Mission on South Dakota reservation maintains ties to volunteer teams with ‘virtual mission trips’
(You can view all of the Facebook videos on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission Facebook page.)
By David Paulsen
[Episcopal News Service] Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, Missouri, has sent mission teams to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission in South Dakota since the 1990s – to supply volunteer labor for construction and repair projects, but also to develop lasting personal relationships that bridge cultures, decades and hundreds of miles.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, disrupting the plans of Emmanuel and other churches that coordinate annual mission grips with the Rev. Lauren Stanley, presbyter for the west half of the Rosebud mission, which mostly overlaps the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
With in-person trips canceled while COVID-19 remains a persistent threat, Stanley latched onto an alternative that maintains connection between the communities where she ministers and the congregations she would have been welcoming this summer: virtual mission trips.
“It’s a way to keep people in touch with us and to show that, yes, even though we don’t have mission teams here, we have work that’s ongoing,” Stanley said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.
The indigenous communities served by The Episcopal Church across the United States tend to have some of the country’s highest rates of poverty. Rosebud Sioux Reservation in Todd County, South Dakota, is no exception, with 55% of residents living below the poverty level, according to census data. Work is always waiting for mission trip volunteers, Stanley said.
A virtual mission trip may seem like an oxymoron. The trip is an essential component to these congregations’ missionary support for Rosebud, so how could that be accomplished online? Stanley emphasized that building relationships has been as important as completing building projects – if not more so. Starting this month, she began creating videos for the mission teams and sharing them on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission website and Facebook page.
It helps that most of those mission teams already have visited Rosebud before. The virtual mission trips are “still a work in progress,” Stanley said, “but these are people who have a strong tie to us. Or if they’re a new group, they have a strong interest in coming to the Rosebud and working with us.”
Emmanuel has one of the longest records of missionary service with Rosebud, and church volunteer Donna Erickson has participated from the beginning, when she joined her oldest son on a youth group trip to the reservation in the early 1990s. The church later began sending adult mission teams, about 20 years ago.
“As we talked about the needs of the world and what we could realistically expect to do, it became really clear to many of us that what we wanted was a ministry of presence and relationships,” Erickson told ENS.
While helping to build and repair homes and churches, the volunteers from Missouri got to know the reservation’s residents, who then introduced the visitors to their extended families and sometimes even invited the Missouri Episcopalians back for graduations and funerals. In addition to the church’s mission trips each June, a small group from Emmanuel regularly returns in late August to attend the reservation’s annual fair.
This year, however, Erickson said she and other organizers knew early on that the pandemic could derail the mission trip. Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to virus outbreaks, and Rosebud was among the reservations in the spring that implemented lockdowns to slow its spread. State authorities report at least 50 COVID-19 cases among Rosebud residents, including one death.
Furthermore, many of the 20 or so people from Emmanuel who typically embark on the mission trips are older retirees and at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19. In May, the church announced it was canceling the Rosebud trip.
Mission trip cancelations are part of a wave of disruptions across The Episcopal Church caused by the pandemic, which in mid-March forced the suspension of most in-person worship services. Some congregations have begun laying plans for resuming limited in-person services, though many domestic and international mission trips remain in limbo.
With trips to Rosebud Episcopal Mission canceled, some of that work simply won’t get done for now, Stanley said, but she and the mission’s congregations remain active in serving their neighbors. The virtual mission trips capture some of that activity, through the videos Stanley started sharing online last week.
“Those of you that have been here know that we have a lot of land to take care of,” Stanley said in her video for June 11, which includes footage of Danny Gangone and his son mowing grass at the Bishop Hare Center in Mission, South Dakota, a project delayed by repairs to the lawnmowers.
In her videos, Stanley describes delivering cleaning supplies, a funeral for a deacon who died recently, painting and building repairs, installation of a new church sign and removal of a downed tree. Lately, she also has been assembling and distributing COVID-19 kits with face masks, hand sanitizer and other items. And when a surprise shipment of food arrived last week from a local charity partner, Stanley recruited volunteers to help sort it and take bundles to Rosebud families.
Stanley shoots the videos with her phone and edits them using iMovie, the results intentionally more personal than professional. Addressing the mission teams that had to cancel their trips, Stanley regularly identifies what those teams would have been doing, and she takes some time to explain aspects of Lakota culture. She plans to continue the videos through the summer, along the way acknowledging all who were unable to come in person this year. She typically hosts about 20 teams and up to 700 volunteers across the summer.
Stanley’s videos were received warmly by parishioners at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Erickson said. “I think that it was good for them to see and be reminded and hear from her that she misses us and there would have been work for us to do,” she said, “even if it can’t fully convey the intensity of that experience or the emotional connection that I think we’re all missing.”
On her end, Erickson shared photos of past mission trips to the church’s Facebook page. The church also encouraged participants who normally would have paid $250 to cover food and gas during their van ride to South Dakota to donate that money directly to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission, to support Stanley’s work there.
Erickson said members of her congregation look forward to the day when they can return to the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in person. “To not have that was really a loss for several of us,” she said. “It’s such an integral part of our summer. … It’s been a blessing in many ways.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the Rosebud Episcopal Mission has been working hard to take care of the Oyate here on the Rosebud. We delivered more than 6,000 N95 face masks (the construction masks) to RST Law Enforcement, the Adult Corrections Facility, the Juvenile Detention Facility, the White River Nursing Home, and Todd County School District breakfast and lunch program, and then asked people around the country to make cloth face masks for us.
In the past several weeks, we have received and then delivered more than 200 cloth face masks to Community Health Representatives, which in turn took those masks out to the community.
Today, we were able to deliver another 600 cloth face masks, which came from partners across the country. Wopila tanka to Ellen Kentnor of Sonora, Arizona; to the Northern Colorado (NoCo) Mask Making Team and Laura Gurney; and to Dawn Jurgens of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, for these marvelous masks.
Together, we can take care of each other!
A message of love from Rosebud Episcopal Mission Senior Catechist Erroll Geboe, who has been sharing videos of Lakota hymns that he has been playing for us.
It is my great honor to play these hymns for you as well as I can. A lot of them are hymns that I play by ear or from memory. Growing up in church, I heard and sang all these hymns, and I always admired the organists who played them.
I can remember most of the organists from my youth: Rebecca Quick Bear, from St. Matthews, Rapid City; my aunt Dorothy Lunderman, who played at many of our congregations here on the Rosebud; Lillian Chase, who mainly played at Church of Jesus, Rosebud, but who also played at other churches; Lorraine Herman, who was the organist at Trinity, Mission, for 40 years; and Isaac Cutt, who played – by ear – at Grace Chapel, Soldier Creek.
All these wonderful people have been my inspiration, which is how I picked it up. Often times I asked them for their guidance and help when I did not know what to do, or I could not remember a note. And then all of the sudden, the note comes and I get it.
Even today, I am thankful I can play these, because nowadays there are hardly any organists in our churches anymore.
I play these for you, and share my love for all of you through music.
I hope you enjoy these, and that they bring back memories as they do for me.
When I play at home, I can honestly still hear my mom, Margaret, humming along or even faintly singing in the background. So I must be doing something right, because my mother loved to sing the Lakota hymns. She was an alto and knew all the Lakota hymns. When we would ask her what her favorite hymn was, so that we could sing it with her, she would say, All of them. That is why I try to play so many for you.
I promise you, I will keep practicing and recording these hymns, because especially in this time of Coronavirus, this is how I share and show my love.
In March 2019, the Rosebud Episcopal Mission began broadcasting live Sunday worship services on the Facebook page of Mother Lauren R. Stanley. We started doing this because the weather that winter was simply brutal, and too many services were being canceled.
In 2020, coronavirus arrived, and forced the closure of in-person worship services, which we did out of an abundance of caution, and because we love one another. In order to provide more opportunities for worship, we began weeknight Compline services focused on hope and love. Those services were also on Mother Lauren’s Facebook page. After the services finish, Mother Lauren shared the services to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission page and to this website, rosebudepiscopalmission.org.
But that meant that those who do not have Facebook were not able to join the services live, and had to watch taped versions.
Beginning on Monday, 11 May 2020, the services migrated to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission Facebook, because that means that those who do not have a Facebook account can join us live.
Well, let us tell you!
In your web browser, put in this link:
When you click on this link, it will take you to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission Facebook page. Please know that you do not need to have a Facebook account. When this page comes up, it will prompt you to LOG IN. All you need to do is click NOT NOW. Then, on the left side of the page, click on VIDEOS.
Then you will be able to join us live!
(We will still post the services after they are finished on Mother Lauren’s page as well as on this page under the #REMLive link, so if you miss the live service, you can always find it later on!)
Mitakuyapi, we are living in strange and frightening times. The threat that has enveloped nearly the whole world – Coronavirus – is changing everything in our lives. Schools and work are shut down; unemployment has skyrocketed; and all of us are under threat from an unseen enemy that is sickening and killing thousands every day.
