From June 18-27, 2017 the Episcopal Church Office of Latino/Hispanic Ministries in partnership with Seminary of the Southwest, offered a course on Episcopal Latino Ministry Competency, whose purpose was to “provide a hands-on, cultural competency of the history, culture, socio-demographic, and religious aspects of the Latinos/Hispanics in the United States and to provide the foundational tools necessary for church leaders to discern and explore the type of Latino/Hispanic ministry that best fits a congregational setting and its context” according to the Rev. Canon Anthony Guillén, Episcopal Church Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries. Canon Phyllis Jones, Chief Operating Officer of the Diocese of New Jersey and a member of St. Matthew’s, Pennington and the Rev. Joan Mason, Rector of Christ Church, Toms River both attended. Below is an edited version of some of their experiences and reflections, presented chronologically from the beginning.
We started with morning worship on day one of the Episcopal Latino Ministries Competency at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. We wound up the day with fascinating learning about the strategies and impacts of Trans-generational Latino Ministry incorporating “evangelistic entrepreneurship”. Definition: seeking to expand the Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus Christ USING THE ST. PAUL MODEL (emphasis mine) of multicultural evangelization….sound familiar anyone? We’ll also be headed to San Antonio for awhile later in the week. Looking forward with excitement to an inspiring, informative and transformative week+!!
The best way to a quick group shot? Do it right before a scheduled meal! 😋 Day two, we filled our bellies after a day of filling our hearts and minds with a deeper understanding of different cultural worldviews, the Virgin of Guadalupe, relational interconnectedness and the value of sharing our stories through respectful listening.
Day 3 started with some rhythm and was packed full of fantastic information, experience, inspiration and insights into so many facets of this fascinating ministry! We were led in word and song by Yuri Rodriguez through perspectives on Latino Music Ministry, then by Ed Gomez through popular Afro-Caribbean religious traditions and practices, with Anthony Guillen bringing us home with some great practical advice on recognizing and overcoming bilingual worship challenges. We closed the day with dinner and Yuri leading an evening workshop on preparing music for Latino worship.
Reflections on the Conference so far:
Day Four at ELMC with Al Rodriguez walking us through challenges of multiculturalism and bilingualism in ministry, Al and Anthony raising our awareness about the paradigm shifts surrounding Latino ministry specifically (and our larger Church in general), and Denise Trevino giving us practical tools to raise our own cultural awareness and interactive small group time to practice them. Another terrific day of learning followed by some Texas BBQ!
A video reflection on the conference so far:
On day five we headed south, starting with Good Samaritan Community Services in San Antonio. It is an incredible ministry to the senior citizens and youth of West Texas.
Chief Executive Officer Simon Salas and his incredible staff treated us to warm hospitality, a tour of their fabulous facilities, an inspiring, emotional and informative panel discussion/Q&A and even a visit from the Rt. Rev. David Reed, Bishop of the Diocese of West Texas which provides many resources both financial and otherwise in supporting this ministry.
In existence since 1951, “Good Sam” has become well-known throughout the San Antonio Latino community for its enrichment programs for youth and seniors, with a strong focus on educational support, higher educational goals and leadership/life skills development for its youth and young adults.
Each and every day these folks find God at work in the community and join in! Thank you, Good Sam, for allowing us a glimpse of the holy work you do!
Rev. Meghan Froehlich (TEC Missioner for Transition Ministry), Anthony, Bishop Reed, Director Salas, Rev. Canon Michael Hunn (Canon to the PB for Ministry Within the Episcopal Church)
The day continued with an afternoon visit to Christ Episcopal Church in Laredo. Even at 4pm temperature were near 107 degrees. We were just as warmly welcomed by Fr. Paul Frey, after which two US Customs & Border Protection agents assigned to the Laredo Sector of the border made a presentation and took questions. It was eye-opening, thought provoking and led us into some very animated discussion! The conversation continued during dinner and throughout the days that followed.
Day Six – (More) Sacred Spaces
It’s official. What began as an intensive training has become a pilgrimage. Or perhaps it always has been and I just didn’t realize it until today.
Maybe I should’ve known every time we gathered in our classroom at the seminary to learn and gain deeper understanding from our engaging, expert group of presenters. At the very least I should’ve had a clue during that day we spent learning and living latino music with Yuri Rodriguez. And how much more unmistakable could it have been than the time we spent at Good Sam?
