|Table of Contents||Introduction|
The Shinnecock Presbyterian church on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation has been described as “the oldest, ongoing Native American church in America.”
A regular schedule of tribal gatherings occur here, including the annual June Meeting, Indian Thanksgiving dinner and harvest celebrations. For many years, tribal meetings and Tribal Council elections were held in the Parish Hall before taking place in the Tribal Community Center.
The Shinnecock Powwow was first organized by the Presbyterian church congregation as a cultural celebration and fund raising event.
The original Congregational Chapel used by Rev. Paul Cuffee, now serving as the Parish Hall, was dragged across a frozen Shinnecock Bay by members of the Shinnecock tribe. 1 The other half of the “old Church” remains on the other side of Shinnecock Canal at Canoe Place. 2
Of the known deacons and church clerks of the Shinnecock Church up to the 1870’s, a high percentage also served as tribal Trustees. 3
Of the seven deacons, five were Trustees: Vincent Cuffee, Stephen Walker, Wicks Cuffee, Alphonse Eleazer, and David Walker.
Of the six church clerks, four were Trustees: Stephen Walker, Paul Cuffee, David Walker, and John H. Thompson.
The hurricane of 1938 blew the old Church off of its foundation. The members of the Shinnecock Church, along with their friends, erected a new Sanctuary on the old foundation. On September 3, 1939, the new Sanctuary was dedicated. 2
Heady Creek Shinnecock Pageant written and directed by Miss Abigail Fithian Halsey and Lois Marie Hunter (Princess Nowedonah) was created to raise funds to repair the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, which had been badly damaged by the Hurricane of September, 1938. 4
The Shinnecock Pageant was repeated by Lois Hunter and the Shinnecock Community to continue the spirit of the historical events being dramatized and to benefit the church. These events were led by Lois Hunter (Princess Nowedonah) and Henry Bess (Chief Thunder Bird) and almost all of the Shinnecock Tribal families. 4
Loretta Reddick notes that the Ladies Aid group, which held fundraisers at the church in the 1940’s and 1950’s, has now been replaced with the Ladies Presbyterian. “The Tribe and the Church are tied together. Because without the Church being the center and the focus, that’s where everything begins,” she said.
She talks proudly about how the Ladies Aid group “were the leaders of Shinnecock back then” and how “they kept things going.” Ladies Aid also looked after home bound and other tribal members in need, in addition to raising funds for the church.
She also states that the elders who formed that Ladies Aid group are now the mentors to the younger women who participate in Ladies Presbyterian and other women’s groups. 5
In January of 1989, for the first time in the church’s history, the members of Shinnecock Presbyterian Church began to support the mission and ministry of our Church without a mission grant from the Presbytery of Long Island. It was described as a, “historic step is a living testimony to the ‘faith of our fathers’ who began this faith journey many generations ago.”
In June of 1989, Shinnecock Presbyterian Church hosted a Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of Long Island.
Ministers and Elders, representing the Presbyterian churches on Long Island, gathered at Shinnecock to, ‘conduct the business of the Presbytery and to sample some good, old-fashioned Shinnecock hospitality’.
During September of 1989, Shinnecock Presbyterian Church celebrated 50 years of worship in the new Sanctuary. 2
Demonstrating a significant and persistent social institution, the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church aided the Shinnecock tribe in obtaining it’s federal recognition in 2010.
Interviews were also conducted for this evidence;
“I’ve never had anyone refuse us at any time.” Arlene Dyson refers to the church as the “hub” and Harry Williams states that the members would gather at the church before the new more modern tribal buildings were built.
Jackie Onco notes that the Nation’s Title IV program started at the church and Michelle Johnson summarizes it by saying that the “strength of the community is the church.”
Michael Smith sums up the religious ties of many families by quoting his father as saying: “I don’t care where you go on Saturday night, but you will be in church on Sunday” 6
- Turner, 1961: 84
- Commemorating The Golden Anniversary of the new Shinnecock Church Building, 1989, pp. 2
- Michael L. Lawson, Introduction of the Evidence of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, 2009, pp. 50
- David Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline, pp. 11
- Michael L. Lawson, Introduction of the Evidence of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, 2009, pp. 38
- Michael L. Lawson, Introduction of the Evidence of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, 2009, pp. 41