The beat of tribal drums isn’t being heard yet at St. Andrew United Methodist Church, but the Rev. Ron Haun and his wife, Marilyn, are working to change that. The Hauns launched the Tapalot Native American Fellowship about a year ago and are actively seeking members.
The fellowship, which complements the church’s other services, offers educational, health, pastoral, cultural and community ministries and a food pantry, which is increasing in popularity.
“The demand for help with food is growing,” the Hauns said. “We gave away 67 bags of groceries (Nov. 14), which is impressive for a small church like ours. Our average attendance for our Sunday service is only about 40 people. There are no restrictions on who can get food; we want to help whoever needs assistance.”
The pantry is open from 9 a.m.-noon the second Saturday of each month, and donations are gladly accepted. Many bread items come through retired Indianapolis firefighter Leo Canfield, who has a connection with a large bakery in the southern part of the state.
While the ministries haven’t grown as anticipated, Mrs. Haun and Linda Madagame are meeting with township trustees, the governor’s office, hospice programs and other churches to identify Native Americans. Until membership grows, the church’s and fellowship’s worship services will be held in unison. Once held separately, there will be a noticeable difference in the music and Pastor Haun’s attire.
“There is still some degree of shame and stigma when it comes to being a Native American,” Mrs. Haun said. “We are reaching out to them, but they are reluctant to belong to churches because of the mistrust that is there.”
The Hauns hope to link that gap through the Circle of Life program, whose goals are to create a gathering place for the “invisible” Native Americans who are a part of almost every Indiana community; to build a bridge of trust with the dishonored and wounded people; to strengthen families and help individuals build self-esteem; and to encourage Indians to seek to break the cycles of poverty.
“We are connecting with the Utes and Navajos. We want to know what they are doing and how we can help them. If we can’t provide the help, we will find someone who can.
The couple have visited with more than 100 UMC congregations of Indians from across the United States to gain an understanding of their needs. They have participated in secular and ceremonial powwows, the former of which feature craft and health fairs and dancing. To further gain an understanding on how they could serve the Indian community, the Hauns hosted more than 50 UMC Native American leaders from 17 states in conjunction with launching the Tapalot Fellowship. Tapalot means love in the Miami language.
While drugs and alcohol, domestic violence and diabetes plaque Indian communities, tribes in Montana and southern Canada have been resourceful. They are raising alfalfa to feed the wild horses that they have broken.
The horses are then used in rodeos, which are gaining popularity out west. “Indians can make money besides running casinos,” she said.
Since many of the men and women on reservations lack the education to become ministers in the United Methodist Church, accelerated and intensive programs leading to ordination have been started, said Mr. Haun, a substance abuse counselor at Indiana University Health.
Mrs. Haun, one-sixteenth Cherokee, was introduced to reservations when visiting Pine Ridge and Rosebud in South Dakota during her college years at Marion (now Indiana Wesleyan University). That’s when she knew that her calling was to help Native Americans.
Her great-great-great-great-grandmother was saved from the Trail of Tears, which was a series of forced relocations of Native American nations following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The relocated tribes suffered from exposure, disease and starvation while en route, and more than 10,000 died before reaching their various destinations. The removal included members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from their homelands in the southeastern United States to an area west of the Mississippi River.
In addition to its outreach to Native Americans, the UMC has initiated its Rethink Church program, which stresses that church can happen when we:
• Open our hearts.
“We believe that living a life inspired by God’s love compels us to offer help, hope, and healing to those looking for more meaning in their lives.”
• Open our minds.
“We believe God’s grace is available to all people, no matter where you’re from, what you look like, or who you love.”
• Open our doors.
“We believe in welcoming others into our lives, but also in taking action outside the walls of the church to serve our neighbors, next door and around the world.”
An estimated 60,000 American Indians – mostly Miami and Potawatomi – live in Indiana, including 4,000 in Greater Indianapolis, and the Hauns are anxious to serve them.