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Native American COS Launches Decolonizing and Contextualization of Pastoral Training Initiative (Religion & Race)

June 26, 2023

The CORR Action Fund awarded the Wisconsin Conference $10,000 for the decolonizing and contextualization of pastoral training as part of its 2022 Grant Cycle. For more about the CORR Action Fund and other grantees, visit the 2022 CORR Action Fund Grantees Page.

The Native American Course of Study Extension School (NACOS) provides education and training to pastors of the United Methodist Church from all parts of the United States. It prepares students to work cross-culturally in a variety of settings. Additionally, it allows the training of pastors to be economically manageable, culturally interpreted, contextually relevant, and communally comfortable.

NACOS is meant for Indigenous pastors, pastors active in Native American ministry, pastors who serve near or among the Indigenous population, and pastors who have a calling or affinity to develop relationships and ministry with Indigenous leaders and communities. The classes are held in various locations, so Indigenous cultural events and relationships are an integral part of the formative experience. The program also features a team approach with a wisdom circle of Indigenous Elders who use their knowledge to help orient students working in Indigenous communities.

NACOS was designed, approved, and credentialed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in 2004 as a Course of Study extension school. NACOS staff and faculty understand the importance of joining the growing global movement to engage in conversations around decolonizing biblical interpretation and theological expression. This will lead to an increasingly important contextualization of missiology and ministry practice. 

The grant from the CORR action fund is initial seed money for the quarterly gathering of instructors to take place in 2023. This grant gives the opportunity to intentionally reshape the approach to adult education in the formation of pastoral leaders, reframing of instructor methodologies, and transformative examination and refinement of the course of study curricula and syllabi. The educational approach is more andragogy rather than pedagogy; it assumes each adult brings a piece of wisdom for the whole. Every course incorporates Indigenous cultural experiences so both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants will gain insight into self and community.

The primary aim of the new initiative is to work with the instructors and COS instructors in other programs who are working on contextualization to explore, research, integrate, and apply Indigenous theological teaching and perspective of biblical interpretation. The initiative will then incorporate these insights into the existing course content in 2023 and beyond. The initiative will also collaborate with multiple COS instructors and leaders, along with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry staff, for contextualized ministries and worldwide theological education to broaden the impact on the wider church.

This initiative hopes to aid in the transformation of not just local churches and communities, but in the broader UMC as well. The United Methodist Church has struggled with its own patterns of oppression for over two centuries. The U.S. base of the denomination, specifically the dominant culture created by white leadership and systems, needs transformation as voices from outside that base become louder and expand their ability to act. As the General Conference in 2024 considers regionalization legislation, it is vital that Indigenous voices play a central role in redefining faith content, formation, and leadership development. It is a crucial time for Indigenous voices to come into the mainstream of the conversation. Equipping pastors to read the social context of their community is vital if we are to have relevant and strong local churches that fully engage in their respective communities.