Healing and repenting at AC ’15
The Rev. Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett, retired, member of the Seneca Nation, led the Act of Repentance & Healing of Relationships with Indigenous Persons (AOR) Wednesday, May 27, at the 2015 Upper New York Annual Conference session. He focused on a theme of unity throughout the evening.
“Ultimately we are here to bind ourselves together in unity as we continue our journey on the trail to repentance with Native American people,” he said. “Many people across the country have no idea why we are doing it, have no idea of the harm the Church created as it spread its message across the United States.”
The purpose of the service was to bring clarity to the continuing role of Native Americans in the United States’ society, the realities of their conditions, their relationship to the Church, and the historical dilemma produced by the Church’s treatment of Native Americans from the beginning of colonial times as well as for those in attendance to repent for wrongs committed against Native people that involved the Church.
“It has taken us over 40 years in The United Methodist Church to come to a place where we are capable of embracing a service of repentance,” he said.
Rev. White Wolf Fassett addressed the question of why United Methodists are repenting. He gave several historical examples of Church involvement in Native American trauma, including the Indian Removal Act led by U.S. President Andrew Jackson in the early 1830s that led to the Trail of Tears.
“Historical trauma today is very real,” Rev. White Wolf Fassett said. “We were a part of this generation of historical trauma that plagues Indian country today.”
Rev. White Wolf Fassett said Native people were very leery to share their knowledge of the Church’s relationship to the Native American culture across the United States.
Marilyn Anderson, a member of Seneca Nation and Four Corners United Methodist Church in Versailles, said her comments were not meant to judge or blame but to provide insight. She said some Native Americans feel anger towards Christianity for its role in Native historical trauma – for example, the taking of ancestral lands, punishments doled out in Christian boarding schools, and the forcible separation of children from their families, their beliefs, and their culture.
“Act of Repentance is part of the healing process,” she said.
Part of the AOR involved participants pouring water from their geographic area into the pool of repentance, acknowledging a desire to repent and continue to live in a spirit of new life and new beginnings.
“It is time for us to set aside the racism and the bigotry and the difference and the harm to embrace unity, to learn how we are one with one another,” Rev. White Wolf Fassett said. “Water is sacred … it is water of our unity and the symbol of this moment as we confront not so much each other but ourselves.”