Because of the health risks, all of our churches on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission on the Rosebud Reservation here in South Dakota have suspended in-person worship and our regular programs, including GLORY, TeenGLORY, and confirmation classes, on both the East and West sides of the Rosebud Reservation. We are not doing baptisms at this time, or weddings.
We also have special rules now, worked out with Holmes Funeral Home and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, for funerals:
• We are recommending strongly that there be no public wakes. Any gathering must be limited to no more than 10 people, including the religious leader. If a family wants to have a wake, it should be done in the home, with only the family members present. If there are more than 10 family members, families will have to rotate people in and out of the room. Families need to make sure they have cleaning supplies and hand-washing facilities to ensure we do not unintentionally spread Coronavirus.
• Funerals should be conducted at the graveside. We can do the entire funeral liturgy at the cemetery. Again, only 10 people will be allowed to attend, including the religious leader. This means that each family will have to decide who can do the actual burial. If a family needs to have the Church provide workers to actually do the burial, we can arrange for that. Those workers would not be present at the funeral service; they will stay outside the cemetery and wait until the prayers are finished. The families can then go to their cars while the workers do the burial. Families can then return — with no more than 10 people — to decorate the grave. Please know that if families are not willing to follow these rules, we will not be able to do the services, and Holmes Funeral Home will not be able to help with the funeral.
• We are recommending strongly that there be no feasts at this time.
• We promise that once the danger has passed, we will be willing to do memorials, feasts, and giveaways as soon as families wish them to happen.
To reiterate, we are doing all of this because we love each other too much to possibly infect anyone with this disease. But … just because the physical churches are shut down does not mean that we are still Church – loving God and our neighbors as best we can as much as we can.
We want to do everything we possibly can to provide hope and love to the people. Many of us are volunteering to help deliver food, to say prayers, to contact those who are alone, to provide supplies when possible. We are striving to bring the Gifts of God to the People of God.
With this in mind, we have begun several new efforts to help all of us get through these hard times:
• Each weeknight at 9 p.m. Central, we are offering the service of Compline – nighttime prayers intended to bring us peace and help us rest. You can join us live on #REMLive on Facebook on the Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley’s page (https/facebook.com/lauren.r.stanley.5). After the service is finished, it is posted on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission Facebook page, as well as on this web site, on the #REMLive page.
• Each Sunday morning, we offer #REMLive Sunday morning worship at 8:30 a.m. Central on Mother Lauren’s page (see link above). Again, once the service is finished, it is posted on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission Facebook page, and on this website on the #REMLive page.
• As long as we are able, we are offering #ChurchOnTheGo at various locations, both on Sundays and throughout the week. On Sundays, you can come to Trinity Episcopal Church in Mission from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. to receive prayers and Communion. (We ask that you drive up in your car, and step out individually for this. We shall maintain #HolySpacing – 6 feet between us – and you will receive your communion bread in a safe manner. Once you have finished praying, please return to your car so that the next person may come forward.) We usually then offer Communion on Sundays from 1 – 2 p.m. at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Parmelee. For the other congregations and communities we serve, Mother Lauren will make arrangements with the members to bring communion to them.
• Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter: We will be blessing the palms on Palm Sunday at Trinity, Mission, and making them available to anyone who wants them that day and throughout the week. You can pick up the palms at #ChurchOnTheGo, or ask that they be brought to your house. We will attempt to do #REMLive services for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter itself. Please watch Mother Lauren’s Facebook page and the Rosebud Episcopal Mission Facebook page for announcements on all of these services.
• Our #FirewoodfortheElders program is continuing through this time. Danny Gangone and Bruce Crow Eagle work every single day to find wood, cut it, haul it, split it, load it and deliver it to your houses. If you need firewood, please contact Mother Lauren at 605-828-3892. Again, we will continue this service as long as we can during this crisis.
• We are participating in the distribution of food from the Todd County School District to children on the Rosebud. Most of our volunteers drive the food to community centers; others help distribute it to their own communities.
• We are assisting elders all over the Rosebud, whenever possible with cleaning supplies. If you need cleaning supplies, contact Mother Lauren.
• We are assisting Buche Foods with its special program for elders and those who have health concerns, delivering the meals in Mission. Call Buches to place your order and pay for it, and one of us will deliver it to you.
There may be more that we are called to do, and we hope to be able to answer each call to the best of our abilities. We are here to serve. If you need us, call us.
Know that we are all in this together, even though we are separated by shelter-in-place and curfew rules. Know that we are not alone – that God is with us, and that God will help us through these hard times. Know that when the threat has passed, we will re-open our churches, and invite everyone to participate in the glorious celebration that will come.
Join us in keeping the faith, and in prayers for safety and health for all of God’s beloved children.