The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place. Isaiah 9:10
Meet the Rev. Dr. John Floberg, supervising priest for three Episcopal congregations at Standing Rock Sioux Nation in the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, and Director of Youth Ministries at Star Lodge. The Episcopal Church Office of Indigenous Ministries supports Native American ministries across The Episcopal Church.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I am the supervising priest for three Episcopal congregations at Standing Rock Sioux Nation in the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota. I was called to serve on Standing Rock 28 years ago and have lived in the diocese with my family ever since.
Share a story in your current ministry about a time when you felt blessed.
When I first started my ministry at Standing Rock, I began hearing from the community about a desire to make use of a property at St. Gabriel’s called Red Hail’s Camp. The original church building on the property had burned down in 1970. With more than half of our population under the age of 20, it was clear to me that our work needed to focus on engaging youth and that there was a real opportunity to move that ministry forward at St. Gabriel’s. With a grant from United Thank Offering, we were able to build a lodge at the camp that could be used year-round. Last August, however, a lightning bolt hit the lodge, sparking a fire that burnt the building to the ground.
After the fire, we had to really take stock and think about how the building and the camp were being used, and we decided that it needed to be not only a facility to accommodate youth groups, but also an interpretive center to help visitors from outside the community learn about justice with Native American culture and peoples. Because we also felt it was important that the building represent our love of and care for God’s creation, we designed it with geothermal heating and solar panels – a model for using these technologies in the area.
This September, out of the ashes of the old Red Hail Lodge, we will open an expanded, enhanced, and eco-friendly facility for the community that can also help build bridges between people and foster racial reconciliation. This is truly a blessing.
Blessing is about being part of the cycle of giving and receiving. In what ways are you called to pass on blessings to others?
Because we received this gift of a new home for future youth ministries, we felt it was important to offer up a thank you to the spirit of a beloved member of the community who died suddenly and tragically in 2014 – Deacon Terry Star. He was a member of Executive Council and died while at seminary preparing for the priesthood. Terry’s ministry went straight to the heart of Standing Rock, and it was his great-grandfather who originally donated the land. So we named the lodge after him – Star Lodge – to honor his advocacy for indigenous rights and his love for all people. This recognition has been a gift we’ve both given and received, a lasting legacy for all to see and remember Terry Star’s life and work.
How will the rebuilding of Star Lodge impact your community?
When it is fully functional this coming fall, Star Lodge will serve each week upwards of 80 young people who are surrounded by poverty, violence, and upheaval. The Lodge will provide a safe space where our youth can learn about themselves and their relationship with God, who creates and sustains them. For the outsiders who visit – mission groups and others – we hope that their time at the Lodge will help them to become better allies of indigenous communities and advocates for positive change on Standing Rock and in the area.
How has this work impacted you?
This work in Standing Rock has become my life, and the life of my family. Just a few weeks ago, an elder was telling me that the Sioux call priests from the Catholic Church the “Black Robes,” Episcopalians the “White Robes,” and spiritual leaders who have become part of the community “Red Robes.” Then, she told me that I was one of the Red Robes – that they consider me to be a part of the community. This work is not just ministry for me – it’s family.
What about the Way of Love or the Jesus Movement gives you hope for the Church?
The Way of Love is important to me because I believe, with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, that the love of God is the only thing that can change our hearts and bring about reconciliation between peoples who are carrying long-term bitterness toward one another. The love of Christ can transform how we relate to one another. Nothing else out there has that power.