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A first-of-its-kind education for Indigenous leaders: Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders program launches

The following is cross-posted from Living Lutheran. The original post can be found here.

The inaugural cohort of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary’s (PLTS) Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders (TEIL) launched on Oct. 9 with an opening ceremony and shared celebration attended by leaders from across the ELCA. Photos: Courtesy of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Larry Thiele, a pastor in the Eastern North Dakota Synod, teaches a TEIL course as one of the program’s wisdom keepers.

Some of the Indigenous leaders and wisdom keepers of the TEIL program with Moses Paul Peter Penumaka, director of Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (far right); PLTS Rector Raymond Pickett (center); and Francisco Javier Goitia Padilla, director of theological formation for seminaries and schools of the ELCA (second from right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Centuries after colonial models of education were first forced on Indigenous people in North America, their effects are still keenly felt. Western theological education has remained the default methodology within the church, including the ELCA. This fall, Native leaders from across the ELCA, in partnership with leaders from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) of California Lutheran University in Berkeley, are seeking to change that with the launch of the Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders (TEIL) program.

“The TEIL program is a historic and first-of-its-kind opportunity for Indigenous leaders and for our church,” said Vance Blackfox, ELCA director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations. “It gives students an opportunity to access education and leadership development—and possibly become ordained—so that they might be even more effective leaders in their communities and congregations.”

Though modeled after PLTS’ Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) certificate program—which is offered in collaboration with Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and the Lutheran Center of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod in Indianapolis and aims to prepare students for ordained ministry in the ELCA—the TEIL program is distinct in groundbreaking ways. “While the timeline looks like the traditional TEEM program, the content and teachers look very different,” said Blackfox, a partner in the development of TEIL and one of its instructors.

“Ninety percent of our instructors, whom we call wisdom keepers, are Indigenous, and the students will experience Indigenous pedagogy, or ways of learning about ministry and biblical studies, that are not offered anywhere else in our church,” said Blackfox, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

The TEIL curriculum was designed by and for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) leaders, with their leadership and ministry formation and Indigenous theologies in mind.


“Students will experience Indigenous pedagogy not offered anywhere else in our church.”


The program gave its developers the freedom to look at why some of the courses traditionally offered in TEEM weren’t relevant to Indigenous students’ ministry and context, and what would be meaningful for their experience, said Moses Paul Peter Penumaka, director of TEEM.

“One of the first classes we offer in TEEM is ‘Ministry in Context,’ but TEIL leaders named it as ‘Ministry in Indigenous Context,’” he said. Other classes offered in the 16-course curriculum include “American Lutheranism and Indigenous History” and “Truth and Healing.”

“This program that the wisdom keepers put together is their own program,” Penumaka said. “They are defining what land, context, ministry and theology mean to them, for their own communities and their own people. So it is very unique, authentic and charismatic.”

In many seminary courses, the gospel is read through a Western lens, said Penumaka. The TEIL program offers students “an education that can empower and enlighten them, that’s not enforced upon them,” he said.

Blackfox has a personal understanding of the model’s importance. “There has never been a time in my own studies where the class was made up of 100% Native students, from early childhood until graduate-level seminary classes,” he said. “So for the students in TEIL to have that opportunity is unique and will be, I believe, invaluable to the ways they learn and what they learn.”

“Strengthening our ministry”

The inaugural cohort of TEIL, comprised of 10 students representing a range of ELCA Indigenous ministries and congregations, began their program on Oct. 9, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The program was launched with in-person classes hosted at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., and an opening ceremony and shared celebration attended by leaders from across the ELCA.

“The ELCA has committed to supporting Native-focused and Native-led leadership and education, and to developing future Native leaders, pastors and theologians,” said Elizabeth Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. “The Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders program is one important way to honor that commitment. Our Indigenous leaders have vital gifts to offer this church, and the TEIL program is an opportunity to meaningfully support their development.”

Joann Conroy, president of the ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association (AIAN), agreed. “We’ve been invisible people for too long,” she said of AIAN members and leaders of the ELCA. “Being able to have TEIL is something that not only strengthens our ministry, wherever we happen to be situated, but strengthens the church and recognizes the gifts we bring to the church.”


“The ELCA has committed to supporting Native-focused and Native-led leadership and education.”


