Churches reach out to Latinos: ‘God’s people are coming’

June 23, 2015
Alondra Hernandez, Hannah Sands, and Camila Sands perform a ballet folklorico for the congregation at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego on Dia de los Muertos. The Latino cathedral community built and decorated the altar. The Hispanic and Anglo members of the cathedral have grown closer by way of the Latino Leadership Project, an initiative that received a Mission Enterprise Zone grant. Photo: Catedral San Pablo

Alondra Hernandez, Hannah Sands and Camila Sands perform a ballet folklórico for the congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego on Dia de los Muertos. The Latino cathedral community built and decorated the altar. The Hispanic and Anglo members of the cathedral have grown closer by way of the Latino Leadership Project, an initiative that received a Mission Enterprise Zones grant. Photo: Catedral San Pablo

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about The Episcopal Church’s pledge at the 77th General Convention to partner with dioceses to begin innovative mission strategies. Previous stories are here.

[Episcopal News Service] Bolstered by matching grants from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and the Diocese of Olympia, the Rev. Alfredo Feregrino planted the Our Lady of Guadalupe congregation in Seattle one year ago, with a very specific demographic in mind.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a bicultural, bilingual progressive ministry in the Anglo-Catholic tradition that focuses on urban Latinos, New Generation Latinos and a bilingual and bicultural population, including Anglos and non-Latinos,” Feregrino told the Episcopal News Service recently.

His goal is to appeal to folks like Sandra, a 40-year-old woman whose employer relocated her to Seattle from Mexico four years ago and who’d never heard of The Episcopal Church. The congregation also appeals to Valerie Van Olsen, a long-time Episcopalian who “feels genuinely loved at Our Lady of Guadalupe even though I speak very little Spanish.”

The Rev. Alissa Newton, Diocese of Olympia director of congregational development, said the diocese paired its own money with the $50,000 Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society Mission Enterprise Zones grant to Feregrino because Our Lady of Guadalupe “is a unique project.”

Feregrino, she said: “is the only one in our diocese doing a bilingual service this way. His goal is to provide something for second-generation Spanish speakers as well as others.”

Episcopal churches are exploring meaningful ways to reach out to and include Latinos, the nation’s largest ethnic group and one of its fastest growing.

The 2013-2015 Five Marks of Mission triennial budget approved by General Convention 2012 is part of that effort. Bishops and deputies allocated $2 million to establish mission enterprise zones and support new church starts as part of The Episcopal Church’s commitment to the first of the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission: to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

Matching grants were available for up to $20,000 for a mission enterprise zone and up to $100,000 for a new church start. Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Local Mission and Ministry Committee considered applications for the grants and recommended to the council which ones it should approve.

General Convention 2015 Resolution A012 proposes a continuation of that funding. And the budget that the church’s Executive Council proposed to the convention’s budget committee increases the triennial seed money available to $3 million (line 27 here).

During the two grant-making rounds in 2013-2015 triennium, a number of new missional initiatives focused on Latinos were funded.

For example, in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, while experiencing a growth spurt in its Latino population, launched a training and leadership program, with assistance from a $20,000 Mission Enterprise Zones grant, according to the Ven. Dennis McManis, canon for mission and outreach.

Similarly, in the Diocese of San Diego, California, where the Latino population is projected to grow exponentially within the next 40 years, a Latino Leadership Project is underway, according to the Rev. Colin Mathewson, priest associate at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

“From the earliest iterations of our First Mark of Mission strategy, General Convention 2012’s Resolution A073 [the establishing resolution] has called us to learn together how we might ‘grant greater freedom’ for engaging peoples historically under-represented in The Episcopal Church,” the Rev. Tom Brackett, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s missioner for church planting and ministry redevelopment, told Episcopal News Service. “The resolution asks us all to consider how we adapt our liturgies, form new leaders and welcome these new faith communities into our diocesan families. Like all of our multi-ethnic communities, Latino-Hispanic congregations have greatly enriched our common life in these three areas.”

