Last Sunday, Molly and I went to church on our city's northside, to Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church. Molly insisted we go. She is often deeply right in instincts, her hunches about how Christians should behave in relation to other Christians.
Years ago, she had said, "You go off to Africa to be with fellow Christians there - to befriend them, help them, serve them, but right here in our own city and state are numbers of people of the Native American people, who feel themselves The Invisible, The Forgotten, the left out people of our society. Why don't we find a way to go to them?"
So we did. We had been receiving a monthly newsletter from The Dakota Association of Churches, out in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. "Why don't we go and see them?" she asked.
There were about 15 of those churches, gathered under the United Church of Christ denomination in tiny communities called Red Scaffold, Green Grass, Faith. Their pastors were Milo Ironwood, Leslie Bobtail Bear, Richard Charging Eagle, and Leonard. The group was shepherded by a white couple, Rev. Ray and Shirley Berry, who had given their hearts and lives to these lonely Indian pastors and their small, often struggling churches.
We also had an Ojibwe friend, a retired Episcopal minister, George Ross and his wife Angie. They lived in Cass Lake, and had served Episcopal Churches there and in Red Lake and White Earth.
Our first journey to visit them, as a little caravan of white folks from "the Cities," was north to George and his people, and then west into North Dakota, and down the Missouri River to Cannon Ball, and there to the churches of the Lakota Sioux.
We were welcomed in all those churches, although in their historic experience their great enemies were the American government and the American (white) church.
Yet, through Ray Berry's great shepherding of us, we became friends and came to have ties with those pastors and the people of their churches. Our visits were annual for over twenty years. We went for a spring weekend. We went to their churches. Our teams spoke to them from their hearts. They became dear to many of our people.
We were a rag-tag group of pilgrims. The relation is still there, especially through George Ross, who very much cares.
In the meantime, over those 20 -25 years, we went to Africa, to lead retreats of reconciliation in the genocide countries of Rwanda and Burundi. Eventually seven countries became home to us through Christian friendships with new friends in all those places.
Richard Coleman, gifted pastor of Wayman Church, went with our Pilgrim Center one year to Africa. He and Mary are our friends. They've helped with retreats here in Minnesota. Their tie with us is particularly through prayer. They prayed for me in the middle of the crowd at a Minnesota Prayer Breakfast just before I was to have surgery for melanoma cancer. They had great power in prayer. God gave me healing, despite the apprehension of my young surgeon. So, there is a wonderful "tie that binds."
Try going to one of the many churches of our city that is a mix of people, or that is made up of Congolese, or Nepalese, or African American, or Native American people.
They would love to have you step into one of their pews some Sunday soon. You would be so welcome. It might be a door of great friendship and healing for you.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES