By the Rev. Al Rodriguez
How often does one get the opportunity to present a workshop on Mega-Trends in Latino Ministry? I had the good fortune to do this as the representative of Seminary of the Southwest at a recent ecumenical conference for church planters in Scottsdale, Arizona. The conference included Latinos from across the country and from the Caribbean. This workshop came on the heels of an earlier plenary in the conference where I presented my concept of Trans-Generational Latino Ministry.
Frankly, I expected a very light attendance at the Mega-Trends workshop, given that mine was just one of several competing workshops, plus I thought that the Mega-Trends title was a little too wonky. To my great surprise, I had a packed house. The participants were largely young, bilingual and tech-savvy and they were well aware of the seismic shifts of demographic and cultural changes taking place in the Latino population. Later, I reflected that the workshop was not as technical as I had feared. It was serendipitously geared to the next generation of Latino ministry practitioners who feel and see the generational and acculturation differences and divisions now painfully apparent in our Latino congregations.
A side bar: Mega-Trend in its most simple definition is a handy name for a major occurrence or upheaval that has been brewing for a while. Preceding it is a series of paradigm shifts (game-changing factors) that signal that business as usual is quickly coming to an end. The older framework of operation, which has worked well in the past for carrying out a certain task, mission or to accomplish a group endeavor, is quickly giving way to major and impactful changes. The sum total of these paradigm shifts and the palpable end result is called a Mega-Trend. Current observers, for example, point to the Mega-Trend of what is now referred to as the Post-Christian Era. This Mega-Trend has resulted from a series of historical occurrences, demographic, socio-political and societal upheavals, and the results of a post-modern collapse of institutional authority, including the waning relevance of organized religion as a whole. (Congregational Megatrends by Charles Jeffrey Woods)
Latino ministry is not immune to these Mega-Trends and the specific paradigm shifts that are forcing the Episcopal Church to reassess its “one-size-fits-all” Latino ministry model, which is still focused almost exclusively on language and not culture. Although the Latino immigration diaspora over the last twenty-five years is the reason that the Episcopal Church rightfully ratcheted up its Spanish-speaking Latino ministry, the tremendous upsurge of Latino immigrants and refugees fleeing to this country is now on a definite down slide.
The present and future growth in the Latino population is now driven by the dramatic increase of U.S.-born Latinos who have a high fertility rate and a shocking birth-to-death ratio. For example, the Latino birth to death ratio is 8 to 1, meaning that for every eight Latino births, one dies. Compare this to the non-Hispanic white population ratio, which is 1 to 1. Moreover these native-born Latinos are U.S. acculturated, bilingual or English-dominant, and now represent 65% of the Latino population in the U.S. Latino Acculturation_Generational Process
Interestingly, properly oriented Episcopal English-speaking congregations are the most likely to attract the third generation PLUS Latinos. The language barrier is no longer there, although there is still the necessity to be more culturally informed and be more attuned to the Latino-flavored music rhythms, national festivals and liturgical ceremonies that honor a specific Latino culture. On the other hand, the Spanish-speaking congregations who are willing to take risks and be linguistically flexible, might consider adding English to their children and youth-related ministries, Christian formation and the like, like it’s done at San Francisco de Asis in Austin, Texas. Some progressive Latino congregations, such as what St. Peter’s is doing in Pasadena, Texas, might add a wrap-around English service that is aimed primarily at teen-agers and young adults who don’t understand a lot of Spanish.
One may wonder at this point:
Will our English and Spanish-speaking congregations rise up to meet this more expansive and energized form of Latino ministry required for this day and age, or do we risk losing a generation of Latino leaders composed of teen-agers and young adults who are fast slipping into a religious no-man’s land because they can no longer fully understand Spanish?
Al Rodriguez is a 1996 graduate of Seminary of the Southwest and served primarily in parish ministry culminating with his fifteen years as rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Austin. Al is interim director of the Hispanic Church Studies and is part of the adjunct faculty at Southwest focusing on ministry among multi-generational, U.S born Latinos.