As the Episcopal Church comes together in Salt Lake City for its General Convention, it will be touching on many aspects of its Latino ministry. The good news is that it can point to many success stories, especially among the immigrant and first generation Latinos who now worship in mission congregations and Episcopal churches throughout the country. There are now a number of tried and proven ministry models that have been effective in attracting and evangelizing a number of first generation Hispanics. The longer tenured Latino congregations now have several generations worshiping together, which reflect the acculturation reality of second and third generation Latinos across the U.S.
In actuality, the underlying and fundamental basis of the Latino/Hispanic ministry is built on the Ministry of Hospitality. Were it not for the hospitality of many Anglo congregations welcoming the Spanish-speaking immigrants, we would not have the number of Latino congregations that are now evident in many parts of the country. The hospitality directed to the immigrant and first generation Latinos has largely focused on creating a Spanish-language service and a worshiping experience that are culturally comfortable and that, in large part, provide a safe place of cultural refuge from the Anglicized world.
Creating this safe haven hospitality, however, has resulted in our Latino/Hispanic congregations becoming too inwardly focused and not taking into account the dramatic and increasing levels of American acculturation taking place with the second and third generations Latinos, who now make up two-thirds of the Latino population. Unfortunately, most of these English-prone Latinos are not part of our Episcopal Spanish-speaking congregations. Moreover, many youth and young adults who have grown up in the Episcopal Latino congregations are beginning to drift away due to their preference for worshiping in either a bilingual or an English service, but with a Latino flavor.
To complicate matters, the spirit of hospitality that Episcopal Anglo congregations demonstrated so well to the Spanish-speaking immigrants has not generally extended to the more acculturated and English-dominant Latinos. In effect, our ministry of hospitality to the Latinos has gotten stuck in the first generation.
Seminary of the Southwest has now recognized that the cultural and linguistic shifts taking place in the Latino population call for a redefinition of Latino/Hispanic ministry. The new paradigm of Latino/Hispanic ministry that Southwest now espouses takes into account the multi-generational actuality that calls for an expanded vision of the core value of hospitality so that all Latino generations are included in our welcoming and evangelistic efforts.
This new paradigm has many implications for the Episcopal Church at large, including our dioceses, seminaries and local Anglo and Hispanic congregations. Indeed, our formation of future ordained and lay leaders who feel called to Latino/Hispanic ministry now has to be based on a multicultural and multilingual landscape that encompasses both the immigrant and the native-born Latinos in this country. The question is: are we still forming Spanish-speaking clergy to minister and pastor solely in a totally Spanish-speaking setting while the unrelenting future of the U.S. Latino reality is multilingual and multicultural?
The implication for Spanish-speaking congregations themselves is that they must respond to the challenge of how they will expand their hospitality, given the linguistic propensities of their children and grandchildren. Anglo congregations also have to recognize that they too can engage in some aspects of Latino ministry outreach to bilingual Latinos, but it must be done in a culturally competent manner, not necessarily requiring clergy who are totally fluent in Spanish.
A case in point: Many years ago my wife and I accidently stumbled onto an Episcopal church in Austin that offered us a great gift of hospitality. They didn’t have to put a sign outside that read, “Se habla Español,” nor did they have to have a formalized Hispanic ministry program to get me through the door. Being a third generation Mexican American, language was not an issue. What was critical for me was whether we felt ACCEPTED and WELCOMED into an Anglo church culture that was quite different from my growing up Mexican American parish. My main concern was, would my culture as a Mexican American be treated with respect, and would I feel that I had a place where I could flourish as a person and progress spiritually?
It is a loving Ministry of Hospitality that speaks volumes; it is multilingual and multicultural. Perhaps, if there is any sign that should be outside our congregational doors, it should read, “Se Habla Hospitality, with Love.”
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 an assistant to Dr. Paul Barton, Director of the Hispanic Church Studies Concentration and is part of the adjunct faculty at Southwest focusing on ministry among multi-generational, U.S born Latinos.