to develop and advocate for effective economic development programs.
Resolution 134 in The United Methodist Book of Resolutions supports upholding and protecting the sovereignty of federally recognized tribes. A petition from the New York Annual Conference calls upon The United Methodist Church to affirm all aspects of the resolution as a reconciling force.
Paragraph 263 in The Book of Discipline requires that Native Americans entering the ordained ministry and receiving a Native American scholarship must pastor a Native congregation for two years or have a portion of the scholarship converted to a loan. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is asking that the requirement be removed.
Native people are included in legislation examining the role of rural/agriculture communities, Hunger Awareness Sunday, economic justice, inclusion of bi/multi-racial persons, nuclear safety, and environmental racism
Additional requests involve continuing action of previous General Conferences concerning Native American higher education, Native American history, Native American Young Adults in Mission, and the commitment to the Native American Religious Freedom Act, with some minor changes.