The clear a capella sounds of children singing "Amazing Grace" spread through the Fort Worth Convention Center as the children's choir of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference opened Sunday worship at the United Methodist General Conference on April 27. The 36 youngsters, aged 2 to 17 years, sang in Creek, Choctaw and English.
Choir members hail from many of the 89 churches and more than 35 tribes represented in the conference. Their songs and dress also represented a broad spectrum of the Native American nations in Oklahoma.
Led by choir directors Pearl Thomas and Kimberly McKinney, the children sang "Press Along" and "The Heleluyn Song," popular Native American hymns.
"They sing one another's songs in Choctaw and Creek," said McKinney, a Choctaw from Kullichito United Methodist Church in Broken Bow, Okla., and president of the South District United Methodist Women. "And `The Heleluyn Song' is universal — all tribes sing it," added Thomas, a Muscogee Creek and longtime member of United Methodist Women at Honey Creek United Methodist Church in Okmulgee, Okla.
Choir member Shelby Parnacher, a 12-year-old Chickasaw, is accustomed to singing Choctaw hymns during worship at Boiling Springs United Methodist Church in Allen, Okla., where she and other youth often help lead singing. She plans to take the Creek words of the songs learned for General Conference back to her local church. "Now we can sing some of these songs in Creek, too," she said.
McKinney said the choir would learn songs in Kiowa and Ponca for future church events.
A month of rehearsing for their General Conference performance gave the young people an opportunity to learn Native American languages together. Teaching various Native American languages is underway in homes, churches and public schools and during tribal programs, Thomas said.
"If we don't get to learn it, the language is going to die," said choir member Kristie Baker, also of Kullichito United Methodist Church; the 17-year-old Choctaw serves as president of the conference's southeast regional youth group. "My favorite is the `Heleluyn Song.' It's a Creek song. This was a good experience," said Baker.
Baker said conference young people raise funds for missions, serve as pages during annual conference sessions and help with worship in their local churches.
The children also sang in the General Conference exhibition hall at noon.
*Moore is an executive secretary for communications with the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries.
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