Your People(s) are God's Gift to You

Name: Rev. Judith Wellington
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Ethnic Identity: Dakota /Akimel O'odham
Denomination: Presbyterian Church (USA)
Ministry Role: Interim Pastor
Ministry Context: Gilbert Presbyterian Church, Gilbert, AZ
Seminary Attended: San Francisco Theological Seminary

Dear Siblings in Christ,

I write to you today to add my voice to those that would give you encouragement along the journey of your seminary experience. Having traveled this road myself, I offer a prayer for wisdom on your path and courage to take the next step whatever that may be for you. Not knowing you or your particular story, I can only say, “Hold on to the One who has brought you thus far, trusting that your calling is valid , your questions are significant, and your gifts are needed.” 

I am glad that the faculty of color at my seminary in the late 1980’s understood it would be important to hold space for us seminarians of color in any ways they could. The social space was just as important for us as the opportunities to explore theologies, knowledge, and practices from our respective communities if there were any to be shared. The communal meals, conversations, prayer, and even humor were touchstones for me with the message that God did not make a mistake by creating me a Dakota/O’odham woman. I would recommend finding such things to feed your soul.

I did not feel that I had to prove my worth in such a group as I did when the social worker came to my apartment because another single mother had reported me to the local authorities. I did everything the same way the other single moms did, same shared responsibilities of children to cover for one another. But I was suspected of neglect because my son was seen playing away from home. I was so embarrassed and never told anyone at the seminary what had happened. I had made the right decision to attend a seminary with faculty of color because they understood life in the U.S. differently; and even though I did not share this incident with them it was enough that they knew how to communicate support.

I also chose this seminary because it was not that far from a major urban Native American community. I knew that I would need to be fed by being with my own community from time to time. Being with my community helped me construct a framework for adapting what ministry could look like in that context. I have since learned there is a variation of the term mission. What is known as missional ministry today was an unknown concept in my day.

I knew that being at seminary would be a challenge. It would be like walking on a tightrope, balancing a way of understanding Christian faith in the United States that had no linkages with indigenous worldviews with appreciation for who I was as an indigenous woman and single mother. I am not sure what I would have done differently given the requirements for graduation and denominational ordination. Cultural activities helped ease the stress and worship that was connected to justice ministry gave me spiritual strength.

The most enlivening academic sources for me came out of Feminist Theology and later theologies being formulated by women of color. I was exposed to Womanist Theology and writings that would give birth to Mujerista Theology. At the time I did not know that Korean women were also looking at theology through their unique lense. The women of color resources in general showed me that our thought and experience can also speak to God’s Church. Each time a group adds their voice and the gifts of their faith, it is a sign to me of God’s Spirit blowing where it will.

There was no Native American theological discourse at the time, and that always bothered me because the indigenous peoples were among the first Christians and churches on this continent. Shortly after I graduated “Tink” (George) Tinker came out with his book, Missionary Conquest which was not theology but laid the groundwork for his later writings. I haven’t been following the recent work of anyone, but I know that there are speakers and teachers out there like Raymond Aldred at the Vancouver School of Theology whose talks can be found on YouTube. I particularly appreciate Tinker’s work even though I know some say he is too radical. I see his work as prophetic in the old testament sense of the word.

Dear ones, I have shared some of my story, hoping that you might find something of encouragement or help. Know that who you are is a gift. May you find rest and safety along the path of preparation and the living of your faith. Hold on to what you know is true.

In Christ’s peace and power,

Judith Wellington

Resources Mentioned:

Book: Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide by George E. Tinker
Video: Opening Sermon by George E. Tinker
Video: First People's Voices with Ray Aldred

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