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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2007 Archives > March-April 2007 > Heart music: Native American Ministries Sunday

Just as her grandmother held her, the Rev. Julienne Judd cradles her granddaughter, Krystine Lena Taloa, as she sings hymns in Choctaw during a worship service.
Heart music: Native
American Ministries Sunday

By Susan Passi-Klaus

Like words to a love song, memories come back to the Rev. Julienne Judd when she thinks about sitting next to her grandmother in church.

"In Grandma's hand she held her Choctaw hymnal, bound in hand-tooled leather and made by my father," Judd said. "Sometimes, if it was a night service, she would put her arm around me and I'd lean my head against her listening to her sing in Choctaw. When I hear those same hymns today, I hear my grandmother."

It's called "heart music." It's the hymns and songs that people associate with the people they love and faith experiences they've had. Mostly, it's the music remembered from childhood -- the familiar worshipful refrains listened to on Sunday mornings sitting in the pew next to parents and grandparents.

It's in churches like Lawrence (Kan.) Indian United Methodist Church, where Judd, a Choctaw, is pastor, that the music of the Native American heart beats with renewed life. As pastor appointed to the Kansas Circuit of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, she also serves Sullivan's Chapel in Topeka, Kan., and United Methodist Keabeah Fellowship on the Kickapoo Reservation.

"We're living on the edge of a time when our culture and language are disappearing," Judd said. "Our elders are dying, and along with them the music of our ancestors."

In order to preserve and protect it, Lawrence Indian Church and many other Native American congregations are attempting to re-teach songs of faith in native languages. Not an easy task because there are only 18,000 Native people in The United Methodist Church -- and more than 557 federally recognized Native tribes, nations and villages in the United States.

"Some people get the wrong impression when they hear 'Native American' that we're all the same, but we're not," she said.

In Judd's congregation alone, there are more than 19 tribes represented. That means 19 languages with a myriad of sounds and inflections unique to every tribe.

Helping to bridge that language gap are tribal hymnbooks and song sheets published in native tongues. With funds her congregation has received from the Native American Ministries Sunday offering, Judd has been able to purchase these tools for her congregation.

"It's because brothers and sisters in the faith have given on Native American Ministries Sunday that we can continue singing about God's grace in our own languages," Judd said.

"Now when I sing my own granddaughter to sleep, just as my grandma did with me, I know she's falling asleep to the voices and faith of our past."

-- Susan Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer
and editor living near Nashville, Tenn.

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