Thursday, July 16, 2015

An Episcopal Rant - 16 July 2015

It’s nice that some of our young people are headed to the Dominican Republic to host Vacation Bible School. It’s good to get a sense of other cultures. I contributed to the expenses for one of them. But.

In June and early July, I drove to Portland, OR to sing a week with Berkshire Choral International then headed home. I stayed with friends including many I had known only online. The one person I wanted to meet and visit more than all the others was Rev. Margaret Watson, Episcopal priest on the Cheyenne River Mission in South Dakota. 

Margaret is a hero for all of us who know of her work - carefully documented on her blog Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flang It and on Facebook. First of all, there are 9 active parishes under Margaret’s charge. She and her husband Joel, also ordained, live next to St. John’s in Eagle Butte, SD. I don’t know how far some of the churches are from Eagle Butte but I know that Cherry Creek is at least an hour and the road I saw isn’t paved. Dupree is close. Promise looks to be an hour and a half. Getting the eucharist to all of them once a month is probably the easy part of her ministry unless the weather doesn’t cooperate. 

Life on the reservation is unlike anything any of us can imagine. It is not a different lifestyle. It is a different world with different rules and expectations that are somewhat rigid and knowingly prejudiced against wasicu - us - for good reason. The Lakota were migratory but they were forced onto reservations where they could not travel. They did not have the advantage of staying on familiar land like the Navajo and Hopi. On Cheyenne River four tribes were forced together. They have not adapted as well as the Cherokee and other groups. Their history is a sordid example of US government mistreatment, theft and lies. 

Alcohol, drugs and suicide provide a steady stream of trauma and funerals for Margaret. One recent weekend she had a wedding plus three funerals with wakes. She attends tribal events and is heavily involved in the lives of the Lakota in her charge. When I was there over the 4th of July she was called to the tribal hospital twice, once for an infant who survived then again for a teenager who hanged herself and didn’t. At the powwow she baptized two then buried five or six people the following week. Many of the children are alone and basically feral. There are gangs of course. Even the young ones wonder if it will ever stop. How can the children be inspired, led, corralled, educated to see that there can be a future? I left with lots to ponder. 

Margaret deals with all this herself. She has immersed herself in Lakota culture and endeared herself to the people. She is only one person however and the work is immense and intense. She needs another priest. Desperately. Her husband Joel is not well enough to help except as support. She needs our prayers and far more.

Fortunately she has a most wonderful bishop, John Tarrant. He appeared on Easter a couple of years ago to help visit the many parishes. He is totally supportive and much appreciated.

Meanwhile our Episcopal young people go out of the country. Why can’t they help Margaret and others like her try to deal with our own people? While Sudan and other places need help, why can’t an Episcopal diocese or two fund Native American seminarians? Or help rehab homes, schools and churches? Or work with the youth? 

Why can’t the sister city of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania be Eagle Butte or Promise or On The Tree??? They are certainly easier to get to and at least as needy and deserving.


Kirin said...

Shelley dear--this is wonderfully and movingly written. I'm glad you could be there and then share your perspective. If it's OK with you I would like to share this. (please send me an email to say OK)
My heart aches to read this, and the rest of me is angry.
Thank God for Margaret and John.

Chris H. said...

Did Margaret give you any ideas herself about what specific types of aid were wanted/needed? I'm asking because she's had some less than good stories about what happened when other church groups came to help on the Res. "Church tourists" are often not thought well of on the reservations here in Montana.

PseudoPiskie said...

More than anything she needs another priest. I haven't heard anything yet about the Lutherans who are or have been there. She said they were to make the other building habitable tho I thought it was a good place to stay. I know there was cleaning to do and a blown fuse. I know she feels she needs to take time to give them the tour. Ugh if they get the same one I did. I'll ask and report on my blog.