Reformed Church Center Begins to Look at Reconciliation with Native Peoples
The RCA General Synod of 2021, I response to a report from its Commission on Christian Action, voted “To . . . acknowledge our failure to speak out about the concerns of our indigenous congregations and tribal communities, and express remorse at this inaction; and further, . . . (t)o instruct the General Synod Council to annually state a land acknowledgement for any location in which General Synod meets.”
The need for reconciliation with people who arrived in North America millennia before White Europeans—people once called “Indians” but now more commonly referred to as “First Nations” people in Canada and “Native Americans” in the US—has become more and more clear in recent years as both nations have faced up to the mistreatment and attempted genocide these peoples suffered at the hands of White settlers, our governments, and even Christian church groups. Leroy Koopmans’s book Taking the Jesus Road: The Ministry of the Reformed Church in America Among Native Americans (2005), part of The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, acknowledges some of the problematic work of RCA missionaries along with the good work being done.
The choice of the 2021 General Synod to acknowledge the original inhabitants of land where the Synod meets is one that is duplicated in more and more congregations and is even a regular part of chapel worship at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. It is not, however, a solution to the problem all by itself. As part of its ongoing series of programs meant to help local congregations and the whole church confront and dismantle racism, the Reformed Church Center will host “Land Acknowledgment, Truth, and Reconciliation: A Place to Begin” on Wednesday, 18 January 2023, 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. This online program, led by Nathan Gullion, First Nations Pastor of Athabasca Reformed Church in Alberta, Canada, and Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne, Visiting Assistant Professor of Worship and Preaching and Director of the Chapel at NBTS, will focus on the need for sharing truth between native peoples and the church as part of a committed, ongoing act of reconciliation and healing.
Nathan Gullion has lived in Edmonton, Alberta, for twenty-three years with his wife, Kim, and their four children. Since 2019, he has been First Nations Pastor at the Athabasca Reformed Church, with a particular ministry to the First Nations congregation at Calling Lake, part of the Big Cree Nation of which Nathan is also a member. With the people at Calling Lake, Nathan works to live out the Truth and Reconciliation that the Canadian government has advocated. He writes, “The Truth and Reconciliation is going to be a hard road but we will succeed only when the two cultures embrace what it really means to forgive and accept each other’s truth.”
Suzanne Wenonah Duchesne holds degrees from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, Palmer Theological Seminary in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. She has taught worship and preaching not only at NBTS but also at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky; and Union Theological Seminary in New York as well as at Drew and Palmer. An important part of her work and scholarship has been around issues of reconciliation and justice with native peoples, and she has created several worship resources for this, especially for the United Methodist Church.