In his ministry and in his life, the Rev. Fred Shaw, a Shawnee descendant storyteller, insists on the dignity of all people.
A pastor in The United Methodist Church in Ohio for 41 years, Shaw retired in 2010 and now serves as a storyteller, historical actor and lecturer, author, and photographer. His heritage is of the Shawnee Peckewe Sept and Raven Clan. He is on the Board of Directors of the denomination’s Native American Comprehensive Plan.
During his ministry, Shaw helped lead the denomination in a season of repentance and reconciliation for the sins committed against Native American people.
“The U.S. government will be a long time in truly repenting of the systematic destruction of American Indian cultures and rights. The boarding schools initiated by the government and operated by several Christian denominations, were instrumental in this destruction,” he said at a repentance service in 2015. “However, I’m pleased that The United Methodist Church is confronting the true history and is recognizing its part in that history of trauma and genocidal acts as a sin against God. United Methodist conferences throughout the U.S. are repenting. The church also is seeking ways of creating justice for the past within the present issues.”
One such instance of repentance came in 2019 in Ohio, when The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church returned sacred lands that they held in trust for 176 years to the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. The Unfinished Church podcast host, Bishop Gregory Palmer, participated in this sacred event and was honored by the Wyandotte people. In 1844, the Wyandotte tribe deeded land in Sandusky, Ohio, to the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, forerunner of today’s United Methodist Global Ministries, in order to protect its sanctity when the federal government forced the tribe off their last reservation in Ohio.
The rare occurrence of returning sacred land is a symbol of reconciliation, made even more holy by the bond many Native Americans have with the earth.
In a video titled “It’s Your Country,” by Tim Sessler, Shaw talks about his roots and the significance of sacred traditions. He expands on these thoughts and goes deeper into ideas of identity and reconciliation in his conversation as a guest on The Unfinished Church podcast.
In recent years, United Methodists have sought to bring more awareness of Native American history, practices and liturgies into the life of the denomination. On the denomination’s webpage for the Native American Comprehensive Plan is a Communion liturgy.
In the Why We Are Here section of the Communion liturgy, it says we are to send to our Creator God our dreams, visions, and prayers. It prays for the church to lead and dance with honor so that all who follow her steps and rhythm know and feel righteousness and strength. It prays that all the nations of the earth will gather and listen to the heartbeat of God.
Listen as the bishops talk about the heartbeat of “Seeking Relationships” with Fred Shaw on Episode 4 of The Unfinished Church podcast.