Conroy, an Oglala Sioux Lakota pastor who serves as a TEIL wisdom keeper, began meeting with Blackfox and Penumaka several years ago to decide how the program would take shape. Eventually that group broadened to include a team of Indigenous leaders who helped determine what the distinctive courses would be.

“We discussed what the Indigenous pedagogy might look like for each of those classes and who would lead them,” Blackfox said. “We met multiple times to develop this Indigenous learning experience together.”

Blackfox identified several primary goals for the program. “One would be providing quality and appropriate classes and experiences for Indigenous students that empower them to be even stronger ministry leaders in their communities, congregations and Indigenous ministries, both as ministers and with their fellow lay members,” he said. “Two, to allow for their experiences and tribal life ways to also be contributing gifts to their learning environments while in the TEIL program.”

He also hopes to “continue to connect the church at large—the churchwide organization, synods, congregations, individuals—with ways of supporting Indigenous ministries in our church. And this is one tremendous way in which that can happen.”

Seeds planted

The TEIL program is open to lay leaders and those on the ordination track alike. “Students don’t have to be candidates for ordination to be in the program but will be introduced to candidacy in case they do want to pursue ordination,” Blackfox said.

TEIL student Amanda Vivier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, had been looking for just such a program. “My heart has been yearning for this connection and acceptance as an Anishinaabe leader and as a follower of Christ Jesus, so it was a no-brainer when the opportunity presented itself,” she said of enrolling in the program.

Vivier has served as spiritual director and minister for The Way (formerly Native American Christian Ministry) in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., since 2017 and is seeking ordination. “This is a huge blessing to the Indigenous population of followers of Christ Jesus,” she said of the TEIL program. “It has opened the door for me to pursue becoming a pastor while still [being] very engaged with my family and ministry.”

She has already found her TEIL coursework directly applicable to her ministry context. “In the short first week I spent in TEIL, I picked up teachings I was able to bring back to The Way that following Sunday,” she said. “It has also actually encouraged me to look at the Bible in my lens of an Anishinaabe kwe [woman] and share it in a language that becomes more relevant for the population I’m serving.”


“This is a huge blessing to the Indigenous population of followers of Christ Jesus.”


Gabe Wounded Head is an Oglala Lakota student completing his undergraduate degree at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks this year. He has also applied what he is learning in TEIL to his college campus, where he is a chapel service leader and an active member of Campus Ministry. “I have learned that the idea that there is one path down any road, whether it be education style, church service style or leadership style, is false,” he said. “This program provided me with a unique opportunity to take advantage of a new alternative viewpoint in biblical exegesis.”

In his ministry experience, Wounded Head has found that “most of the people who have turned away from their adolescent churchgoing habits have done so because they’ve learned a new perspective of history, one of the colonized people, that church leaders have historically desired to keep under wraps.” But he believes that TEIL can help enrich people’s faith while also inviting new members by offering important context.

“A historical context creates a picture that the good news was not just meant for the European church, and it wasn’t just meant for the American church—it was meant for the people of God, worldwide,” Wounded Head said. He believes the seeds being planted with TEIL will invite more voices into the ELCA, both from Indigenous communities and beyond current church membership.

When Conroy was in seminary, she experienced that lack of context as a missing piece of her education. “A lot of what I was being taught was very white-focused—my cultural understanding wasn’t being taught,” she said. “TEIL is now bringing those things to the table for our young leaders, where their voice and their cultural relevance can finally be applied to theological learning.

“If you look to the future of the church, if you look at [Indigenous] elders, children, young adults, it really is necessary to keep working toward this. It’s important.”

John Potter
John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

Honoring Indigenous Peoples and Alaska Natives in November

In the United States, November is Native American Heritage Month. Racial Justice Ministries would like to elevate the voices and work of our Indigenous siblings by bringing attention to the multitude of events by the ELCA’s Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations. A full list of offerings for this month can be found here, but there are two events that we would especially like to highlight:

Vine Deloria Jr. Theological Symposium

In 2013, the Annual American Indian and Alaska Native Symposium at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago was renamed in honor of Vine Deloria Jr., an alum of Augustana Seminary, Rock Island, Ill., a predecessor school of LSTC. The symposium has been held in November each year since it began over 10 years ago. The symposium will be fully virtual this year, and the theme is tribal sovereignty.

