One of the wonderful gifts of sabbatical is the re-discovery of familiar neighborhoods and the chance to experience the unfamiliar neighborhoods that impact our lives. The second week of June gave me an opportunity to be a pilgrim alongside our Navajo brothers and sisters, a heretofore-unfamiliar experience. My time there coincided with the 40th anniversary of The Episcopal Church in Navajoland. It was a privilege to join David Thomson and John Grate, both from the Native American Council at Christ Church Cathedral, for the Navajoland Convocation (we would call it Convention), the theme of which was “Because Jesus is Holy, We Gather”.
During the weekend event, deep conversation occurred regarding addiction, one of the most significant challenges faced by folks on the reservation. Alcoholism in particular is rampant, and proves a difficult disease to combat. The Navajo who are in recovery remember becoming alcoholics very easily. One of the goals of the church in Navajoland is to provide pathways for recovery. During the Convocation, workshops were held to give participants a chance to talk about the deep wounds that have occurred as a result of addictions and violence. For some, the pathway to healing and recovery began.
After the Convocation, at All Saints’ Church in the outskirts of Farmington, New Mexico, I spent a few days with a Navajo priest Cathlena Plummer, their rector, and LaCinda Constant, a Navajo laywoman. These two indigenous women graciously shared their joys and challenges of living on, and working with folks who live on the reservation, and provided opportunities for me to be with others and hear stories. The trip was a kind of pilgrimage, during which I encountered stories of several congregations in the Diocese of Southern Ohio who have had or continue to have significant ministry connections with Navajoland.
Life on the reservation is layered because one is a member of a sovereign nation and also a resident of a state and an American citizen. All of these geopolitical entities encounter each other in odd ways, and if one lives ‘on the border’, it can be even more challenging to navigate. I wondered again, “What is the infrastructure that my neighbors need to navigate who have limited resources or rely on government services? How is it possible for a person on the margins of economic health to keep a job and meet all of the reporting requirements of our helping institutions, including the government?”
It was my privilege to travel a good bit of the reservation, from St. Christopher’s in Bluff, Utah, where a blue corn growing project and hospitality house program are beginning, to Good Shepherd in Fort Defiance, where a growing micro-enterprise is housed. Our Navajo neighbors are creative and striving to find ways to provide economic sustainability for their families and their churches. The riches of creation are visible in Navajoland, and the capacity of the community to explore self-supporting ministries is dependent upon encouragement from others. They don’t need to be ‘fixed’ and they don’t need to be ‘rescued’ from their situation. What they need, and what all of our neighborhoods need, are partners for the journey. I began to wonder, “How am I a partner on the journey for my neighbors here in Cincinnati? How can I be a partner on the journey for folks in Navajoland?”
The beautiful blend of indigenous culture and Christian faith can be inspirational to us, as we strive to engage our neighborhoods. I was reminded that we are not called to be separate from the community, but rather we are called to embrace our neighborhood and our neighbors, like many of our congregations do, and find ways to grow together. What is God inviting me to be and/or do in response to my pilgrimage?
This is a question I will work with for a long time. Hopefully there will be opportunities to journey with my neighbors in ways that are life giving for all of us. And indeed the place where I find sustenance week after week, is in our gathering, ‘Because Jesus is Holy.’
The Rev. Anne Reed served as the Canon for Mission in the Diocese of Southern Ohio for seven years, until August 2016. You can contact Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.