Our first visit to holy ground today came this morning as we made our way to Casa de Misericordia, an educational center and women’s shelter in Laredo. Zeina Ramos, Coordinator of Administrative Services, gave us an insightful and thorough overview of the ministry being offered by this agency to victims of domestic violence who are overwhelmingly latina and increasingly fearful of asking for help. The educational center includes the meeting spaces, classrooms, vocational training space, memorial garden, recreation space, and a donations room.
We went from there to the women’s shelter and had the opportunity to tour this sacred space where so many of God’s own children (and their children) can find a safe haven to heal, learn and grow. As with many shelters, there is a need for anonymity so no pictures were taken, but the images will forever live in our imaginations along with a deep sense of gratitude for the amazing staff, volunteers and donors who sustain this place and, with it, so many lives that would otherwise be terribly at risk.
We returned Christ Church to talk with a Honduran woman named Frances who shared with us parts of her horrific and courageous journey northward. What shone through every facet of her journey, her story and her being was the kind of bedrock faith in God that I find so transformational whenever I encounter someone who possesses it – someone who has usually lived under circumstances much, much more challenging than my own. I was absolutely humbled and deeply grateful to have had the chance to meet her and hear her share her story. Many of us were visibly captivated as God’s Holy Spirit radiated out from her.
At the Border
The Laredo part of our pilgrimage was finished with a trip to the border. The short distance between the Mexican bank of the river and where we stand on the US side drives home the realization that this “border” is much more a construction of man than of nature. And certainly not of God. What is so often portrayed as a gulf between two nations is really, in this place, no more than a 70-yard-wide river.
As I looked at all the people coming across the bridge from Mexico into the US, I couldn’t help but wonder about their stories, and wonder about those who, like Frances, have much harder stories about their border crossing.
We were stopped a checkpoint on the way back from Laredo. Apparently this is routine here. Once re reached San Antonio in the late afternoon day we played “tourist”, having an iconic South Texas dining experience at Mi Tierra in San Antonio’s El Mercado shopping district, seeing a light show set to music and projected against the Roman Catholic Cathedral of San Fernando in downtown San Antonio, and visiting the Alamo and Riverwalk. Then it was back “home” to Austin.
Thoughts on bilingual worship
And on the Seventh Day we rested. Kind of. We rested our bodies but our spirits got LOTS of exercise, thanks to the warm embrace of the congregation at St. Mary Magdalene, Manor, Texas. The service itself flows smoothly and seamlessly in both languages, with everything necessary to access the liturgy shown on the screens in a way that was surprisingly easy to follow. It was amazing to me how much more free that left me to just join in with the joy of the service, no matter which language was being spoken. We learned later how intentional that was, and how carefully the culture of this remarkable congregation has been nurtured. The seating was quickly changed to accommodate tables for a wonderful lunch. Congregation members dispersed themselves so that each table was a blend of members and visitors. After eating and sharing at our individual tables, we had some Q&A time, during which the parishioners shared many powerful testimonies about how their community has formed and how they work together, ministering to each other in order to preserve their truly multicultural, multi-generational faith community.
Ema Rosero-Nordalm brought our pilgrimage full circle this morning by leading us through a deeply moving sacred circle worship experience incorporating elements of prayer and reflection native to her Colombian heritage.
After a time of community prayer, she asked all of us to reflect back on our time together through the lens of the question: “What did my/our heart(s) hear?” Then she asked: “What did the rest of your senses tell you?” As we went around the circle, sharing and listening with open hearts and ears to hear, God’s Holy Spirit encircled all of us and held us tightly.
Gathered around the table(s) at the lovely Fonda San Miguel restaurant in Austin, we enjoyed wonderful food and each other’s company one last time before our time together comes to a close. We reflected on our journey and to started looking ahead. We also gave heartfelt thanks to Anthony for having poured himself out into this project, and for making it a reality.
Our week+ of shared joy, tears, laughter, learning, questioning, wrestling, exhaustion, hearts broken and filled again – whether on the road, on all the holy ground we visited or in the sacred space of the classroom – have brought our little band of pilgrims close and it’s not easy now to think about separating or about re-entering daily life and the pulling away from the incredible blessing of this experience.
I said my goodbyes as I had to leave early the next morning. As I said them, the love and the warmth of the groups’s response washed over me in waves and they all then laid their hands on me and each other with prayers of thanksgiving and safe travel for me. God is so very, very good!