This coming Saturday I will be attending our South Carolina Committee on Native American Ministries. I do have some good news to share: GCFA and the Connectional Funding Committee have agreed not to do away with all the Special Sundays with offerings. Why does this matter? First, we all know that the more local the ministry the better the connection to people’s hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. Second, there are only two Special Sunday offerings (Peace with Justice Sunday and Native American Ministries Sunday) where local church funds explicitly remain in the annual conference. Fifty percent of the funds raised provide for these valuable ministries on the local level.
This means that the offering for Native American Ministries should receive ample funding, right? Unfortunately, the answer is “wrong.” In South Carolina, for instance, 114 churches out of 1024 contributed to Native American Ministries Sunday. That amounts to 11.13% of the churches. That’s not good. The whole Southeastern Jurisdiction does poorly. Largest in percentage in descending order are Red Bird Missionary Conference, 76%; North Carolina, 26.96%; Florida, 11.78%; South Carolina, 11.13%; North Georgia, 10.26%; Virginia, 10.23%; South Georgia, 8.84%; Holston, 8.47%; Tennessee, 7.28%; Kentucky, 5.95%; Memphis, 4.94%; North Alabama, 1.86%; Western North Carolina, figures not available; Mississippi, figures not available; and Alabama-West Florida, figures not available.
The percentage of churches contributing only tells half the story. The South Carolina Annual Conference only raised $6,892. The entire Southeastern Jurisdiction raised $64,156. The Northeastern Jurisdiction raised $69,655. The North Central Jurisdiction raised $95,920. The South Central Jurisdiction raised $69,655. The Western Jurisdiction raised $45,568. No matter how you add the numbers it strikes me that the places where the UMC is largest in numbers give proportionally less.
This is so sad. The reason we have Native American Ministries Sunday is so we can help those who need it. I have great fear that this year’s numbers will be worse because Native American Ministries Sunday fell on Mother’s Day. Of course, any Sunday is appropriate and we encourage churches to pick any Sunday during the year for Native American Ministries Sunday, but any time you have to pick an alternate date it can sometimes be like a “Snow Sunday.” The emphasis can lose traction and the money falls short.
Thankfully, I can vouch for the Native American Representatives in the Columbia District. They do a good job of interpreting the ministry of our C.O.N.A.M. (Committee on Native American Ministries). Each year we have a wonderful training for Native American Representatives. It is excellent! I have promoted among our Cabinet the often overlooked paragraph in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Par. 654, which says every year at charge conference someone is to be elected to serve as a representative for Native American Ministries. The paragraph really should be in the 200 pars., which are all about the local church, but it is instead located in the 600’s which are all about the annual conference. Maybe we can get it right at General Conference 2012. People should know, without having to look all over the place in the Book of Discipline, that one of the officers required to be elected at charge conference is a Native American Representative.
No matter what we do, I sincerely hope that we will be advocates for American Indians. The statistics are staggering in terms of poverty, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism. The motto for the South Carolina Committee on Native American Ministries says it all about what we are called to do: “Making the Invisible Visible.”