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Our church is best known locally for its food pantry and seasonal homeless shelter site, which receives volunteer and financial assistance not only from our own members, but also from other churches, and Christian and non-Christian individuals. What pays the freight, though, is people showing up Sunday morning at , and electing to contribute their money and time to the church's everyday operations.

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There's no food pantry and homeless shelter if we can't pay for the maintenance of the church building itself. Fortunately, Pilgrim Faith is attracting some new members, and my family, which started going there four years ago, was like just about all of them: coming from the local, dominant Catholic faith, and deciding that we and our families would rather have some church affiliation than leave organized religion entirely. I'm involved in church publicity through helping maintain our Facebook and Twitter presences, and I'm involved in youth sports through this site and my involvement as a parent and coach.

I've learned from following others through social media that churches need to do a better job of marketing themselves. I've also learned that the likes of Dick's Sporting Goods and Chevrolet see youth sports as an effective advertising medium. Before I brought the idea to our church council, I wanted assurance from Oak Lawn Baseball and Softball that, one, there was no ban on religious organizations providing sponsorship.

It said there was none. Then I wanted assurance that on players' uniforms, where the sponsor name and phone number goes, I wanted the phone number replaced with our web address , my thought being, there are going to be a lot of parents checking us out on their smartphones if for no other reason than to kill time during another two-hour T-ball game. I was told we could.

The other assurance I wanted was that Pilgrim Faith could sponsor my two daughters' teams, my thought being that either my wife or myself could be there to talk about the church or answer any questions something that has happened at games before. And then the church council said, let's do it. Our pastor promised to show up for some games to say hello.

We figured that the sponsorship would let more people know about our commitment to serve the surrounding community. And we hoped we could get a few members out of it to allow us to have more resources to serve the surrounding community. Mainly, our target audience would be people who were like a lot of our newer members -- dissatisfied with their churches, but not willing to give up on organized religion as a way to express and live their faith, and influence how they passed it on to their families.

Second, when you're dealing with all-volunteer organizations, sometimes things don't go as planned, for better or worse. Unfortunately, my daughters' teams weren't among them, for some unknown reason. Also, because of renovations to the main field, our promised sign never materialized. The people at the league were more than helpful and gracious about all of this, and surely it wouldn't have helped our reputation as a church for me to go on some profanity-laced tirade against them. We got our name in front of, I would estimate, about 6, sets of eyeballs figuring five teams, playing 15 games each, with about 75 players, coaches, parents, friends and relatives at each game for one to two hours straight at a time.

Third, I learned those numbers don't automatically translate into people coming to church. So far, we have gotten zero members as a direct result of the sponsorship. If the Pew survey is any indication, that group of unaffiliated is a tough get -- only 10 percent said they were actively looking for another house of worship. A big part of the issue, as Pew spells it out, is that the younger the adult surveyed, the less likely that person was affiliated with any religion, or even grew up going to a house of worship with any regularity. This is borne out by other surveys as well. Merely growing older or having children isn't enough to get people back into organized religion, either.

A Trinity College Conn. Sweat lodge gives woman second chance at life. The rise and fall of self-help guru James Arthur Ray. Exclusive: James Ray: 'I was arrogant'. Inside the Sweat Lodge Tragedy. James Ray: Anguish continues every day. Chat with us in Facebook Messenger.

Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds. Ancient songs and drumbeats fill the simple dome-like structure. Constructed of gray willow branches and covered in black canvas, it sits low to the ground. The flap over the entry we crawled through has been closed, ushering in darkness.

Medicinal water infused with juniper is poured over the red-hot rocks in a pit at the center. Fifteen of us sit on the ground, encircling this only source of heat. The temperature rises, and together we go back to the beginning. I've come to Canada to experience an authentic sweat lodge ceremony under the guidance of an internationally respected teacher. The sweat lodge, he says, represents a return to our mother's womb, and the rhythm of the drums is her heartbeat. The water and steam are meant to purify those who enter, allowing each of us to emerge reborn.

That is the basic intention of the sweat ceremony, an indigenous custom that's been preserved for thousands of years by Native Americans and Canada's First Nations people. The ancient practice is meant to birth new life. That may have been the objective when James Arthur Ray, then a self-help guru, led 55 people into a sweat lodge near Sedona, Arizona, in October Instead, three participants died after spending hours inside.

