The Navajo are our American heritage. For literally hundreds of years they have lived on their lands in the Southwest and had a culture embedded in the pine Creator, with a tradition of worship and roots deep in the earth. They have embraced The Episcopal Church for over 100 years. And they have done this in the face of extreme deprivation, poverty, and forced removal from their homeland.
Deep reverence for all things living characterizes Navajo spirituality, and prayer is their natural language. Everything a Navajo knows – shelter, fields, livestock, the sky above and the ground below – is holy. Land is the Earth Mother who gives life to all. Their traditional dwelling, the hoghan, reflects this understanding of creation, and it is here where Navajo Blessingway and other ceremonies still occur. In the name of Jesus Christ, they pray for healing for each other and for the rest of the world and even under the bleakest of circumstances, they never forsake prayer.
They have much to teach us.
In 1978, The Episcopal Church founded Navajoland Area Mission: some 26,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. At that time, there was no clear vision, nor were substantive efforts undertaken to preserve physical facilities or to raise up lay and ordained leadership.
Today, there is a new spirit and energy in this land! Several churches have been reopened. While we have had only one Navajo priest, we now have 11 candidates for ordination – two ordained as priests in June, 2013. Formerly derelict rental properties are being upgraded. We have started an outreach program for the many Navajo military veterans. We are exploring sustainable farming and aquaponics, expanding retreat opportunities, working with local government to build low-income housing, and building hoghans for educational learning centers. These efforts derive from our visioning together as we reach out to achieve our potential.
These revenue options and donations from the wider Church will help to fund the work of Navajoland Area Mission. That work is largely healing – healing the wounds of the past – so that new beginnings may emerge. Ultimately, these new beginnings will lead to an indigenous clergy, economic self-sufficiency, and a deeper appreciation of the unique gifts the Navajo bring to the wider church.