(The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the legal and canonical name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission.)

Brackett said that A073 “calls for a courageous and hopeful engagement with the Spirit’s presence and activity out beyond the walls of our churches. Each of these First Mark ministries offers the church a healthy dose of courage – a sense of anticipation that, wherever we may venture, the Spirit has gone before us and is waiting to bless our best ‘Yes!’ ”

The full list of grants for the first round is here and the list of the second round of grants is here.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: honoring established traditions, creating new ones

A surprise encounter with the Holy Spirit during a visit to St. Mark’s Cathedral eventually led to his planting Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Seattle, according to Feregrino.

“My wife Jenifer and I were looking for a church, and she knew about the cathedral,” he told ENS. “I had never heard of The Episcopal Church. But I believe in revelation and, as soon as I entered the cathedral, I realized I was home: It was a moment of revelation for me.”

That was in 2006 when he was serving as a cultural attaché for the Mexican Consulate in Seattle. He inquired about the church, and began participating, which eventually led to discernment, seminary and the priesthood.

Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel poses with the Rev. Alfredo Feregrino, founder of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Seattle, and members of the congregation. Feregrino calls a “bicultural-bilingual progressive ministry in the Anglo Catholic tradition that focuses on urban Latinos, New Generation Latinos and a bilingual and bicultural population, including Anglos and non-Latinos.”  Photo: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel poses with the Rev. Alfredo Feregrino, founder of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Seattle, and members of the congregation. Feregrino calls it a “bicultural, bilingual progressive ministry in the Anglo-Catholic tradition that focuses on urban Latinos, New Generation Latinos and a bilingual and bicultural population, including Anglos and non-Latinos.” Photo: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Ordained in 2013, Feregrino decided to reach out to those with similar experiences, selecting as patron saint the Virgin of Guadalupe because “she is a symbol of unity. People from Mexico and Latin America identify with the symbol, and it can be a kind of branding, or marketing,” he said.

The congregation meets at 1:30 p.m. Sundays at St. Paul’s, Seattle. Average attendance at the bilingual service is about 30; during a Feb. 22 official visitation to the mission station Bishop Greg Rickel received seven people into the church; confirmed two and reaffirmed another person in the faith, he added.

Members hail from Chile, Peru, Spain and Mexico, and include those who are socially and economically marginalized, but “the goal is to bring those margins to the center,” Feregrino said.

Brackett said Feregrino is offering a ministry of radical inclusion and hospitality. “This new faith community is also breaking open some of the old myths that many still hold about Latino Hispanic ministries,” he said, and the faith community is gathering New Generation Latinos that speak English as a primary language, as well as Spanish-speaking members of the community.

“They worship in ways that honor Latino Hispanic spiritual sensibilities while following an Anglo-Catholic order of worship,” Brackett said. “They are meeting in a sophisticated urban community but they are intentional about remembering their roots – their origins and the deep sense of hopefulness that sustains them in this new land.”

Van Olsen, a former university professor and long-time social activist, grew up economically and socially privileged – yet she says Our Lady of Guadalupe “is the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing (the Rev. Martin Luther) King’s ‘beloved community’ in any church.”

Like many in the community, she has felt marginalized. “We have gay, lesbian and transgender members, in addition to a majority of attendees from Spanish-speaking countries,” Van Olsen said. “The standard of living and employment opportunities have been limited for many of us. While I came from a professional family with many privileges, I am now a 65-year-old divorced and disabled woman, living in low-income housing.”

Still, “I feel accepted and loved,” she says. “I am valued for the experience I’ve had, and have been able to help with formation classes and other discussions, as well as serve at the altar. After all the crazy ups and downs of my life, I feel I am home. I don’t feel judged by artificial social standards.”

Sue Wightman agrees. She credits the church and community as “a big part of my returning to Christianity after 45 years” because of its inclusivity.

“There’s no judgment, no “who are you and what’s your orientation and your color?’ and stuff like that,” she said. “Everyone is welcome.”

