When you support Native American Ministries Sunday, you equip seminary students who will honor and celebrate Native American culture in their ministries. You empower congregations that find fresh, new ways to minister to their communities with Christ’s love. This podcast introduces you to people who benefit from this special day. In today’s episode, we’re pleased to introduce Dr. Robin Minthorn.
00:24 // Rich introduces Dr. Robin Minthorn and welcomes her to the show.
00:46 // Robin shares her history within The United Methodist Church.
02:32 // Robin explains Native American Ministries Sunday.
03:59 // Robin tells about the connection between Native America and The United Methodist Church.
06:41 // Robin advises church leaders wanting to expose their congregations to Native American culture.
09:20 // Robin gives examples of how churches blend different worship styles.
11:48 // Robin encourages others to acknowledge indigenous people.
12:13 // Robin emphasizes the importance of supporting Native American Ministries Sunday.
Rich – Alright well welcome to the podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts. So glad you’ve decided to take some time out to spend with us today. I know there’s other things you could be doing, but thank you for putting us in your earbuds and listening in.
Today it’s our treat to have Dr. Robin Minthorn with us. She’s a Professor at the University of New Mexico, I’m excited to have her with us. Welcome to the show Doc.
Robin – Thank you, it’s my pleasure to be here, thanks for the invitation.
Rich – No I’m just so glad we could spend some time with you. I wonder if you could let us know, kind of give us a sense of your story, who is Dr. Minthorn?
Robin – Okay, well I’m an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. I’m actually originally from Oklahoma. My grandfather was actually a United Methodist minister in Oklahoma New Missionary Conference for 39 years and then he retired, and I’ve been connected to The United Methodist Church since I was born basically. Then as a young adult I participated in numerous activities like what used to be the United Methodist Student Movement, also in Celebration or Exploration, I was able to attend that as an undergraduate student.
I also had a summer internship with the General Board of Global Ministries and so I’ve been connected to the church and then when I became a coordinator working with native college students, I also was able to help support a campus ministry for native college students at Oklahoma State University.
Then when I came here to New Mexico a couple of years ago, we’re still in the process of trying to establish a young adult fellowship for native college students but also for young adults as well.
So my connection has been for a while, and then I’ve also been a part of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Board of Directors. This is my second quadrennium.
Rich – Great.
Robin – So I started my role in, I think, 2008 and so I’ll finish this quadrennium this next year.
Rich – Nice, well it’s a privilege that we can get a chance to talk with you, because you come at this particular Special Sunday from a lot of different angles. Before we kind of dive too deep, if there are people that are wondering, “I’ve heard about Native American Ministries Sunday, but what is that Sunday?” Kind of give us a description of that Sunday.
Robin – Well I’ve attended predominantly Native American churches so we have them but it probably isn’t typical.
Rich – Right.
Robin – We tend to have them because we’re familiar with our souls, and we want to support what’s going on in Native communities, but I have participated in one that was actually in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1998.
Rich – Oh nice.
Robin – But it was good because it was a predominantly white congregation that was United Methodist. So me and another friend who was an undergraduate who was also an intern, were able to speak at the Native American Sunday to talk to them about the role that this Special Sunday has for us in regards to supporting Native American Ministry, Native American college students, and the role that it has for us in regards to scholarships, the funding, support but also the visible intention that The United Methodist Church is having to support Native Americans and being a part of the ministry, being a part of the church, because we know the church is for everybody. This is an opportunity to honor our culture and honor our unique place here within the United States of indigenous people.
Rich – Very cool. What’s kind of the connection between The United Methodist Church and Native America? I was wondering if you could kind of help us understand some of that history.
Robin – Well I think we’re familiar with missionaries.
Rich – Yes.
Robin – For some native populations and tribes they didn’t necessarily always have a good relationship with Native Americans in regards to Christianity and not necessarily forcing that on them but telling them this is the way that they needed to go. So I think that that initial contact between Native American tribal people, there definitely have been allies and advocates for Native people to understand their culture and to be a part of the community that had come to some of the different tribes and reservations. But I think there is definitely the act of repentance that many are hopefully familiar with regards to what can we do to be able to heal the past in regards to some of the contacts that native people have had with the United Methodist Missionaries and within The United Methodist Church.
With the Oklahoma New Missionary Conference in Oklahoma, there’s around 89 churches that are affiliated within Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, and the opportunity there is to have unique tribal congregations that honor the culture with tribal hymns, language, you know incorporating the culture, and that’s not just in Oklahoma, that’s a specific conference, but there’s other churches from Alaska to Minnesota to Florida that are able to incorporate the Native culture and values.
So I think by allowing that to be a part of The United Methodist Church, it helps to show the commitment that we have and continuing those congregations, I think we’re all experiencing the same thing in regards to reviving our congregations, with adults and with younger people. But I think what we need to do is just recognize that there is a unique history with The United Methodist Church and Native people, but there’s definitely reconciliation and healing that’s taking place and I think there’s definitely a learning, an opportunity for all congregations to be able to understand the indigenous people here within the United States and abroad.
