INDIANAPOLIS – Americans Indiana living in Indiana, with connections to ten tribes across the United States, partnered with pastors, other leaders and members of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis in a day of education and celebration of American Indian life on Sunday, Aug. 22, at the church.

Hundreds of church members visited a visually stimulating Great Hall filled with demonstration and displays, including American Indians in native dress and a full-size teepee, which reached to the ceiling.

St. Luke’s World Missions Director Jan Nichols and Event-Leader Linda Madagame, member of the Ottawa nation said they were thrilled with the participation and viewed the four-hour event among three worship services a successful educational opportunity for children, youth and adults.

The variety of displays ringing the room, each with one of 25 American Indians or experts on native life, gave hands-on experience with drums, flutes, beading, crafts, jewelry, a Native American radio station, information about the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, dancing, conversations about native life today and one-on-one contacts with members of Indian tribes, including Chief Brian Buchanan of the Miami Nation of Indiana based in Peru, Ind.

Tanya Calahan, a Cherokee representing the Black Indian culture, informed participants about Black American Indians, descendents of slaves who married American Indians.

Sitting on the floor in a circle with St. Andrew United Methodist Church members, Marilyn Haun, a Cherokee grandmother, and Barbara King informed groups of Sunday school children about American Indian life and customs in Indiana, such as talking feathers and medicine bags.

Each participant coming to the Great Hall received the “Red Road Journey” booklet, which outlined prayers, poems and information to be gained each day from Aug. 22 through Sept. 12. The booklet, compiled by the planning committee, borrows the Indian phrase “Red Road,” because one who is walking the Red Road is walking the road of the Creator and living a life of truth and charity. A small leather medicine bag was connected to each booklet.

In evaluating the experience, Madagame said, “It truly warmed my heart to observe the harmony with all of the people and the obvious presence of the Creator throughout the entire day of the event – a true demonstration of inclusiveness in motion.”


While the celebration continued in the Great Hall, in the sanctuary, Senior Pastor Kent Millard shared during his sermon experiences with American Indians he first had as a pastor in South Dakota.

Before preaching, he introduced the Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the national United Methodist Native American Comprehensive Plan. A member of the Western Cherokee Tribe in Oklahoma, she said there are more than 650 native nations in the United States. She said The United Methodist Church is reaching out in partnerships with American Indians across the United States. The NACP provides comprehensive development for congregations, curriculum for American Indian Christians, leadership development (especially for young adults), provides a United Methodist presence for native people and shares the gifts “the Creator has poured out on American Indian Christians.”

During the services, worshippers were given the opportunity to give to the Native American Ministries offering, which provides support for Native American ministries within conferences like Indiana, as well as scholarships for Native Americans attending United Methodist-related schools of theology and the expansion of the number of cities in the Native American Urban Initiative, related to the church’s General Board of Global Ministries. Half of the funds will be given to American Indian ministries here in Indiana.

Millard said he learned from his experience with American Indians that native people see all people as belonging to the creation of God. Native people also taught him the value of what they call a “vision quest.” He likened it to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness discerning God’s will for His life. He said native Dakota young adults go to the desert for four days in fasting and prayer to determine their life’s course. He said once he practiced a vision quest for four days eating nothing and drinking only grape juice, reading Scripture and praying. He challenged his listeners to have their own vision quest to discern their futures.

He shared his final point with a painting given to him depicting an American Indian sitting on a horse with his arms and hands outstretched in a sign of surrender and letting go to the Creator God. He said, “these are things we can learn from our relationships with American Indians. They also give us common ideas to share in our cultures.”

Planning essential

The American Indian Sunday event was the result of six months of planning by a task force of the congregation that also invited members of the American Indian community in Indianapolis to partner with the church. Task force leader, Madagame (pronounced Mah-DAH-gah-mee meaning “motion water”) said, “During this time, the American Indian community leaders met regularly with the various leadership representatives of St. Luke’s.” This was a beginning.

Madagame told Together she sees the potential of growth in relationships between native peoples in Indiana and United Methodists when “mutual understanding and respect for one another hopefully leads towards unconditional acceptance.” She continued, “It’s my opinion, when mutual respect and trust are accomplished within a newly developed relationship, many opportunities for the future are possible. However, the relationship must never be taken for granted and regularly nurtured by all involved.”

With these words of hope, Madagame, Phillips and other advocates of American Indians met with Bishop Mike Coyner at the Indiana Conference Center the morning after the event to explore where these new partnerships with American Indians of Indiana can lead United Methodists with native communities. Coyner shared with the group his experience in the Dakotas as bishop with American Indians there. He has participated in events with native peoples and has met with other bishops of the North Central Jurisdiction of the church in experiencing and learning more about native cultures from the native nations living in the Dakotas and adjacent states.

Next steps

American Indian advocates hope for American Indian worship services, state outreach and missions and plan to meet with the Indiana Conference Connectional Ministries and Church Development leaders. They wish to work with the Conference Native American Ministries Team led by the Rev. John Adams of New Harmony to explore these possibilities.

St. Luke’s also participates in an annual Volunteer-in-Mission trip to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, S.D., an ongoing mission ministry of the church led by member Kathie Clemenz, who also is a statewide leader in the United Methodist Women of Indiana.

At St. Luke’s, the task force will continue to lead in a series of events throughout the year including events and movies about American Indians followed by discussion. The next one will be Saturday, Oct. 16, at Circles of Life, 6125 Iona Road in Indianapolis from 1 to 5 p.m. Participants can park at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church (around the corner) at 2015 S. Arlington Avenue in Indianapolis. They will be able to experience a sweat lodge, native drum and flute music, ribbon prayers and an outdoor Communion service at 4 p.m.

For more information about this series, visit

For more information about the Native American Ministries Sunday, visit Click on Special Sundays.

For more information about the church in relationship to native peoples, read this issue of New World Outlook, the mission magazine of The United Methodist Church, about Native American ministries at

Together photos

Indianapolis St. Andrew UMC members Barbara King (seated) and Marilyn Haun (standing), of Cherokee descent, teach American Indian customs to children during the American Indian celebration at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis on Sunday morning, Aug. 22.

Together photos

Dr. Kent Millard prays with the Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan, during worship at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis on Aug. 22.

Together photos

Chief Brian Buchanan (right of center), of the Miami Nation of Indiana, leads with drum in a native people’s prayer during the American Indian celebration at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis on Sunday morning, Aug. 22.

“Mutual understanding and respect for one another, hopefully, leads towards unconditional acceptance.”

– Linda Madagame