In the end, it is only a matter of listening to your community, learning from them, and exploring God’s voice in this journey across cultures, languages, and stories.
In the Episcopal Church there is an increasing interest in Hispanic/Latino ministries (or other non-English speaking communities). In some cases, the interest comes from a concern about the future of parishes who are dying or getting older. In other cases, the multicultural context that surrounds our Episcopal congregations forces them to look outside their four walls and respond to the communities demands and questions. What we know for sure is that the Latino population in the United States is growing fast, and that Latinos of all generations are looking not only for possibilities to thrive and develop, but also for a church they can call “mi iglesia.”
Discerning an Open Heart for Ministry with Hispanic/Latino Communities
Here are four ideas to discern if your congregation is willing to open their hearts and buildings to a Hispanic/Latino community.
Check Your Demographics
Study the demographics of the community in which your church does ministry.
There are many ways to look for that information, but The Episcopal Church offers a simple way to know more about who your neighbors are, who is living, and dreaming, and walking around your church through the Evangelism Initiative Website. As you explore this information, ask yourself: Is there a Hispanic/Latino community around my church? Where do they live and work? Is that community growing/declining in the church’s neighborhood?
Know that there may be a lot of organizations, non profits or other groups, who are already serving these groups around you.
Get in contact with them; offer your congregation’s service, talents and resources as a visible way to witness God’s kingdom. Knowing others who serve this communities will give you a sense of their needs, dreams, and stories. And in the meantime, your church will find a space to grow and recognize God’s work in these communities and other organizations.
Forget, at least at the beginning, about opening a service in Spanish.
Welcoming others begins with the willingness to know others. And the best way to know others is creating a space for that purpose. Open a time and space at their convenience, just to meet the Hispanic/Latinos that live around you. Sharing personal stories, dialoguing, sharing food and storytelling are good ideas and resources to work with at this time. If the meeting is open to the whole family, including children, yes, children, it will be ideal. For the Hispanic/Latino community it is very important to find a safe space for their whole family, most importantly for their children. If the youngest of their families feel welcomed and engaged that will be a resounding success.
There is not one “Hispanic/Latino community.”
Instead, there are many Hispanic/Latino communities around us. These communities vary by country of origin, the Latin American area of precedence (Central American, Caribbean, South America), generation, their access to the American culture and life, etc. Sometimes we find the language a big obstacle, but more and more the Episcopal Church is recognizing the 2nd and 3rd generations of Latinos as a target for evangelism efforts. They are mostly bilingual, deeply integrated in the American culture and life style, although their cultural Latino heritage is important and decisive in the way they worship and experience God. Language is not an obstacle with this generation, but a cultural competency and an openness to explore other topics related to faith are really important if you want to reach this group.
These are some ideas to think about if you and your church are interested in exploring a multicultural ministry. In the end, it is only a matter of listening to your community, learning from them, and exploring God’s voice in this journey across cultures, languages, and stories.
The Rev. Yoimel González Hernández was born in Cuba. He is a priest in the Diocese of Washington. He works in Youth and Latino Ministry in St. Alban’s Episcopal Church (DC), and he is the Dean of the Latino Deacon School in his Diocese. He supports the Department of Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary.