And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understand more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the Spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must lie together like one being. And I saw that the Sacred Hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight and in the center grew one Mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was Holy (Black Elk in Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt).

My journey as an ordained and rostered minister began in 2000 in Rapid City, S.D., at Atonement Lutheran Church. After two years my call to serve as pastor developer for the ELCA South Dakota Synod began, and Woyatan Lutheran Church was born.

This journey was not without challenges from the church and community. Woyatan ministered to people coming out of prison, homeless and Native people from many tribes, and non-Native people who lived in Rapid City. A great support for this fledgling ministry was the American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran (AIANL) Association—which I now serve as president—and the ELCA American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) ministries desk at the churchwide organization. Marilyn Sorenson-Bush was the AIAN ministries director at the time. She fostered a great relationship and partnership with the AIANL Association to champion the cause of our Indigenous Native ministries.

The AIANL Association, then and now, has been a great part of my pastoral life and ministry work. Its purpose is to foster and promote understanding of our unique cultures and traditions among ourselves and across the church. Our mission is to serve American Indian and Alaska Native people in ministry; to provide fellowship among ourselves and the churchwide organization; to provide leadership development; and to work in partnership with the whole body of the ELCA.

My journey as an Oglala Sioux Lakota ELCA ordained and rostered minister has introduced me to our Indigenous Native American Alaska Native people and their pastors. My priority as president of the AIANL Association is to introduce the ELCA and its congregations to these ministries, which have played such an important role in my life, and the unique work each of them does. God has called me to walk alongside each of them in my journey as an Indigenous Native woman pastor in this church.

Leading our association can be a daunting task, but the gifts and voices of our people have an important impact on the life and future of this church.

Let me introduce you to my story through the names of our Indigenous American Indian Alaska Native communities and congregations:

Woyatan Lutheran ChurchRapid City, S.D.

Dakotah O’yate Lutheran Church, Tokio, N.D.

Lutheran Church of the WildernessBowler, Wis.

Lutheran Church of the Great SpiritMilwaukee

Peoples ChurchBemidji, Minn.

Native American Urban Ministry, Phoenix

Our Saviour Lutheran ChurchRocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, Box Elder, Mont.

Lakota Lutheran Center and ChapelScottsbluff, Neb.

Living Waters Lutheran ChurchCherokee, N.C.

Oaks Indian MissionOaks, Okla. The mission is called to care for abused, neglected or abandoned Indian children, guiding them on a path that will allow them to live fulfilled, successful lives.

Eben Ezer Lutheran ChurchOaks, Okla.

Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission and House of PrayerRock Point, Ariz. The mission is a nonprofit organization that provides a charter elementary school, a health clinic wellness center and the worship space for House of Prayer, an ELCA congregation.

Lutheran Lakota Shared Ministries and the Pine Ridge Reconciliation Center. Located on the Pine Ridge (S.D.) Indian Reservation, the shared ministries and reconciliation center partner with and serve the community in practical ways.

ELCA Alaska Synod. The synod comprises six Lutheran churches: Our Savior, Nome; Shishmaref, Shishmaref; Thornton Memorial, Wales; Brevig Memorial, Brevig Mission; Teller, Teller; and Alaska Native, Anchorage.

November is National Native American Heritage Month. Learn more about the American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association.

Joann Conroy
Joann Conroy is president of the ELCA’s American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association.

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