Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ —Revelation 21:5
Yesterday, September 15, marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. It will continue until October 15. Why these dates? According to the Hispanic Outlook on Education website, “The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.” The same source notes, “In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively.”
A national observance celebrating Hispanic heritage began as a designated week declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation extending the observance to a month. President Biden issued this year’s Proclamation this past Tuesday.
According to the Hispanic Outlook on Education website “National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” The Diocese of New Jersey, one of the most diverse dioceses in The Episcopal Church, in one of the most diverse states in the United States, is blessed by strong representation of persons of Hispanic/Latino heritage in many of our congregations and communities and we will be celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with them.
On Saturday, September 17, the Diocesan Latino Festival will be take place at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in South River. I am honored and excited to be both the Celebrant and Preacher for what promises to be a Spirit- and joy-filled event. We anticipate that more than 300 persons representing our many Hispanic/Latino congregations—along with non-Hispanic friends from across the diocese who support these ministries and recognize the wonderful and vital role they play in helping us fulfill our commitment to Christ’s mission of reconciliation in the world—will attend. It promises to be a great day. Please join us if you can.
Holy Trinity, South River, has become our newest Hispanic/Latino church “plant” (as in, if you plant and nurture it, it will grow!). At the urging of Holy Trinity’s Rector/Northern Convocation Dean, Fr. Greg Bezilla, I assigned Fr. Arian Wharf to serve what has been a growing Venezuelan population in South River and its surroundings. In a short period of time, this has developed into a viable and vibrant part of the Holy Trinity, South River faith community.
Fr. Arian is a native of Columbia and fully bilingual. This past year, I received Fr. Arian as a priest from the Roman Catholic Church. Serving both this burgeoning community in South River, as well as the people of St. James, Long Branch, Fr. Arian’s ministry is already a great blessing to us as a diocesan community.
On Sunday, I will continue to observe Hispanic Heritage Month with the faithful at Iglesia San Jose in Elizabeth where I have a scheduled visitation for a service of Confirmation and Reception. Under the leadership of The Reverend Toribio Rodriguez Santos, San Jose is thriving. As they state in the Congregational Profile they have added to our diocesan website:
As a family-oriented mission, San Jose progresses daily in its pastoral objective: to proclaim and manifest the love of Christ to all people, facilitate in the development of personal faith, and contribute to the overall strength and growth in God in the context of the Episcopal Church. San Jose’s life and action ministry in outreach services, evangelization, stewardship and children, teenagers and youth programs, continually engage and join the congregation and the city, successfully increasing the number of people in the congregation, and the many programs within the church.
Even as another pessimistic report on religious trends in the United States was published by Pew Research last week, indicating persistent trends in so-called “religious switching”—that is, Americans switching from a declared religious affiliation to either “agnostic, atheist, or ‘nothing in particular’”—there are pockets of growth and signs of hope in our Episcopal Church landscape. The growth of our Hispanic/Latino membership is one of these signs.
This segment of our community has a great deal to teach the rest of us about faithfulness and church growth if we “have eyes to see and ears to hear” (cf. Matthew 13:16)
According to 2020 Census data, “there are 62.1 million Hispanics living in the United States. This group represents 18.9 percent of the total U.S. population, the nation’s second largest racial or ethnic group after non-Hispanic whites.” Today, our congregations are made up not only of first-generation, Spanish-speaking people, they are also made up of second-, third-, and fourth-generation bilingual, and, in many instances, English-only speaking persons who are, nonetheless, culturally Hispanic/Latino. As bishop, I can tell you, we have a desperate need for fully bilingual Spanish-English speaking clergy. At present, the supply cannot keep up with the demand. It’s a real challenge. It is also a blessing because it is a clear sign of Christ’s mission growing.
Hispanic Heritage Month affords us all an opportunity to explore the blessing God is unfolding in our midst and to truly witness the dynamic, ongoing work of the Holy Spirit stirring things up, making all things new.
Blessings and peace,
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 See “10 Important Facts of the Hispanic Heritage Month” on the Hispanic Heritage Outlook on Education website found at https://www.hispanicoutlook.com/articles/hispanic-heritage-month