Monday, November 13, 2023 – Symposium Chapel Service:

Preaching – The Rev. David Wilson, Bishop of the Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church
Symposium Lecture: Stacy Leeds, Willard H. Pedrick Dean and Regents Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Tuesday, November 14, 2023 – Symposium Panel Presentation: Dr. Aaron Payment, Vice President of Tribal Relations and Learning for Kauffman and Associates; Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians; Host – Vance Blackfox

No pre-registration is required to participate. Just click “join the class” to attend.

Day of Mourning

Since 1970, an annual march and rally organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE) have taken place on the fourth Thursday in November, a day known as Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, but a day that many Indigenous people and supporters have come to know and commemorate as the National Day of Mourning. This tradition and commemoration serve as a solemn occasion to honor Native ancestors and Wampanoag stories, while fostering greater awareness and understanding among the American public about the destructive presence of pilgrims and settlers in around Patuxet, currently also known as Plymouth.

You are invited to Plymouth to stand in solidarity with the Wampanoag people and the United American Indians of New England at this year’s National Day of Mourning and gain deeper insights into their vital mission.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Day of Mourning
Gathering Time: 11:00 AM
Location: Pebbles Restaurant – 76 Water St, Plymouth, MA 02360

Click here to register

 

From Words to Action: Congregation joins the Truth and Healing Movement

The following is cross-posted from Living Lutheran. You can find the original post here.

From words to action

Congregation joins the Truth and Healing Movement

By Isabell Retamoza | October 9, 2023

In April, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton launched the Truth and Healing Movement to increase the church’s understanding of the impacts of colonization on Indigenous people in past and present generations. Living Lutheran reached out to Richard A. Magnus, a retired pastor who attends Edina (Minn.) Community Lutheran (ECLC), to hear how the congregation’s work with the movement has affected members and the community.

Living Lutheran: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Magnus: My first call was to urban ministry at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver. My assignment was to get to know the communities of color and then invite suburban congregations into relationship with those communities. My second call was to an urban campus ministry in Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center, Denver. In that role I was … invited to serve on the National Indian Lutheran Board (NILB) from 1979 to 1981 as one of three “blue eyes” on the board. While in Denver I served as a mission director for the Rocky Mountain Synod and in that capacity supported Rev. Dr. George (“Tink”) Tinker in forming the Four Winds American Indian Survival Project.

In 1997, I was called [as] executive director of the ELCA Division for Outreach. In that capacity I worked with pastors Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo, former pastor of All Nations Indian Church, and Gordon Straw, director of the ELCA Indian desk [both deceased], to form the Indigenous Institute, which trained 20 ELCA leaders in a better understanding of Native Americans.

In retirement I was invited to serve on the ELCA Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, where I continue to serve on the leadership team.

Could you tell me about ECLC?

In September, ECLC will celebrate its 75th anniversary. ECLC has always had a concern for justice. In 1971, ECLC called Barbara Andrews as the first woman pastor in the former American Lutheran Church. In 1973, ECLC supported members of the American Indian Movement with meals in their Wounded Knee trial. Since the 1980s the congregation has supported homeless housing ministries. It continues to support two food shelves. In 1985, ECLC became a Reconciling in Christ congregation. Strong advocacy was given to the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. The congregation partners with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis in the African American community, Iglesia Luterana San Pablo in southeast Minneapolis and Cristo de Paz in El Salvador. Youth groups have traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 2003 the congregation sued the state of Minnesota over requirements for churches in the “conceal and carry” law.

In a current capital campaign to reduce debt, one-tenth of all contributions are given to community partners. One of those recipients is the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Members accompanied Pastor Helgemo to Standing Rock [Indian Reservation] to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline at least twice.

There is increasing interest [in learning] the history of settler takeover of Native land, to understand the history as having an ongoing effect on Native people and to ask what is called for from us to address current injustices.

Why did ECLC decide to engage with the Truth and Healing Movement?

The 2016 Churchwide Assembly passed the “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.” Some members paid attention to that action. The trips to Standing Rock followed. Then in 2020 the ELCA Church Council adopted the “Declaration to American Indian and Alaska Native People,” which I brought to ECLC. In October 2021 eight members under the leadership of Pastor Helgemo visited the Lower Sioux Agency, the Mille Lacs Band and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Those visits were a great stimulus for more action.

