Paiute Elder, Reynelda James, Ordained Deacon in Nevada

June 1, 2010

Reynelda James of Wadsworth, Nevada, is an institution in Native Ministries. At Winter Talk, Paths Crossing, Mountains and Deserts, or the Oklahoma Consultations, health and circumstances permitting, she has been there. When time is set aside for the elders to take the lead, she is there. Far too few Indigenous people have been ordained in our Church, but for many of them, deacons, priests, and yes bishops, Reynelda has been a mentor and a guide. She herself was in the discernment process but her process stalled out for years. Why was that?

It was not that she did not feel the call to ordination. It was not that she did not enjoy widespread support within the Diocese of Nevada. It was not that the Commission on Ministry or three successive bishops did not want to see her ordained. It was a cultural disconnect between “the process” and Native culture. The prescribed steps of papers filed in sequence are just not the Paiute way of being in the world.

So Reynelda smudged the naves of churches, cathedrals, and convention halls for the ordinations of deacons, priests, bishops, and even one primate – for years – before her day finally came: Easter Saturday, April 30, 2011. It finally happened because the Rev. Canon Bob Nelson of the Diocese of Nevada and the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor of the Diocese of Alaska said, “Enough.” They agreed it was time to get the show on the road. Reynelda got a few papers filed to clear the way. After that, the Commission on Ministry decided we would let Canon Doctor be our guide to how to do a discernment process in the Native context. With her sound advice, the process moved forward.

The canons were followed. Their spirit was fulfilled. Deacon James did not receive the same training as Anglo deacons, but it was not a watered down course. Her training was different, not less.  So this Easter Season was an occasion of special joy in the High Desert as we ordained our first Paiute Deacon.

The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church in Canada, ordained her, assisted by the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, Bishop of Nevada. The Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor preached. Indigenous guests, including Sarah Eagle Heart, Native Missioner for the Episcopal Church, filled the various liturgical roles. The service was blessed by the presence and participation of numerous deacons, Anglo and Native, from near and far, active and retired. It was a long time coming, but a change has surely come to the people of the Pyramid Lake Reservation, the Diocese of Nevada, and in a real way for diaconate in our Church.

-- The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards is Bishop of the Diocese of Nevada.