Latino Ministries: a New Chapter

by | Jan 29, 2015

… to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine… 

–Ephesians 3:20

Members of the congregations of Misa Alegria of St. Stephen and the Incarnation and Church of the Redeemer have been meeting for bilingual conversation around a book called Enrique’s Journey—the harrowing adventure of a young boy’s coming north from Honduras in search of his mother. The book has served as a springboard for sharing the stories of our lives. One evening the group of 25 or so listened in rapt silence as Santos told his story— the arduous desert crossing in the black of night, hovering helicopters with searchlights and men with dogs, a fearful scattering and then suddenly before him…a cleft in the rock. An unexpected grace. El Señor es mi fuerza, mi roca y salvacion. The Lord is my strength, my rock and my salvation. After a time of reflection, one of the woman in the book study group confessed that she had never been particularly interested in Latin America and had never known much about the plight of Central Americans. She exclaimed, “My eyes have been opened and I am filled with respect and love.” This is just one example of how hearts can be changed when we choose to engage a changing world with an enduring faith in Jesus Christ.

Late last summer, Bishop Mariann asked me to become part of her mission team as Transitional Latino Missioner following the departure of Simon Bautista. Bishop Mariann asked me to help open a new chapter of Latino ministry. In Chapter One, we experienced the excitement of stellar growth and new congregations. Chapter Two must be about sustaining that which has been planted and building a solid platform for stability and future growth.

With all its shining success Latino Ministry in our diocese is a vulnerable and complex ministry that needs commitment and a plan. To this end, we have convened the Latino Ministry Working Group. The Working Group includes eight members, both lay and ordained persons, with representation of three of our six Latino congregations. Bishop Mariann and Canon Paul Cooney have standing invitations to attend.

The Working Group has begun to study our Latino congregations and to examine the strengths and weaknesses. We are seeking clarity around three priorities: increasing financial sustainability going forward, wise investment of precious resources, and a platform for the future which will include establishing covenant relationships between congregations, building bridges between diverse cultures to increase the bonds of mutual affection, and understanding and strategically responding to current and anticipated demographic shifts and cultural trends.

The work to increase financial sustainability and invest our resources wisely has already begun. In a number of Regional Assembly meetings, some concern was expressed that the proposed 2015 budget for Latino Ministry reflects a decrease in spending of $59,848. This change is almost entirely due to the fact that the position of Latino Missioner is now a part time position and my ongoing ministry at St. Stephen and the Incarnation has been reduced from a ¾ time to a ½ time position. These changes have helped us reduce our draw on finite reserves from $135,272 in 2014 to $80,000 in 2015. I believe this change represents a positive step toward greater sustainability of our Latino ministry program, with minimal impact on support provided to our Latino congregations.

Latino Ministry is constantly changing. If we truly want to engage the Latino community we must do so with creativity, hospitality, and openness. Our immigrant base is becoming more fluent in English and mobile within our society. Our school-age children are bilingual. The majority of Latinos in our country use English as their language of choice. Can you see the possibility of opening wide the doors of welcome to the Latinos in your neighborhood—even without a Spanish speaking priest?

Our six Latino congregations are maturing in their understanding of the church; our leadership teams are strong. On a given Sunday you will find around 750 Latino Episcopalians gathered to worship in a church they love. From this base, we can continue to build our platform for the future. We are involved in many ministries: we are building communities where people love each other, we are engaged in outreach for immigrant kids fleeing violence, we provide advocacy of all sorts. We also understand that we are called to be a more integral and visible part of the church. We are now vestry members, convention delegates and even wardens. We have ministries to share, stories to tell, and hearts to change. We want to know and be known.

Latino Ministry has much to celebrate. At the Celebration of Latino Ministry this September, an almost equal group of English and Spanish speakers (Anglos and Latinos) heard the testimony of people working directly with the children fleeing violence in their home countries. Despite the sobering stories of human suffering, joy welled up as we prayed, sang, shared in small groups, and passed the Peace of the Lord. It was as if we had crossed an invisible border into a place of Abundance where we knew beyond a doubt that we are One in the Spirit, One in the Lord. And for that brief time, we glimpsed the Kingdom of God.