By Lisa Lynott-Carroll, Native Sun News correspondent:
PIERRE — Sunday, Oct. 21, was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon in Pierre.
Outside the 100-year-old First Congregational United Church of Christ there was just enough wind to send leaves swirling down sidewalks and across streets. Inside, the haunting but hopeful notes of a traditional flute, played by Byron Buffalo, floated through the packed church, setting the mood.
The occasion was a historic first for the South Dakota Conference of the United Church of Christ: the ordination of three Native American pastors, Hampton Andrews, Norman Blue Coat and Mike Kills Pretty Enemy.
The ceremony, a blend of Lakota and Christian music and tradition and sponsored by the Dakota Association of the Council for American Indian Ministry and the South Dakota Conference of the United Church of Christ, was the culmination of many years of service to the church by the three men.
In the United Church of Christ, pastors must be formally recommended for ordination by a specific UCC church; usually, it’s a church they’ve served for a good amount of time.
For Norman Blue Coat, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who’s worked in ministry since 1963 and who was an Episcopalian priest until 1999, when he began serving in the UCC, the Virgin Creek United Church of Christ in La Plant recommended him for ordination, both as a pastor for the church and for the denomination itself.
Pastor Blue Coat stated he was drawn to the UCC for many reasons, his primary one being its “open and inclusive nature.”
For Mike Kills Pretty Enemy, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe whose previous work includes teaching and dormitory management at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools as well as diesel mechanic, and who has served as a Roman Catholic deacon, the Elk Horn Hill UCC in Little Eagle, where he’s served as pastor for several years, did the honors in recommending him for ordination.
The South Dakota UCC Conference considered Kills Pretty Enemy’s training in the Catholic Church as counting toward his pastoral education and experience and he has continued his pastoral training at the Eagle Butte Learning Center.
The EBLC, in existence since 1998, provides culturally appropriate theological and practical education for Native Americans interested in preparation for authorized ministry in the UCC, as well as continuing education classes and classes for those interested in learning from Native Americans.
The UCC, says Pastor Kills-Pretty-Enemy, is “a very welcoming and accepting denomination.”
Hampton Andrews, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has served as pastor to the Ponca Creek UCC Church in Bonesteel for the past 40 years. While he has no formal theological education, he has attended classes and workshops at the Eagle Butte Learning Center and believes he has had plenty of on-the-job training. “Helping and serving people is one of the most important things we can do, and it’s what God wants us to do,” he stated.
While Andrews’ father was Roman Catholic, his mother was UCC and he was raised in the denomination. The Ponca Creek UCC Church honored his decades of service by formally recommending him for ordained ministry.
All three churches are members of the Dakota Association of the South Dakota UCC. While the denomination’s other associations are geographically based, the Dakota Association encompasses all of the Native American UCC churches within the state and is based at the First Congregational UCC in Pierre, where the ordination was held.
The open, inclusive and accepting philosophy of the South Dakota UCC, and the blending of traditional Christian and Lakota beliefs and practices, was the main theme running throughout the ceremony.
While participating conference ministers filed into the pews to the accompaniment of Beethoven’s traditional hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” the call to worship was followed by the singing of a hymn in Lakota and the offering of a prayer by Leroy Bobtail Bear, a representative of the Dakota Association, first in Lakota and then English.
The Rev. Dr. Norman W. Jackson, a retired Native American pastor and a former professor at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn., addressed this theme of unity in his sermon, stating that “listening, really listening to what your people are telling you and to each other” was a critical aspect of ministry. “Don’t be deaf. Listen. Don’t take offense at Jesus. Enough have, enough to crucify him. He is big enough for all people.”
The Rev. Marlene White Rabbit Helgemo of the Council for American Indian Ministry, the Rev. Dr. David Felton, interim conference minister of the South Dakota UCC Conference, and the Rev. Rosemary McCombs Maxey of the Eagle Butte Learning Center also participated as the ordinands came forward following the formal recommendations of each church’s representative.
All participating ministers, as well as the families, friends and congregants of the ordinands, were then invited to come forward for the laying on of hands, led by Winifred Boub, administrative manager of the Dakota Association, as the pastors promised to “maintain the truth of the gospel and the peace of the church,” while seeking to “regard all people with equal love and concern and minister impartially” as they “accept the faith and order of the UCC and work ecumenically and through interfaith endeavors to show love and relationship to people of all faiths as well as no faith.”
The emotional and theological significance of the occasion was marked by the giving of gifts from several of the state’s UCC associations to the newly ordained pastors following the formal ceremony. These gifts included handmade stoles from the Prairie Lakes Association that depicted God-inspired stories from both Lakota and Christian traditions and communion pottery (chalices, bowls and plates) made by Lakota artists from both the Prairie Lakes and Black Hills associations.
The Prairie Lakes Association also donated $100 for each of the three churches to the Dakota Association for use in its ministry. One of the most stunning and appropriate gifts was given by the Rev. Don Stable of the UCC Pension Board, who, after thanking the ordinands for all of the ways they’d helped and touched people, presented each one with a carved buffalo.
Directly following the ceremony, a reception was held at the church with traditional Lakota fare including buffalo stew, fry bread and wojapi, as well as a cake to honor the ordinands for the service and accomplishments.
Emotions continued to flow as Winifred Boub of the Dakota Association, who’d helped to plan and implement the ceremony and who’s worked for the association for 15 years, was presented with a star quilt for her efforts and her many years of service and devotion.
Contact Lisa Lynott-Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org.