Many People, One Family - Muchos Pueblos, Umo Solo Cuerpo
A new page of history was made on Saturday, February 18 as almost 500 participants from over 20 Hispanic congregations across the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church came together to share a meal and worship together at Bellaire UMC.
“This was an eye opening experience for Hispanics to be able to join with others across Texas as one body,” says Jose Pena, Pastor of Servants of Christ, Mission Milby. “Many Hispanic clergy are meeting each other at Conference training meetings that allow us to learn how to better reach our communities. As a result of getting to know leaders from across the Conference, we wanted to worship together, too. I truly believe this number will double for the next joint worship service we will have later in the year.”
“All three of our conference priorities merge in this exciting ministry and worship service,” adds Missional Excellence Center Director, Diane McGehee. “Investing in the young applies since it was truly a family service involving more than 100 children, and children who often go hungry were fed,” she adds. “With 20 Hispanic churches participating, we are certainly Building fruitful congregations by worshipping and learning together how to best reach this growing demographic slice of Texas. A great deal of joint planning took place among the churches, which facilitates excellent Leadership lessons for both clergy and laity.”
This family service was the first of many joint worship meetings planned and drew people from as far away as Galveston, College Station and Dallas. Many of the travelers spent the night at First UMC Conroe, where Pastor William Llana extended the arms of hospitality.
“Since the Hispanic culture great importance on the family eating together, our pre-worship meal was an exceptional way to promote unity and fellowship,” adds McGehee. “The sobering aspect is that food sufficiency is a critical issue among many Hispanics, so one of the greatest joys of the participants was to see their church as a place their children could come and experience plenty in body and spirit.”
Having communion together was also a favorite highlight. “This experience was very powerful as many diverse cultures within the Hispanic community gathered together around the table as one unified boy of Christ.” The worship service also included inspirational comments from three Hispanic pastors, predominantly spoken in Spanish, and vibrant musicians from several different praise bands.
Pastor Keith Swatzel, a Hispanic Ministry Committee member possibly traveled the farthest (over 5 hours) with almost three dozen participants from Renacer-Faro DeLuz UMC in Mt. Pleasant, at the extreme north of the Texas Annual Conference. Says Pastor Swatzel, “I was one of three on the preaching team, which was one way we demonstrated the power of working together in ministry. My group was energized and uplifted to feel the fellowship with other churches doing Hispanic ministry in different ways. They began to understand what I have been saying about being more connectional with others in ministry.”
After the service the Mt. Pleasant guests drove to Conroe to have a giant sleepover in the youth building of First UMC Conroe. “We had couches and air mattresses and access to the basketball courts and showers,” adds Swatzel, “and we enjoyed attending the Hispanic service the next morning.” The entire trip inspired several travelers with new energy for ministry at their home churches. “Some of my kids saw other kids helping with music and now they see themselves possibly doing that at our church,” he noted.
Save the Date
Held on a biannual basis, the next Hispanic ministry gathering will take place at St. Luke's Gethsemane on Bellaire Blvd. on October 6, which falls into the Hispanic Heritage month celebration of this growing segment of the Conference. Pastor Swatzel hopes to refine the next event by including more lay people and more defined childcare options. “This fall, we will plan specific activities for the children and have simultaneous translation into English,” notes McGehee. “Additionally, each time we gather for a conference-wide joint worship service, it will rotate to a different church in different areas.”