Feregrino’s struggle to create a church from nothing resonated with Wightman’s own personal challenges. “When you look at me or talk to me you’d never know that I had a hard life, but I’ve kind of risen from the ashes to have a really good life,” according to Wightman, 66, who said her abusive upbringing fueled a destructive lifestyle until she entered recovery nearly two decades ago.

“I’ve got so much to be grateful for. The only way I can say it is that I see God through Father Alfredo and the community, in ways I can’t explain.”

For Sandra, hearing Spanish spoken and experiencing her traditions, like the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), honored convinced her that she, too, was home.

“It feels like family,” said Sandra, who asked that her last name be withheld. “Since the beginning, Father Alfredo asked me to read, to participate. I feel this is the direction the church should go in. A lot of Latinos here have deep roots, because of their parents who were born in Mexico.

“I like it, because it mixes culture, language, traditions – it’s like I try to empower myself because I’ve had to learn another language and a new culture.”

Leadership development in Southwest Florida

When Dominick Maldonado retired and relocated from Connecticut to Tampa about five years ago, he joined St. Francis Episcopal Church, attended Cursillo and soon was invited to replicate the experience in Spanish – with phenomenal results.

“God’s people are coming,” said Maldonado, 66, who now is helping to recruit others in a ministry that he says is growing by leaps and bounds. “I’m in love with God and with the work that I’m doing,” the retired HIV-prevention officer told ENS.

Diocesan Canon McManis said that the Cursillo was the second in a four-phased process designed to recruit and train Latino Episcopalians for leadership roles in the church.

Hispanic/Latino Cursillo was the second in a four-phased process in the Diocese of Southwest Florida designed to recruit and train Latino Episcopalians for leadership roles in the church. Funded by Mission Enterprise Zone grant and diocesan money, the project aims to identify and recruit potential Latino lay leaders; offer Spanish-language Cursillo; train candidates as lay Eucharistic ministers and in a fourth phase, raise up people for ordained leadership. Photo: Dominick Maldonado

Hispanic/Latino Cursillo was the second in a four-phased process in the Diocese of Southwest Florida designed to recruit and train Latino Episcopalians for leadership roles in the church. Funded by Mission Enterprise Zone grant and diocesan money, the project aims to identify and recruit potential Latino lay leaders; offer Spanish-language Cursillo; train candidates as lay Eucharistic ministers and in a fourth phase, raise up people for ordained leadership. Photo: Dominick Maldonado

Assisted by a $20,000 Mission Enterprise Zones grant, the project aimed to host workshops to identify and recruit potential Latino lay leaders; offer Spanish-language Cursillo; train candidates as lay eucharistic ministers; and raise up people for ordained leadership.

“Four years ago, the diocese had two Latino congregations; today we have eight,” McManis said. “I’ve identified eight more existing parishes that will have more than 25,000 Latinos within five miles of them within the next year. There’s a lot of energy and excitement about Latino ministries; it’s growing. It’s a good time to be in Southwest Florida.”

Outreach is also important to Maldonado, who said his congregation is made up of immigrants from Central and South America who “are looking for a place to worship.

“Many times, they are abused by the system. It’s a very, very poor community, living below the poverty guidelines. St. Francis is where they come to be sustained. They can worship. We try to support and comfort them and let them know that in those doors nothing is going to happen to them.”

Similarly, the Rev. Mario Castro, who leads the Latino mission at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota and another congregation at St. Edmund the Martyr Church in Arcadia, said “most people in my congregation are undocumented” workers who harvest seasonal crops.

The church assists with immigration issues, food, clothing and utilities for parishioners in need who hail from Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Brazil – “from everywhere, Anglos, too,” he said.

“We pray every day and every Sunday for them to be to helped, for God to help them. They like it because they see somebody remembers them and prays for them and they love it and they need it. They come to us because they’re Christian or because they want to be Christian. We try to help people and I think that’s what God wants.”

