[Episcopal News Service] About 30 Indigenous Episcopal clergy and non-Indigenous clergy who serve Indigenous congregations are currently gathering for a conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, to establish a network of support.
The Sept. 21-23 conference, sponsored by the Office of Indigenous Ministries and Church Pension Group, is the first in a series of planned regional conferences underwritten by CPG. It includes clergy from the Great Plains region, prairie lands that extend from North Dakota to Texas and from the Rocky Mountains east to the Mississippi River Valley.
The conference’s theme is “we are all related,” which is based on a phrase — Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ — in the Lakota language.
“The title of this conference is very important because there’s a common understanding among most native tribes, that they understand that we are all part of the same structure,” said the Rev. Garth Howe, community/cultural liaison officer for CPG and a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. “Whether that’s Mother Earth or Father Sky — whatever it is that we are part of, we are bonded together. That’s why this conference is very relational.”
The conference includes mental health and wellbeing workshops and a panel of Indigenous clergy discussing the nuances of how Indigenous culture intersects with The Episcopal Church.
Clergy who serve Indigenous communities “are subjected to some really difficult congregational work,” the Rev. Bradley Hauff, the church’s missioner for Indigenous Ministries, told Episcopal News Service.
“Almost all of them are assigned multiple congregations, and they are in Indigenous communities and reservations where the churches are long distances apart,” said Hauff, who is Lakota and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “And there isn’t a lot in the way of support for them, to help them to do their ministry.”
The Ven. Paul Sneve, who is Rosebud Sioux and serves as archdeacon in the Diocese of South Dakota, is attending the conference. He told ENS that building such a network will especially benefit Indigenous clergy and Indigenous-serving clergy ahead of the 81st General Convention in 2024, because they can “support each other, and we will be better tuned in to the concerns of other dioceses, other faiths.”
“We advocate for each other to make sure that the Church Pension Group is able to help us to the full extent that they’re able to,” Sneve said. “By helping the pension team here to listen to our concerns, then we’re helping each other as well.”
Hauff said “there’s been a bit of a disconnect” between CPG and Indigenous clergy because many of them are non-stipendiary, meaning they don’t earn a salary.
“If you don’t get a salary, Church Pension Group, at least in the past, hadn’t known that you exist because it’s totally based on whether or not money’s paid on your behalf into the pension fund. And if you’re not, that doesn’t happen,” Hauff said. “And the reason is, frankly, because the congregations can’t support them, and the dioceses can provide them with minimal [financial] support.”
Clergy – bishops, priests and deacons – are paid by their employer, which could be their parish, institution or diocese.
Part of CPG’s outreach initiative to Indigenous-serving clergy is to explain the eligibility guidelines for enrollment in pension plans for those who aren’t currently receiving financial compensation, said Howe, who is of Oglala Sioux and Stockbridge ancestry.
“We’re attempting and, I think, going to succeed in helping native clergy or non-native that are serving native congregations, to better define their stand, their vocation, in their local context, and then also how Church Pension Group can support them,” Howe said. “The first thing we need to do is listen, and that’s what this event is for.”
Sneve said he appreciates the work CPG has already put in to support Indigenous clergy.
“I’m impressed and pleased that [CPG] is making the effort to listen and to be able to look for areas that maybe they’ve missed out on,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about this, and I hope this continues into the future.”
-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at email@example.com.