Story. Our faith would be nowhere without it.
Our Biblical narrative is filled with the stories of our ancestors in faith. From the creation accounts, through the prophets’ proclamations, to the teachings of Jesus and on to the apostles’ letters, we are drenched in the stories of those who have gone before us. We find in those stories testimony of those who struggled and lost, met with injustice, occasionally doubted and yet persevered in faith. We discover truths about our human capacity to hurt, to heal, and to sustain hope. The lessons of these ancient stories still shape and inform our faith today.
Story can transform us.
On Sunday afternoon, 30 Conference members gathered to hear other sacred stories. Led by Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, co-director of racial justice at the Minnesota Council of Churches, and Rev. Kelly Sherman-Conroy, a Native theologian and Ph.D. student at Luther Seminary, we sojourned to three different sites in the Twin Cities area that hold powerful meaning for Indigenous people in Minnesota.
As Jim Bear and Kelly narrated our experience, we heard about treaties with Native peoples that were ignored (and were unjust in the first place), the complicity of the Christian Church in oppressing and harming Indigenous peoples, the U.S.-Dakota war & execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, the “concentration camp” where women, children, and elderly Indigenous people were held and died, and sacred burial grounds on Pilot Knob that were desecrated.
These are stories central to the Indigenous experience, marked by brutality and broken promises as well as by resilience and strength. They are stories we must know and confront as Minnesotans, as Americans, and as Christians.
In 2019, delegates to the Annual Meeting of the Conference approved a resolution entitled “Racial Justice Through Reparations,” calling “on the Minnesota Conference, member churches, and congregation members to make meaningful efforts to repair the historic and sinful violations that perpetuate white privilege today.” There are multiple ways to engage in such repair. Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs told us on Sunday that one small step in this work is doing exactly what we were doing that day: receiving the stories of others and opening ourselves to confession and transformation in doing so.
Hearing and receiving the stories of our Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, making room for truth-telling and allowing those testimonies to shape our future ministry is part of the work we’re called to as a “courageous church alive with Christ’s transforming love.” We pray that in facing the truths of our past we won’t repeat such harm and sin in the future.
What stories might there be in your community that need to be heard? What can you learn from the testimony of those whose experience has been vastly different from your own? What relationships do you need to build in order to create sacred space for hard truths and stories to be shared and honored?
As Christians we know the profound power of story to shape the faith we proclaim. I urge all of us to seek out the hidden stories all around us, sacred testimonies of our communities and people of color. Their stories can teach us what we need to hear and strengthen our witness as a courageous church committed to repairing what’s been broken.
Grace and peace,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Learn more about the Healing Minnesota Stories program of the MN Council of Churches (a partner of the MN Conference UCC) and plan to participate in a future tour of sacred sites.