Our former ALC (American Luthearn Church) initiated a Native American team called the National Indian Lutheran Board (NILB). This was the root stick for our District and Synod’s Native American initiatives. The NILB disbanded several years ago most likely because of the ELCA merger.
In the early 1980’s Pastor George Larson served on our ALC North Pacific District’s Evangelism Outreach Committee and in the new ELCA as chair of our Southwestern Washington Synod’s Outreach Board for a couple of terms. During this time we began our SWWA Synod Native American outreach.
Some of the significant First Nation’s people from our synod during this time were:
- Bonnie Evans, a Cherokee, CLM, member at Gloria Dei, Olympia connected us with the Nisqually Shaker Church
- Ira and Maureen Frank Haida, Auburn, Messiah who served as our Pacific Northwest Synod Secretary and were active in Indian Fishing Rights issues
- Charlotte Davis- Chinook, Ocean Park, a church elder
- Cecelia Svinth Carpenter, Nisqually, Native American Historian and P.L.U Distinguished Alum
During these years two visionary Lutheran Native Americans, Linda Smith, then Director of Admissions at Green River Community College, and Roy DeBoer, a church member in Port Orchard but serving as Superintendant of the school district in Sunnyside, WA, served on the Synod Outreach Committee. Through their leadership and mentorship we began our bridge building initiative with Native Americans in our synod. in the early years we promoted ‘Indian Concerns Sunday’ as a way for congregations to honor the rich culture and heritage of Native Americans.
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran in Stephenson just observed their 25th annual celebration of Native American Heritage Sundays. Celebration Lutheran in Puyallup also celebrated Native American Sundays for a few years. The Outreach Committee, as it was called then, sponsored an annual Celebration of International Cultures in our synod at Hope Lutheran Church in Tacoma for three or four years. Recently other congregations have begun their Native American Heritage Sunday emphasis. First Lutheran Community Church in Port Orchard is one. Several more will be doing this as a result of Bishop Jaech’s letter and the resource material just released by our Team (see link to resources at top of this page).
During the Centennial Celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s encampment at Astoria, Oregon Pastor Linda Smith led worshippers in a service recognizing the heritage of the First Nations Peoples of that era. Linda has led several workshops entitled One in the Spirit over the years as a way to introduce people to the rich heritage of native Americans.
Pastor George Larson shared his heart for Native American/ Immigrant bridge building with Bishop Jaech at his first Conference Pastor’s Christmas Eucharist. With his openness, interest and encouragement we have begun to rekindle the embers of our synod’s previous initiatives.
God’s Great Spirit is stirring the hearts, minds and consciousness of many people. There is a growing awareness of the paucity of moral and spiritual content lost in the profligacy of living in a monetized civilization. There is a longing for the ancient wisdom that lives in harmony with God’s creation. We are rediscovering to our joy and shame that such a source of wealth has lived in this very place for the previous twelve thousand years. Out of the ashes of their genocide and our government sponsored greed it is time to live and act like God’s grace is real. It is through listening and the sharing of stories and meals and cooperation and collaboration that we will all be empowered to move forward into the hope that inspires us. Yes, our history with Native American people is brutal, bloody, calculating and shameful. But through it all, people of good will and tender hearts, whether First Nations people or immigrants, have found ways to cooperate, coexist and keep hope alive.
Our state has made a paradigm change by mandating that Native American history is taught in our schools. It is time that we as people of faith take to heart the necessity of a paradigm change through repentance, respect and the reciprocation of welcome, wisdom and healing. We are called by Jesus to leave a legacy of hope.
Those of us serving on our Native American Task Team believe that we share a call from God’s future for us to be living into God’s prescient and hopeful present with us as immigrants and first nations peoples. We have so much to learn from one another. We have a need to share, to grow to become God’s renewing, reconciling people. We are on the cusp of a collaborative blessing. And we pray that we will faithfully pray, persist and power on to being a part of “Thy kingdom come”.
Through the collective efforts of our congregations and the powerhouse of Pacific Lutheran University we have the potential and possibility to begin the shaping of a new narrative involving native and immigrant people.
Participants in the SWWA Native American Task Team are:
- Bishop Rick Jaech
- Mark Kremen- Skokomish (Mark worked with Native American outreach efforts in the North Pacific District and Northwest Synod prior to moving to our synod)
- Pr. Linda Smith- Tulalip Elder
- Roy DeBoer- Lummi
- Pr. Michelle deBeauchamp- Saron Lutheran Church, Hoquiam
- Pr. Sonja Selboe- retired, member of Pt. Madison, Bainbridge Island
- Jeff Robinson- Port Orchard
- Pr. Pam Hunter- Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Forks
- Pr. Adrian Bonaro- First Lutheran Community Church, Port Orchard
- Pr. Jerry Collell- Emanuel Lutheran Church, Yelm
- Pr. George Larson- retired, Port Orchard
There are other people in our Synod that will want to volunteer their services to this team. There are others who have gifts and passion for this important initiative of reconciliation. All are welcome to be added to this list of initial team members. Through Bishop Jaech, we are also in close relationship with the Episcopal Olympic Diocese and their work with First Nations People. If you are interested in serving on the Native American Ministry Task Force, please contact the Synod Office at 253-535-8300, or email@example.com.