In September 2021 the Indigenous Rights group was formed. [It] has offered many educational experiences for the congregation, including sacred sites tours in the Twin Cities; educational forums on the Doctrine of Discovery; conversations with Vance Blackfox, director for Indigenous ministry and tribal relations; and more. The group prepared a land acknowledgment that is used in the bulletin every Sunday and is encouraged to be used at the beginning of committee meetings, etc.

In initial planning for the ECLC’s 75th anniversary, the theme chosen was “Sacred Ground.” The study portion of the celebration in September through mid-November will focus on the fact that we are on Dakota land and encourage the congregation to ask what that means and how it should inform our relations with Native nations, hopefully as strong advocates for justice for Native nations.

The action to join the Truth and Healing Movement announced by Presiding Bishop Eaton during Holy Week this year encouraged the congregation even more to dig deeper and make even more use of the excellent resources on the ELCA website (www.elca.org/indigenous).

How has work with the movement impacted the congregation?

There is increasing interest [in learning] the history of settler takeover of Native land, to understand the history as having an ongoing effect on Native people and to ask what is called for from us to address current injustices.

The congregation had as many as 60 screens when offering Zooms on the Doctrine of Discovery, the ELCA declaration and conversations with Vance. Twenty-seven members traveled to the Lower Sioux Agency on June 17 to learn from the Rev. John Robertson, a retired Episcopal priest who now works as a cultural interpreter in the Lower Sioux Museum.

Upcoming plans include attendance at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Wacipi (powwow) on Aug. 19 and a sacred sites tour led by Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs of the Minnesota Council of Churches on Oct. 7. There will also be several sessions directly related to resources provided for the Truth and Healing Movement during the anniversary celebration time.

Use of the land acknowledgment statement also deepens the understanding of members and calls them to action. Here is the land acknowledgment:

My hope is that we are in the Truth and Healing Movement for the long run. There is so much to be undone to right the wrongs of our past.

“We acknowledge that Edina Community Lutheran Church is located on the traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakhota Oyate, the Dakota nation. Treaties developed through exploitation and violence were broken. Tribes were forced to exist on ever smaller amounts of land.

“Acknowledging this painful history, we as a congregation confess our complicity in the theft of Native land and acknowledge that we have not yet honored our treaties. We further confess that Christians and Christian churches have benefited from this land theft. We commit to being active advocates for justice for Native people and to truth telling that leads to healing.”

Another item that appears in our bulletin each week is:

“At ECLC’s Annual Meeting on February 5, 2017, the congregation approved the following statement and made a commitment toward racial justice: Racial injustice continues to thrive in our country and communities. Our Christian response is to walk in solidarity with people of color, because standing silent sanctions continued violence.  We recognize that those who are white, are intertwined in a network of unearned privilege. We, as a congregation, are compelled to advocate for racial justice. We invite other congregations to join together in expressing their commitments to live out our shared faith—active in love—in the struggle for equity and justice.”

What should congregations consider before they engage in this movement?

Ask yourselves why you are considering joining the Truth and Healing Movement. Ask whether you are willing to be changed by what you will learn in the process. Go to the ELCA website to see … what might be best for you to use as you begin. Find Native organizations and people who can be your guides and informers, remembering that leadership must come from those communities and people (but the work of learning will need to come from you).

Take the leap—there is so much to learn, so much to gain as you see the connectedness and begin to remove myths to be fed by the gifts of reality in the Native world these days.

Do you have any closing thoughts you want to share?

I am so grateful that our church is where it is now as it seeks to reclaim relationships that were lost with the end of the NILB. We have tremendous opportunity to become an important ally in working for Native justice. … My hope is that we are in the Truth and Healing Movement for the long run. There is so much to be undone to right the wrongs of our past. I’m a humble volunteer in an exciting justice-oriented congregation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the author’s name and listed Richard Magnus as the pastor at ECLC. Both have been corrected. The story also included a reference to Enbridge Line 3 as the pipeline ECLC members protested with Rev. Marlene Helgemo and not the Dakota Access Pipeline. This has been corrected and clarified.