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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month!–Sept. 17, 2021

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Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

A first communion celebration at All Saints, Lakewood

September 15–October 15 is observed as Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and the State of New Jersey. As a website sponsored by the federal government observes, Hispanic Heritage Month is about “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” According to this site, “The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988.”

This observance should be embraced by all of us in the Diocese of New Jersey. More than a dozen years ago, The Episcopal Church Foundation released a report on The Episcopal Church’s Vision for Reaching Latinos/Hispanics, which recognized that “The dramatic increase in the numbers of Latinos/Hispanics in communities throughout the country should be seen as an evangelistic opportunity and hope for the church.”[1] Yes, it should, because it is!

This is certainly true for us in the Diocese of New Jersey. Of the nearly 9-million-person population of New Jersey, more than 20 percent identify as Hispanic[2]. The Hispanic/Latino population continues to grow in our state. The Hispanic/Latino population has also been a real area of growth in the diocese.

Our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month should not only be a response to the numerical growth we realize. Our Hispanic/Latino siblings have blessed us as a diocesan community in countless ways. From our stand-alone Spanish-dominant congregations—Cristo Rey, Trenton; San Andres, Camden; San Jose, Elizabeth—to other locations where a Hispanic/Latino Ministry has been “planted” or “seeded” in an already existing congregation—All Saints, Lakewood; Christ Church, Toms River; St. Thomas, Red Bank; Trinity Church, Asbury Park; St. John’s, Elizabeth—or where such ministries are being “birthed” as is the case with Holy Trinity, South River—our total life as a diocese has been enriched by the committed faithfulness and meaningful cultural expressions of our Hispanic/Latino members.

Not only are we blessed by first-generation, Spanish-speaking persons who are part of our congregations, we are also blessed by those of the second, third, and fourth generations who identify as being of Hispanic/Latino heritage and are members of our congregations across the diocese, not only those that identify as Hispanic/Latino. It’s critically important for us all to take note of this. The report produced by The Episcopal Church Foundation observed:

Based upon what we have learned and our evaluation of past efforts of Hispanic ministry, we have determined that there is a need to shift the dominant concept of this form of ministry, from an immigrant-focused ministry to one that takes into account sixty-percent of the Latino/Hispanic population-second, third, and later generations. This is a necessary shifting of the focus, since immigrant communities and parishes themselves must deal with the cultural shifts that occur in subsequent generations.[3]

It is important to recognize that in vital areas of faith and practice, and in congregational growth and development, our Hispanic/Latino siblings—clergy and lay alike—have a lot to teach us.

This past week, I was part of continuing conversation with Bishop Daniel Gutierrez of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and Bishop Kevin Brown of the Diocese of Delaware. We have agreed to pilot a program developed by The Reverend Lorenzo Lebrijo and his colleagues at TryTank Experimental Lab in consultation with The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillén, The Episcopal Church’s Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries. TryTank is an organization committed to developing new concepts for the Church to pass on the faith. The pilot program we are launching in our three dioceses is called Latino Ministry in a Box, which will use “multi-site technologies” to launch Spanish-speaking services within congregations where such ministries have not previously existed. The Latino Ministry in a Box kit developed by the TryTank team will include four component pieces for each week of the liturgical year: a video sermon specific to the week’s lectionary readings, a leader’s guide, a participants’ guide, and a children’s guide.[4]

Each of our dioceses has been asked to recruit three or four congregations who will serve as “beta testers” of the program. If your congregation is interested, please let me know.

I am deeply grateful and offer warmest wishes to our Hispanic Missioner, The Reverend Canon Ramon Ubiera, to all our Hispanic/Latino clergy, to the Hispanic Commission and to all those who are of Hispanic/Latino heritage no matter which of our 137 congregations you are a part of. Thank you for your work and witness among us. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! You bless this diocese and this Church.

Bendiciones en Cristo.

Bishop Stokes's Signature

The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
12th Bishop of New Jersey

__________________

Notes

[1] “The Episcopal Church’s’ Strategic Vision for Reaching Latinos/Hispanics” published March 2009 by The Episcopal Church Foundation – p. 1 – https://www.ecfvp.org/uploads/vestry_papers/files/Strategic_Vision_English.pdf

[2] See United States Census Bureau – “Quick Facts – New Jersey” found at https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/NJ

[3] “The Episcopal Church’s’ Strategic Vision for Reaching Latinos/Hispanics” – p. 2

[4] See Musser, John – “A New Way of Doing Latino Ministry…It’s in a Box!” A report issued for TryTank and found at https://www.trytank.org/uploads/1/2/3/4/123491645/latino_ministry_in_a_box_article.pdf