On November 20, 2019, the Presbytery of Hudson River transferred the title of the former Stony Point Presbyterian church to the Sweetwater Cultural Center, a newly formed organization dedicated “to promote the education, health and welfare of indigenous or native peoples and to preserve their cultures and ceremonial practices locally, regionally, and around the western hemisphere.” This new mission is the result of a confluence of two historical moments, one in the life of a congregation and one in the life of our denomination.
In 2017 Stony Point Presbyterian Church in Stony Point, NY made the difficult decision to close the church. The Administrative Commission was tasked with a particularly focused type of stewardship – how a piece of property could be used to further a vision of mission important to the former congregation. It was an invitation to examine church closure in a new way.
Concurrently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) was calling attention to the Doctrine of Discovery, and the damage it has done to indigenous peoples of the Americas. We were asked to re-evaluate what we understood as “ours” and how we claimed that ownership. We were being asked to acknowledge the legacy of settler colonialism in this country, and to realize that we have built our denomination on stolen land.
The Administrative Commission was approached by Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of the Stony Point Center, to enter into conversation with Native American leaders in Rockland County, NY. Could this property, be used to further our mission in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery? Could it become a place of learning, support, and preservation for indigenous culture in the Hudson Valley?
We talked with Chief Dwayne Perry of the Ramapough-Lenape Nation about what the property might be used for. The dream for the Sweetwater Cultural Center emerged from these discussions. This project is still emerging, but with the mentorship of Native American leaders we now have a new reality – a center for indigenous groups in the Hudson Valley.
The path was not without some detours. By not pursuing the traditional option of selling the property, we brushed up against anxieties, questions about property and power, and competing visions with their own claims on our attention. We were opening a conversation about using the resources of a church in a time of scarcity. We were examining reparations, moving past apology into action.
We were grounded by the mission statement of our presbytery. We claim to “engage people’s passions,” to “build partnerships,” to “nurture strong leadership,” and to build “healthy, vital communities of faith.”
Robert Trawick’s full, unedited article can be found on the website Unbound.
Robert Trawick is an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College in New City, NY. A former moderator of the Hudson River Presbytery and chair of the Administrative Commission for Stony Point Presbyterian Church, Rob currently serves the denomination as an elected member of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy