The Rev. James H. Wilbur . The image on the right shows a reed-mat covered tepee in a grassy field near Yakima, Washington. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b45839.

Having served on the Yakama Reservation for thirteen years, my interest is peaked with this evenings worship service.  The service will lead the church into a consideration of its relationship with indigenous peoples.  The Rev. Dr. George E. Tinker will give a word titled “No Apologies. Just Repent. Seriously.”  An important word for the church today because apologies have become trite and outmoded because they lend themselves to statements without action.  Apologies allow the apologizer to feel good about him or herself without entering into a relationship calling for change.

Listening to Dr. Tinker matters because the church has lived, accepted, and apologized for its past with American Indians without engaging its past in a manner that calls for a new mindset and a new structure within the church itself.  Why might this be important?

In 1860, Rev. James H. Wilbur came to the Yakama Reservation as pastor and Indian agent.  During his tenure, he ruled the landscape with a heavy hand modeling and claiming the standard of “The Plow and the Bible.”  Wilbur’s goal was to civilize and Christianize the Yakama by having them work as white men and become redeemed by accepting Methodist Christianity.  During his years as Indian agent, Wilbur removed children from their families, placed them in the Fort Simcoe agency and began to generationally remove Yakama culture—food, religion, dance, art, clothing, hair length, traditional names, and family and community structure—from their identity.  Wilbur’s actions changed people’s lives, historically and presently.

Wilbur’s is a story few within the church know and even fewer talk about.  Yet this is the church’s story.  Until the story is known, accepted, put “out in the open,” all that can be done is to make apologies.  Perhaps, this evening, with Rev. Tinker’s guidance, we will begin to move beyond apologies and enter into the hard work of action and change by taking our first steps toward repentance.



  1. Thank you David for helping to make a strong local connection for those of us in the PNW. We often hear of the brave ‘pioneers’ who brought the faith to the area but it is important to be reminded, and to remember, that that history is mixed.

    • Thank you for your thoughts Patrick. It is a mixed history of folk doing well and not-so-well. We do good to remember that though we might disagree with some of the actions of our forefolk, more times than not they were doing their best to live out their theology. Such knowledge, with reflection, can help us question our own theology and how it might be lived out. I am looking forward to how Rev. Tinker speaks to this tonight.

  2. Thank you, David. The history is indeed mixed. Only when we name it and learn to recognize it’s current manifestation in ourselves can we choose another way of thinking and acting.

    For those readers from PNW, Rev. Tinker will be preaching at Wlibur Memorial UMC in White Swan (south of the city of Yakima) at 10am on May 10. He’ll be speaking that evening and engaging in conversation at Toppenish UMC following a community meat at 5pm.

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