Native American Camp Meeting
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
by Debbonnaire Kovacs, August 28, 2013
This is a continuation of a series on different kinds of camp meetings in North America.
Chairman Ray Halbritter Speaks in the Main Meeting Tent
“Unity with our Creator” was the theme for the Native Spiritual Weekend held near Syracuse, New York, August 9-11, 2013. The keynote speaker was Brian Cladoosby, President of the Swinomish Tribal Community and of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest American Indians, whom readers may remember for two stories that have appeared in AT in the past two years. [ Native American Tribal Chairman, Intertribal President and Adventist Elder; Adventist Native Leader Introduces President Obama]
President and Elder Brian Cladoosby and his wife Nina
The flyer for the camp meeting featured a cover picture of Jesus directing the way of a Native man in full historic dress. According to Bruce Wilkinson, who is in charge of Native American Ministries in New York and Vermont, (and who pastors three churches in VT and two in NY!) they try to make the meetings and the atmosphere very appealing to Native American people, though they have many non-natives attending, as well. “We try to make sure our featured speaker is Native American. We also make sure that our food lends to the native taste—corn soup, fry bread, the ‘three sisters’—corn, beans, and squash. Strawberries. . . we have lots of food local native people love.”
They also sing in Oneida language. The bulletin for the Sabbath service, which featured “Native Culture in Worship,” contained the Oneida words for “Wonderful Words of Life.” Syracuse and its vicinity is the center of what are known as the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Seneca (the “gatekeepers”), Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Tuscarora, and Cayuga.
Wilkinson says this camp meeting has been running for about 18 years. “I came on board to upstate New York in 1997 and took over Native American Ministries and the camp meeting. They had just started at that time; I think they had had about two camp meetings. We’ve had them every year since then.”
Wilkinson said the camp meeting has had one ongoing challenge—that of finding a place to meet. He reeled off the names of a dozen places where it has met over nearly two decades. When they were able to stay in the same place more than a year or two, they grew to more than 200 attendees, but moving around was always difficult, and numbers dropped sometimes.
However, as of two years ago, they now have “a site we can call our own, in Cleveland, New York. One of our church members purchased 500 acres of land and is allowing us to use that. He has built a pavilion for our food operation, he brings in a very large tent for main meetings, and then we use other buildings he has there for classes and so on. He’s even dug a pond we use for our baptisms.” Because they can stay in one place, and because that place is fairly near to the two local, active, largely Native American congregations, Wilkinson reports that they are growing in numbers again.
What meant the most to Wilkinson, though was something he was told by some people who “do the camp meeting circuit, going from camp meeting to camp meeting all summer long. They said our camp meeting was the most spiritual of all the ones they’d gone to. We were really honored by that!”
For more info and to see more pictures from the camp meeting, go to the new website, www.onondagasdaindianchurch.org