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Harkema honored with evangelism award

Woman posing

The Rev. Pam Harkema, pastor of Oscoda and Oscoda Indian Mission UMCs, is the 2023 recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award.

Director of Congregational Vibrancy and Leadership Development, Michigan Conference

Evangelism happens in many contexts and settings. Evangelism has long been one of the core values of The United Methodist Church.

The Harry Denman Evangelism Award honors United Methodists in each annual conference whose exceptional ministry of evangelism brings people into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

During Harry Denman’s life, many people across the United States and even around the world recognized this faithful man as the person who introduced them to Jesus Christ. Harry Denman was a friend to taxi drivers, missionaries, homemakers, students, pastors, world leaders, and The United Methodist Church.

Denman’s service and commitment to Methodism spanned more than 60 years. He wrote, “The only way we can see Christ is to see him wrapped in a person. Evangelism can only be seen in a person. We need to become a package of love, a package of faith, a package of Christ. Then we will be a package of evangelism.”

Denman was a layperson in a local church in Birmingham, AL, and was passionate about evangelism. He became the Secretary for the Commission on Evangelism, later known as the General Board of Evangelism, of The Methodist Church in 1939, serving until 1964.

Funded by a grant from The Foundation for Evangelism, the Harry Denman Evangelism Award focuses on equipping disciples to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

For 2023, the Harry Denman Evangelism Award is presented to the Rev. Pam Harkema.

Lay Servant Training class
Pastor Pam has become a source of support and leadership for other churches wishing to become more understanding of the Native American culture and has offered an introductory Lay Servant Ministries course with a Native American emphasis. This class, held in October 2022, was taught using circular learning. ~ photo courtesy Pam Harkema

Pastor Pam Harkema came to the Michigan Conference from the Wisconsin Conference in 2021. Her love of and desire to serve Native American persons prompted her to complete the Native American Course of Study program, which she fulfilled with high honors. So, upon her request to move back to Michigan to be closer to her family and to fill a pastoral need at the Oscoda and Oscoda Indian Mission UMCs, Pastor Pam moved to serve among us.

Pastor Pam began during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tough time for any pastor appointed to a new congregation. But she did not let the pandemic intervene. She quickly engaged with the churches’ established outreach programs and worked with the congregations to enhance them for better community connections and resources.

At the same time, she worked to understand the current workings of the Indian Mission while seeking to honor indigenous traditions in ways that may have been overlooked or neglected. To this end, she has been a conduit to honor Native American worship practices and to bring decolonized stories of Native history. With the guidance of the Native elders, she created a fire circle used in outdoor Native worship experiences and ceremonies.

During her first few months at the appointment, she led them through a strategic planning process, helping the congregations understand who they are and what they could offer to the community. This set the stage for them to focus on strategic areas effectively. Annual planning session reviews and goal setting are now part of the church calendar.

In her two short years as pastor of the Oscoda and Oscoda Indian Mission UMCs, the churches have seen growth in attendance and the reception of more than 30 new members. In 2022, her first full year, membership at Oscoda UMC grew more than ten percent, and attendance improved from 40 per week to an average of 85. The church celebrated eleven confirmations using a mentor/confirmand structure and seven baptisms, two of which were adults.

Fire circle
The fire circle is part of many Native ceremonies. Sage, sweetgrass, cedar, and tobacco are placed at the four directions and burned with prayers and blessings. Oscoda Indian Mission UMC did not have a fire circle for ceremonies. Pastor Pam explained, “So, with the blessing of the church elders, we identified a spot on the grounds, gave appropriate thanks, and dug out the ground. The circle was dedicated during the Lay Servant Ministries class last October, with Native persons from many tribes participating. Each brought a stone to add to the circle, and the first fire was laid and set. Our congregation has continued to add stones and has returned to the circle for times of prayer.” ~ photo courtesy Pam Harkema

The congregations continue to connect with their community in ever-new and exciting ways with the love and message of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. They have started a food pantry to meet the hunger needs of the community. The pantry includes a 24-hour outdoor cupboard and an expanded pantry shelf inside the door which is open on weekdays. They have instilled a trust system, with people stopping by any time to “take what you need; leave what you can” with food, personal care items, and cleaning and paper supplies. The pantry receives donations from members and community organizations and supports up to 30 families per week, as well as provides warm coats in the winter.

Another new ministry just started by the church seeks to help people experiencing homelessness. This year’s strategic planning identified the need for ministry with this population. Church members, with Pastor Pam, are bringing together community groups to develop short- and long-term solutions to help people with housing and other urgent needs. Some members of the Oscoda church provide transportation. The church is open through the winter as a warming center and offers hot lunches twice a week. All these ministries continue to increase the volunteerism and involvement of the members of the congregation.

Pam attributes the growth in the church and the desire to help others to the Holy Spirit. There is an atmosphere of people who are empowered for ministry. Pam says, “People feel excited about inviting others to worship and connecting to ministry here. Oscoda United Methodists have developed a reputation for hospitality and acceptance.”

In addition, Pastor Pam has become a source of support and leadership for other churches wishing to become more understanding of the Native American culture and has offered an introductory Lay Servant Ministries course with a Native American emphasis. She remains connected with the Native American Course of Study as the administrative coordinator for the school. Pam also served as president of the Oscoda Rotary Club this past year to strengthen community connections with the churches.

Last Updated on July 11, 2023

The Michigan Conference