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Wilshire Native American Fellowship Becomes Great Spirit UMC
Courtesy photo.

Gifts on the alter at Great Spirit Naming Ceremony.

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‘Feisty’ congregation refuses to let traditions die.

When a name no longer fits the identity of a church, it may just have to change. This is what the people now called Great Spirit United Methodist Church, formerly Wilshire Native American Fellowship.

Reverend Allen Buck was appointed to Wilshire as a new start pastor in July 2017 and came to a congregation that hosted an existing Native American fellowship and a small white congregation. It was a group that Columbia District superintendent Rev. Erin Martin described as “struggling, feisty,” and, perhaps, most importantly, “in love.” While the congregation had always been small, in the years leading up to Buck’s arrival, the number in attendance had been steadily declining - to the point where the church could no longer sustain an appointed pastor, even on a part-time level.

Great Spirit member Kerrie Young remembers those days well. Young, who Martin describes as “a great bridger of people” in her own right, began attending the church three years ago and recalls being one of a handful of people in attendance, “mostly elder women.” But she, like the others who attended, and the leadership of the annual conference, would not let go of the region’s only United Methodist Native American worshipping body.

    Rev. Allen Buck.

The tide began to shift when Martin received communication from Buck, a new start pastor from Oklahoma, looking to restart his ministry in a new context. Martin described the moment as nothing less than a miracle. “Here is this incredibly gifted new start pastor, who happens to be 10th generation Cherokee, five generations removed from a Cherokee chief, and here we have a struggling Native American fellowship badly in need of revitalization.” It was a match made in heaven.

However, according to Buck, the naming ceremony represented a mountain of hard work and deep listening in the community and ultimately affirmed the values expressed by elders and leaders in the community. Those values have been expressed by the community as Love, Tradition, Spirituality, and Connection. 

Buck said that while the ceremony was very important and that it marked the beginning in the best way possible, it is just the beginning. The hopes and dreams of the congregation will come to fruition not because of ceremonies, but because if its actions.

While it is hard to see exactly where the church will be in the next five years, he sees that the next steps for the congregation will absolutely be about leadership development and deepening the relational connections among themselves and their surrounding communities.

He likens the naming event to a christening, marking a new trajectory for Great Spirit, which he senses will embody relational practices, and be sensitive and respondent to environmental injustices and intergenerational trauma, both pressures that are felt deeply by his community.

Eric Conklin, Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference website

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are revitalizing existing congregations and seeking to invite people to follow Jesus Christ and grow together as disciples on a lifelong journey.

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