Nineteen others were hospitalized. Ray, who was sentenced to two years in prison for felony negligent homicide, is now free and attempting to reinvent himself. I welcome that. But what I will not relinquish is the right of leadership. That right to lead ceremonies is one he earned only after years of learning and searching.

Elder Dave Courchene Jr. Courchene grew up north of Winnipeg on the Sagkeeng First Nation reserve the preferred term for "reservation" in Canada , at a time when the Canadian government prohibited the spiritual practices that defined his people. Missionaries imposed their own beliefs, and efforts at forced assimilation took a national toll. Even though he descends from a line of chiefs, he says, he, too, was robbed of the knowledge passed on by his ancestors. As a child, he didn't attend ceremonies, hear the drums or the ancient songs. As we drive along a nearby road, he points to where the local residential, or boarding, school once stood.

Young First Nations children often were plucked from their families and their traditions. They faced punishment if they dared to speak their language. And accounts of sexual and physical abuse ran rampant. Residential schools like this one dotted the Canadian landscape, starting in the s. They were funded by the government and run by churches. The last one closed in the mids.

His father was feared by the churches, Courchene says, and managed to keep him out of the residential school. But Courchene grew up haunted by the stories others shared and wasn't immune to attempts at assimilation at the government-run day school he attended. He also experienced discrimination firsthand. He couldn't sit with the white kids in the local movie theater. If he was standing in line in a store and a white person showed up, he had to step aside.

In hospitals, his people were relegated to a separate section. All this stoked a fury that simmered inside him, one that began to bubble up in the politicized environment of the s, he says, when indigenous people began to find their voices. He had the foresight to turn to a grandmother -- the term used for elders who are women. She saw right through him. With anger, you will darken your heart, and you will poison your blood. We want you to have a free spirit, but that spirit has to be grounded with values that make you a good human being.

So we will begin by taking you to the beginning.

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He was in his early 20s when he took his first step into a sweat lodge. Grandmothers Florence Paynter, left, and Mary Maytwayashing offer prayers and song during a water ceremony. In the years that followed he would learn from countless elders, participate in a multitude of ceremonies and spend days at a time on vision quests, during which he'd fast and hope to discover his purpose. On one quest 35 years ago, he received the vision that became his life's work: to share ancient indigenous teachings.

In , with the help of donations and the sweat of volunteers, he built the Turtle Lodge , a rustic and secluded educational center. It sits on the Sagkeeng First Nation reserve, about a mile drive from Winnipeg, in a region that's been home to the Anishinaabe people for longer than can be measured.

Shaped like a turtle, the symbol of truth for First Nations people, the center smells of pine. Hand drums hang on poles, and sacred eagle feathers dangle from rafters. Symbolic artwork decorates the circular walls.

Here, people young and old, indigenous and otherwise, from places near and far, have benefited from knowledge keepers. Anywhere from 1, to 2, people pass through each year to attend ceremonies and learn from elders. They come to soak in teachings at no cost. It's the sort of safe space Courchene wished was available when he was growing up. He has shared stages with the likes of the Dalai Lama, addressed the United Nations and spoken at international summits.

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He's traveled the globe leading ceremonies and sharing his people's wisdom. A totem pole stands at the entrance of the Turtle Lodge property. It arrived earlier this year after traveling across North America -- Turtle Island to native peoples -- to receive their stories. It even stopped at Standing Rock, the reservation where protesters who call themselves "water protectors" have gathered to try to block the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On a recent Friday morning, several hundred visitors stream past the totem pole and into the Turtle Lodge for a free one-day gathering hosted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The topic is climate change. Parked cars are scattered across the frozen muddy grounds, between the totem pole and portable toilets there are no bathrooms inside.

Tomorrow, when the visitors are gone, Courchene will head to a nearby health center to lead me and others in the sweat ceremony. But for now, he's preparing for this larger gathering. Guests gather at the sacred fire during a break at the Turtle Lodge gathering. Those who arrive have answered invitations, coming from cities as close as Winnipeg and as far as Ottawa, Canada's capital more than 2, miles away. They are judges and politicians in suits, and academics and environmental activists in jeans. They serve on energy boards, represent nonprofits and work for an oil pipeline company.

They are students of all ages and persuasions, and they take their seats in peace and prayer. Young men from local First Nations communities sit in a circle, singing and beating on drums. They're bringing the session to order and, they trust, lifting its message to the universe.