Brackett said that McManus’ proposal for First Mark of Mission partnership and funding “clarified that their diocesan leadership team intended to nurture inspired and courageous Latino-Hispanic leaders across their ministry context,” adding that it is clear that McManus’ first priority is to empower leaders. He is also building a coalition of leaders who will serve for the next few years, Brackett said of McManus.

“Like so many of our First Mark leaders, Dennis has managed his diocesan responsibilities while faithfully and creatively discerning his way forward with nurturing leaders of multicultural ministries,” Brackett said.

In San Diego: why so few in our pews?

The Rev. Colin Mathewson said that the Diocese of San Diego partnered with a local university community organizing center to try to respond to a troublesome question: In a diocese bordering Mexico, experiencing a growing Latino population, why are there so few Latinos in the pews?

“There’s such an opportunity to reach out to Latinos, especially in Southern California and in San Diego, and our diocese has plenty more room to grow in that regard,” Mathewson told ENS.

Of 44 communities of faith, two are “substantial” Latino congregations and three to five more have a bilingual component or small Spanish-language service, he said.

Irving Hernandez performs the el grito, the traditional call-and-response cry of independence at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego during the cathedral’s Mexican Independence Day celebration. Photo: Catedral San Pablo

Irving Hernandez performs the el grito, the traditional call-and-response cry of independence at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego during the cathedral’s Mexican Independence Day celebration. Photo: Catedral San Pablo

With the aid of a Mission Enterprise Zones grant, the diocese, along with the Consensus Organizing Center at San Diego State University, aimed to connect previously distant groups to form positive partnerships.

The groups were distant because, oftentimes the majority in the pews “which in my experience are mostly Anglos, don’t have the skills needed to be able to speak in culturally compelling ways to those of other cultures and we’re still learning some of the basics,” Mathewson said. “We assume that Latino ministry means Spanish-language ministry.”

Martha Curatola said when she joined St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2012, its Spanish- and English-speaking congregations were separate and not always equal.

Now, through the project, “we are building a foundation we didn’t have before,” said Curatola, a Latino Leadership Project participant and a member of the diocesan executive council.

“We are opening all the services, everything to the Latino congregation. It’s what we want to do all over the diocese, to grow into activities and that’s why we’re talking and seeing what works and what doesn’t and how to improve it. It has given me more spiritual freedom.”

With a series of consensus-organizing trainings, the diocese has focused on relationship building and one-on-one conversation, helping to create space for increased Latino participation, according to intern Becky Gleason, 26, who has participated in training sessions.

“Sadly the Latino-Hispanic population in a lot of our churches is very small and it’s easy to feel isolated in that,” Gleason said. “This is a great way for people to come together.”

She said the training focuses on building leaders within the community who are able to reach out to those outside it to grow the capacity of the Latino community in churches that “haven’t been given the opportunity to grow in leadership roles.”

The Latino Leadership Project’s aim is to support the development of a sustainable community of congregational leaders who are able to implement plans and activities that are culturally relevant and inviting to Latinos.

Brackett said that San Diego Bishop Jim Mathes and Nancy Holland, diocesan canon for mission enterprise, “have made it clear that they had made the shift from ‘ministry to’ to ‘ministry with’ in their partnerships with Latino-Hispanic leaders,” realizing that there were many opportunities for partnership.

They arranged for training in community organizing for 50 leaders so that they could sponsor and sustain Latino-Hispanic leadership teams across the diocese.

“Their goal was never to create new Episcopalians but to fearlessly follow Jesus out into the world God loves so fiercely,” said Brackett.

Rom Ituarte, another diocesan Executive Council member, is a Latino Leadership Project participant. A member of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Lemon Grove for 10 years, he said the Spanish-language service drew him there.

The 49-year-old nutritionist said he has been trying to bring the Latino perspective to the council and the trainings.

“Basically we want to get people to listen to the community, to what the needs are and get them involved, and solve those needs for the best interests of the congregation and community at same time,” he said.

“We’re on the second of three trainings that will help give us those tools to help develop leaders in the community. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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