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United Methodist churches allocate $1M toward Native American church, burial ground in N.J.
Updated Oct 24, 3:00 PM; Posted Oct 24, 3:00 PM
https://www.nj.com/cumberland/2020/10/u … in-nj.html
By Brianna Kudisch | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
An affiliation of the United Methodist churches in New Jersey — formally called the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference — has allocated a $1 million fund to preserve a Native American church and burial ground in Cumberland County.
The Cumberland church, St. John United Methodist Church in Fairfield Township, has a Native American congregation, according to Bishop John Schol of the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey. The fund will maintain the church’s building and structure.
The GNJ also passed legislation that would allow churches in the coalition to give back church land and buildings to a Native American tribe when congregations close in Salem and Cumberland counties.
The tribe — the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Nation — has many members who attend St. John.
Cynthia Mosley, a member of the Lenape tribe and the church for the past 50 years, said the funding allocation means “the church will always be there and our ancestors will always rest comfortably in a cemetery that will be maintained."
“This is ground-breaking to know that stolen land might be returned to tribal people," she told NJ Advance Media. “I say stolen (and it’s) a pretty aggressive word, but that’s what they did. They stole the land."
There were a “significant" number of Native Americans living in the two counties, but at one point in their history, before the 1830s, they were moved to the Pinelands, Schol said. When they moved off the reservations in New Jersey, they couldn’t claim their land any more, he said.
“They were left with very small pieces of land," Schol said. “So part of what we’re doing is returning land."
St. John United Methodist Church officially started in 1841, Mosley said, although the congregation was worshipping together before that.
Congregations aren’t closing any more than normal, Schol said, but they occasionally close organically if they get too small, merge with another church, or are unable to continue their ministry.
If that happens, the church then becomes property of the United Methodist church, he said.
“So, if and when churches close in Salem and Cumberland, the Native American tribe will have the opportunity to reclaim that land if they so choose," he said.
The denomination has 520 churches in the state, and there are 40 churches in the two designated counties.
The conference is also creating and dedicating a memorial to the state’s Native Americans at its Pinelands Camping and Retreat Center. It’ll be located where Native Americans were forced to leave their land and settle in the Pinelands, according to a release.
Both initiatives are part of GNJ’s “A Journey of Hope" plan for racial justice, equity and inclusion, according to a release. Totaling $5 million, the plan includes educational components, community engagement and leadership development.
“I’m just very proud of the United Methodists tier in New Jersey," Schol said. “When they learn about history and the challenges of the past, they step up and do the right thing. It’s certainly what they’ve done in this particular matter."
Brianna Kudisch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.