Rich – Yeah absolutely. What would you say to a church leader who’s listening in today, who would say they’re not a part of a predominantly Native American United Methodist church, they’re a part of, you know, just a church somewhere else in the country and they say, “This is an issue I’d like to get my congregation engaged in.” What are some kind of ways that you think are, maybe some books they can read that they could kind of take some first steps towards trying to help their church, their congregation be exposed to Native American culture and the great things that are happening in the community?
Robin – Okay, most congregations are actually historically on indigenous land right? So we know this whole country was occupied by Native people with different tribes. So each church needs to do more historical education in understanding what tribes were historically around that area. What they could do is help their congregation understand who those people were and to acknowledge them.
The other thing is, I’ve had people who are friends and who are part of the Board who have outreached to me to acknowledge and November is Native American Heritage month right? So it’s an opportunity to do an educational piece, not just in November, but anytime that there’s an opportunity.
Rich – Absolutely.
Robin – And to really outreach to those. If you don’t have somebody that’s Native within your church doesn’t mean that you don’t have an opportunity to educate and acknowledge because I think the more that we’re aware of other people the more we’re able to encounter and work with them, to defy any type of stereotypes or mess that might be out there.
There are definitely Native people who are Christian and untraditional, and try to incorporate and infuse their culture together because we were given the cultural gifts in that language, God gave us the gifts.
There are definitely books out there on Native spirituality. I know there’s a project going on to do more historical documentation for a book to be written about the Oklahoma New Missionary Conference, so that will be out hopefully in the next year, two years, maybe.
Rich – Yeah.
Rob – But I think that, just because you don’t have a resource close to you doesn’t mean that you can’t make an intentional effort to learn more about the historical indigenous people that are from your area, from your community, and to acknowledge them, because some of them might have been removed to Oklahoma or moved to other places, and it’s just an opportunity to acknowledge the indigenous people. You know, and again, the opportunity is to be able to bridge that connection between indigenous people and the church congregations.
Rich – Very cool. For folks that are listening in who may not be aware of a predominantly Native American United Methodist church or just another church, what would you say are some of the kind of differences or unique ways that churches are attempting to, like you said, they kind of blend traditional worship styles with maybe more western or whatever we like to say, what does that look like? Give us a sense of that experience.
Robin – Well I think, I know that the churches I’ve been a part of, we definitely incorporate tribal hymns, that’s a part of what we do within our Sunday worship portion. I think there is definitely, it’s more a free flowing as opposed to structured.
Rich – Yeah, great.
Robin – With regards to sharing needs, concerns, there’s more of a community aspect, not that other churches don’t have community aspects, but it’s definitely more embedded in the community or the families that are part of the church, because most of the churches, those that attend are coming from the local community right there, within like a mile or a two mile radius. So there is a strong connection with the community.
Again the language is a part of it. Outreach efforts are a part of it too. If there’s a need within the community then the church takes that up and tries to help with that.
I know when I was in Minnesota, and this was actually a new experience for me, when I was there as a freshman after a freshman in college, they actually incorporate the peace pipe, it was a part of the Anishinaabe Ojibwe tradition, and they actually smoke tobacco at the beginning of their church service. They are able to open their service in a good way for them because it’s reflective of their culture and what they do.
Also when I was at the University of Oklahoma, there’s an Oklahoma Norman First United Methodist Church and some of the things that they were able to do, it was to honor the different students’ culture and the community’s culture and so they held a Native American church ceremony, you know, involves the teepee, but it also, most of it is about the prayer part of it, the peace they’re praying and really just helping us at the end of the semester so that we can prepare for finals, so we had a spiritual connection.
Then also I think, lately they’ve also been doing [Inaudible: 00:11:13] as well. You know, again [Inaudible: 00:11:16] it’s about prayer, it’s about sacrifice, because you’re getting a closer connection to God and so that is definitely a piece of that.
So every church is different, every church experiences culture in different ways. Those are just some examples of the different things that are done.
Rich – Fantastic. Well, Doctor, I really appreciate you being on the episode today. Is there anything else you’d like to share with people who might be listening in today and are thinking, you know that are maybe on the fence a little bit wondering whether they should participate, be a part of Native American Ministries Day?
Robin – Well, I just implore those who are on the fence to not be on the fence and to acknowledge indigenous people, to honor them because again their unique part of the culture. There’s a lot that can be learned from indigenous communities in regards to their values, their beliefs and their spirituality piece of that, and I think that once you learn, I think sometimes people are scared to really try to explore, make that connection, but I think we have an opportunity with this Sunday to bring that education piece into the church and to also support, it might be the Native American Seminary Scholarship that we have through GBHEM because that offers an opportunity for us to increase the number of Native American seminary students and ministers who will go out into their communities and have that cultural context but also the doctrine of The United Methodist Church with them.
So I think there’s an opportunity to empower the communities, to strengthen the communities with your outreach to Native American Sunday, then that just bridges that together with Native people within your congregation.
Rich – Thank you so much, Dr. Minthorn. I really appreciate your time today, I know it’s a busy life as a professor so I appreciate you taking a few minutes out to share with us today.
Robin – Thank you, I appreciate you asking.
Rich – Thanks so much.