Catalyst Connections — Santana Alvarado
Welcome to our monthly feature, Catalyst Connections, where we get to meet an episcopal evangelism catalyst and learn more about their life and ministry. This month we are meeting Sanbtan Alvarado (they/them) who shares about their ministry in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and how they are embracing evangelism.
Name: Santana Alvarado (they/them)
What is your evangelism ministry/job/title/location?
I work as the Evangelism and Community Outreach Coordinator at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I support various ministries at the church and work with our Evangelism Out Loud team to weave the Word into these different ministries.
How do you explain Episcopal evangelism to people who are unfamiliar or skeptical?
At first, as a team, we felt some fear at the thought of sharing our spiritual experiences and Christian faith with people we love, let alone strangers. But by sharing personal stories where concepts like faith, grace, prayer, and church came to life, we realized it was about opening our hearts to new conversations and relying less on the understanding of the mind. I have found in our conversations and in New York, people are willing to share deeper parts of themselves to connect, so Episcopal evangelism becomes more about listening not to respond but to resonate.
You are part of a ministry that received one of the 2020 Evangelism Grants. Tell us a bit about that project. How is it going? Do you have a favorite story to share?
Yes! Our team was inspired by an international interfaith coalition called IRTPJ to create a series of community projects that would serve as a vehicle to practice speaking on and listening to people’s faith journeys. We thought, “who better to practice with than other houses of worship on collective journeys?” Our neighborhood is diverse in religious belief and so we formed a team of interfaith partnerships that meet every other Thursday to forge sustainable relationships while planning an interfaith mosaic-like quilted-mural to share, a series of online interfaith seminars the first 3 Thursday evenings of November, and eventually in the spring of 2022 a local sanctuaries tour/march and hybrid interfaith worship service.
It’s been a heart-warming and catalyzing process; we work to meet people where they’re at so more folks can get involved. I loved creating a “Community Altar” by collecting answers to the question, “Why are you committed to Divinity, Community, and Liberation?” as well as creating the “Community Covenant” because these exercises break the ice through sharing values in a brave space, creating a bond between participants and getting to see things in a new way.
What spiritual practices keep you nourished and grounded?
Something our team and congregation will do is start a meeting with a Question of the Day. We’ve asked questions as simple as “what is one thing you would take on a retreat?” and as profound as “what transformative events have strengthened your faith?” or describing a loved one whose spiritual journey helped mold your own perspective and process. I love this light-hearted time because it affirms the importance of our gatherings beyond the agenda of the meeting.
Where do you find inspiration for your ministry or yourself?
Watching something unfold over time – whether it’s developing a healthier habit or a community event we’re planning over several months. I am inspired by the process of creation and transformation – to start something new or rekindle an old spark and work on it while it works on me. I especially love the purpose doubt serves in this unfolding – I don’t always believe but God always delivers, always on time and more than I could have dreamed of. It reminds me faith is not a prerequisite for miracles and that Spirit uses me as a tool in my own healing and salvation.
What is your favorite way to gather people together?
It doesn’t matter what we’re doing or how we’re doing it – the answer is food and music! The hindrance of sharing space to eat and listen to music during the pandemic only shows me how important it is for me to feed people and have some smooth vibes that calm the restless and excite the timid. I’m a firm believer in feeding folks spiritually and physically and I love that Jesus made a point to break bread with people.