'Winter Talk' hears native voices

January 29, 2009

More then 60 indigenous and non-native clergy serving in native settings gathered for the 20th annual Winter Talk Conference sponsored by the Episcopal Church on the Standing Rock Nation in North Dakota Jan. 19-21.

Bishop Michael Smith of the hosting North Dakota diocese said that the event was "an important native Episcopal Church network of support, prayer, friendship and healing." He noted that representatives of 17 dioceses "spent several days praying, sharing, laughing, crying and learning from each other."

Workshops covered such topics as youth ministry, anti-racism, discernment for ordination, organizing provincial networks and grant writing. Conference-goers also shared stories and learned traditional games from their hosts.

Seating for most of those sessions was circular. "We are a circular people," explained Donald Fox of the Indigenous Theological Training Institute, who presented anti-racism material.

Smith explained that when Winter Talk was first held, the purpose was to "meet and talk about how they might incorporate various tribal traditions and spirituality with their Christian faith."

"Unlike other missionary movements in history, indigenous peoples of the US were forced to make a decision between commitment to Christ and their native cultures, even those parts that were clearly compatible with the Gospel." He added that there is a "renaissance of sorts in a number of our young adults and youth who are proud of their Native traditions and also love Jesus."

First time attendee Priscilla Holokai from Hawaii said she enjoyed being able to share stories with other Native people. "We're not that much different," she observed. "And it was good to see others who are already serving" in ordained ministry. She is one of seven native Hawaiians currently in the ordination process in that diocese.

Reynelda James, a veteran attendee from Nevada, said she enjoyed visiting with old friends and was encouraged "by the participation of so many youth."

Smith is an enrolled member of the Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. Bishop Carol Gallagher served as conference chaplain. She is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

She had asked those attending to bring something representing their diocese and ministry to place on the conference altar. The items were placed on the altar at the start of the conference and remained there through the closing Eucharist.