[St. John’s Episcopal Church, Grand Haven, MI] It has been quite a journey from Bogota, Colombia, to Grand Haven, Michigan, for the Rev. John Infante, soon to be the first Latino priest ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan.
Born into the Episcopal Church in Colombia, his career path took him from a large hotel chain in Colombia, to law school in the evenings, and then a career as an attorney where he worked in Internal Affairs for the police in Colombia. During this this time, he served as Junior Warden and then Senior Warden of his parish and eventually as legal counsel for Province Nine of the Episcopal Church.
However, Infante had a deeper sense of calling for pastoral ministry in the church. He sensed a calling to priestly ministry and began the process of discernment and formation for the priesthood. He was licensed as a Lay Pastoral Minister in 2008 and appointed to work at St. Patrick’s Mission, outside of Bogota. In 2009, he began his studies at the Center for Theological Studies in Bogota, receiving a Licentiate in Theological Studies. He was ordained a transitional deacon in 2012 and assigned to continue his work at St. Patrick’s Mission.
In 2015, Deacon Infante began his final six months of Anglican Studies to be prepared for ordination to the Priesthood, studying at the Episcopal Seminary in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It was during this time of study that he met the Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer who was at the Seminary doing intensive Spanish-language training in preparation for a new Latino ministry at his parish in Grand Haven, Michigan. After hearing of the ministry in Grand Haven, Deacon Infante offered to come and spend six months at St. John’s, helping launch their El Corazón Latino Ministry Initiative.
The ministry initiative at St. John’s was named “El Corazón” because of its focus to grow a Latino community that would be at the center/heart (el corazón) of the congregation, instead of at the edges. According to federal data provided by the Fair Housing Center of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids–Holland–Grand Haven metro area is the 20th most segregated in the United States. Grand Haven is located at the center of that segregation, an overwhelmingly white community, but with sizable Latino populations to the south in West Olive and Holland. That said, the Latino population in Grand Haven has been increasing over the years, now standing at 2.7% of the population—a nearly 44% increase since the 2010 data. However, there are still no churches in the Grand Haven area providing Spanish-language worship on a year-round basis.
In 2016, the parish applied to the Churchwide Office of the Episcopal Church to be named a Mission Enterprize Zone, giving it access to funding that, paired with parish and diocesan funds, could create a half-time Associate Rector position. Of the nearly seventy applications submitted across the Episcopal Church, only half were able to be funded—but St. John’s was among that half. Deacon Infante transferred his canonical residency to Western Michigan to complete his path to ordination and the Vestry of St. John’s enthusiastically called him as their Associate Rector.
During 2017, Deacon Infante has been working with the Diocese of Western Michigan to finalize the steps for his priestly ordination while also working in and growing the Latino worshipping community at St. John’s. The parish hired a new bilingual Children & Youth Coordinator, Reyna Masko, to continue the work of the previous Coordinator, Luis Hernández, on bringing together the children and teenagers of both cultures. During this year alone, four new families have become a part of the Spanish-language worshipping community. The Mission Initiative ran a Taco Sale across from the grandstands of the United States Coast Guard Parade, raising nearly $1,000 for ministry. They spent an afternoon in the summer at the local Migrant Worker Appreciation Event, handing out food and household goods while also offering free face-painting and photos.
In August, the Latino Ministry celebrated its second anniversary and in September, Deacon Infante received his final approvals to be ordained to the priesthood. His ordination will take place at St. John’s on Saturday, October 28, at 11:00am, with a free celebratory catered luncheon of traditional Colombian food following for all who attend. Not only will Deacon Infante be the first Latino priest ordained in this diocese, but the ordination service will be the first ever bilingual ordination in the diocese. The celebrant will be the Rt. Rev. Whayne Hougland, 8th Bishop of Western Michigan, himself a descendent of Spanish heritage who is looking forward to speaking in both English and Spanish at the service. The preacher will be St. John’s Rector, Father Cramer, with the sermon being simultaneously translated into Spanish for the Spanish-speakers in attendance.
As the parish looks ahead, the excitement for their Latino ministry is evident. The cultures will continue to blend through offerings like regular bilingual liturgies throughout the year, the Día de Los Muertos Altar in November to celebrate All Saints’ Day and a planned Posada celebration in December that will culminate in the Lullaby to the Baby Jesus, a traditional Latino prayer service on Christmas Eve. The membership of the parish vestry now includes both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking members and they hope to continue efforts to ensure the community remains integrated in fellowship even as they worship in multiple languages.
St. John’s Episcopal Church is a diverse Christian community in the heart of downtown Grand Haven. One of the oldest places of worship in Grand Haven, they seek to blend historic liturgy with challenging education and active outreach. They gather together for Holy Eucharist on Sundays in English at 8:30am and 10:00am and in Spanish at 12:45pm. Additional information can be found at St. Johns website www.stjohnsepiscopal.com or Parish Office 616-842-6260.