Congregations from 19 Episcopal dioceses were represented at the 18th annual Paths Crossing conference, held April 20-23 at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Whiterocks, Utah, on the Ute reservation.
All are in different stages of cross-cultural partnerships -- from exploring the possibility to multi-year relationships.
Similar to the concept of a companion diocese relationship, the partnerships generally link predominantly Anglo congregations with predominantly Native American congregations in the United States.
Participants were welcomed by Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of Utah.
The Rev. Sue Duffield, vicar of St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, said that the partnership in which her parish participates "started as a friendship and developed."
"We grew as persons and in relationship with our Lord. For us, it has been life-changing," she added.
St. Elizabeth's is in partnership with St. Catherine's Episcopal Church in Marietta, Georgia. The Very Rev. Jim Nixon of St. Catherine's noted that St. Catherine's "couldn't be more different than St. Elizabeth in terms of demographics, building, size and location."
"We have learned so much from the people of St. Elizabeth's," he said.
The spiritual and pastoral relationship between the two churches deepened greatly when members of St. Elizabeth visited the Georgia parish to dedicate a new building, replacing one that had been destroyed by fire.
Charles Dennie, a member of St. Elizabeth, danced the hoop dance at that event, as he did for the Paths Crossing conference.
Ossie Dennie, Charles' mother, said the multi-year relationship has allowed both congregations to "share culturally. They are more than partners; they are our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Duffield stressed that partnership is a matter of "mutuality and equality, not one group coming to 'do ministry' with another."
Duffield noted that some of the relationships exist cross-country, as does the one between St. Elizabeth's and St. Catherine's. Others are exploring relationships within diocesan boundaries or in neighboring dioceses to reduce travel and related expenses, she explained.
Steve Darden, a Navajo and practitioner of traditional Navajo culture, was keynote speaker for the conference. He noted that cross-cultural relationships "can bring together strengths and allow people to collaborate."
The preacher at the conference Eucharist was Janine Tinsley-Roe, the Episcopal Church's missioner for Native American ministries.
The Rev. George Ross of Red Lake, Minnesota, attended the first Paths Crossing. He said he was encouraged "by the energy, like a fire burning" for partnerships that "bring people together as the people of God."
Pam Mueller of Hopkinton, New Hampshire, explained that her congregation, St. Andrew's Church, is just beginning a relationship with Holy Spirit in Randlett, Utah. She said the two congregations "are building trust, developing a relationship. And we pray for each other."
In addition to workshops on developing partnerships, the participants also witnessed a bear dance as part of a presentation about the culture of the Ute Tribe. Paul LaRose, bear dance chief, explained that his people were taught the dance by a bear.
"The bear taught dance to unite and strengthen the people," said LaRose. "Dance is a celebration of life," he added.
Partnerships "are a ministry of interconnectedness," said the Rev. David Bailey, canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of Utah.
He and Nixon said that partnerships can also lead to participation in social justice issues.
They noted that the 72nd General Convention passed a resolution that called for a decade of "remembrance, recognition and reconciliation" by the Episcopal Church in its relationship with Native people.
Bailey and Nixon noted that the resolution has failed to receive much notice and that the issue still needs to be addressed. The Paths Crossing participants unanimously endorsed asking the 75th General Convention meeting June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio, to renew the call for remembrance, recognition and reconciliation. The Diocese of Utah intends to introduce a resolution to that effect.
Bailey drew a parallel to the church's continuing to require anti-racism training, and said that Native peoples' issues need to remain before the church.
Additional information is available at: pathsx.freeshell.org.