Developing Consensus: The Tale of Three Leaders
Hispanic ministry opportunities are plentiful as the Southwest Conference and Rio Grande Conference unify to become the Rio Texas Conference. Several Rio Grande churches, geographically located in the Texas Conference, gathered with TAC representatives to discuss alignment opportunities – but the conversation quickly turned to grassroots advocacy for Hispanic ministry. Three TAC leaders share their perspective on leveraging this newfound connection across Conference boundaries.
Whether marked by the cry of a newborn or the pop of a cork on New Year’s Eve, there is something fundamentally exciting about new beginnings. One of these new beginnings is unfolding across Texas as the Rio Grande Conference and Southwest Texas Conference work together to form the integrated Rio Texas Conference proposed to take shape between now and 2016.
“Our Houston workshop in late April brought churches formerly affiliated with the RG Conference together with their geographic neighbors in the Texas Annual Conference to discuss a number of possibilities and new beginnings – and the outcome was inspirational,” notes facilitator Abel Vega of the Unification Team. “Re-evaluating conference alignment allows us to move to this place where there is tremendous value in conversation,” he adds, “as connectionalism is lived out in new learning, transformative partnerships and grassroots creation of new priorities.”
Three prominent Hispanic ministry leaders within the Texas Annual Conference were energized to see United Methodists across Texas feeling empowered to join hands in Hispanic ministry – regardless of their conference identity. Each TAC leader arrived with one point of view, but left the event with a more global sense of how God is working within this growing demographic.
As the pastor of Keltys UMC, Reverend Cindy Duran knows the Lufkin economy has shifted, families have moved and the demographics are vastly different than in years’ past. “We are very much on the ground floor of attempting to merge our congregation with the needs in our surrounding community, so I was blessed beyond measure by attending the Unification Workshop in Houston.”
She is excited about the future conference-to-conference partnerships to further Hispanic ministry and thankful for what she learned over the weekend as her church works to bridge the many gaps, including language.
“Our youngest translator is in the sixth grade,” she says. “He is bilingual even though Spanish is the primary language used in their home. This young person has been instrumental to the integration of our new ministry as have our members, myself as the pastor and all the way up to our district superintendent, Rev. Chuck Huffman who has developed a relationship with Juan and is somewhat of a hero to him.”
In an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community, Keltys UMC recently launched a children’s ministry on Thursdays after school and identified several Spanish-speaking families. “We’re starting to offer our services in Spanish– which has been both very successful and very disappointing at times,” Cindy says.
“We have connected with the children and, through them, are reaching out to the families. I hope to begin some in-home Bible studies this August, a suggestion I received during my three days in Houston. We have invited the children into the church for many events and programs and will now embark on a new ministry as we plan to take the church to the families with Bible studies in their homes.”
Cindy counts it a blessing to pastor a very diverse congregation that is open to ministering in the schools, throughout the community and in the neighborhood that houses their church. “We greet each other in English and Spanish in the sanctuary, those speaking Spanish then have the option of hearing the sermon, praying and singing in their own language in the Fellowship Hall while we continue in English in the Sanctuary. On Communion Sundays we join together in the sanctuary where the liturgy is offered in both languages -- a time that brings smiles on the faces when I look out on the congregation.”
Launching new ministry involves new leadership opportunities for all ages. Keltys now seeks volunteers for translating and delivering the message, music and prayers in Spanish, in addition to other areas.
Adds Cindy, “The greatest part of the entire workshop weekend was everyone's willingness to celebrate our diversities and not let them hinder us in taking the good news of Jesus Christ into the world! There was such a sweet spirit... one of cooperation and acceptance. I am very proud of my local church and the United Methodist Church for putting the work of God before any language barrier or other obstacle. We are blessed to be a part of an organized body that is willing to go into the mission field with the Word of God... whether in Africa or next door!”
Relationships with Results
“In just a matter of days during these sessions, I made several wonderful connections and am very excited about the future of Hispanic ministry,” says Reverend Scott Moore, executive pastor of FUMC Conroe, a church with a thriving ministry to the Spanish-speaking community. “There are many people who truly have a passion for reaching the Hispanic population in both conferences. Whether or not the Rio Texas churches align with the Texas Conference, I plan to work closely with my new friends in the Rio Texas churches to be effective advocates for immigration reform.” To help develop immigration advocates, Conroe FUMC Pastor Scott Moore invited all participants to TAC Advocacy Training in early May.
Adds Scott, “By bringing in additional congregations that minister to a largely immigrant population, we have the potential to have some powerful allies in our advocacy efforts for immigration reform. The United Methodist Church, through its Social Principles, Resolutions, and decisions at the Annual Conference level, has taken a stand to support the rights of immigrants and advocate for the just and humane treatment of all people, regardless of national origin or citizenship / residency status. We believe that all people are of sacred worth and deserve to be treated accordingly. By building partnerships with Rio Grande churches that deal with the struggles of immigrants on a daily basis, we, as a conference, can better focus our efforts to meet the needs of the immigrant population.”
Leadership is particularly interesting when breaking ground into new areas of ministry, but Scott is encouraged by the progress and growth FUMC Conroe has experienced with relation to Hispanic ministry. “When a large Anglo church reaches out in ministry to the Hispanic community, it is a completely different dynamic than a Hispanic church serving the Hispanic community,” he explains. “Our Hispanic congregation began over 15 years ago in an effort to reach out to the growing Spanish-speaking population in Conroe. Our Spanish language service now accounts for about 10 – 15% of our total Sunday morning attendance. And, our Hispanic congregation is the fastest growing component of our overall church. This is a tremendous success, but when you consider that the high school ½ mile from our campus, serves a student population that is just over 50% Hispanic you can see that we still have a lot of work to do if the Church is going to truly reflect the demographics of its community.”
As the chair of the Immigration Task Force, Scott believes his next steps will be “to include the pastors and members of the Rio Grande churches, whether or not they officially join the Texas Annual Conference, in future discussions regarding our efforts in the arena of immigration advocacy.”
And Now a Word from… the Hispanic Ministry Task Force Chairman
“Very early in the discussion at the Unification workshop, we realized that we were more unified than we expected to be,” says Reverend Jose Pena who is the associate pastor at ChristWay Community Church and is a member of the TAC Task Force on Hispanic Ministry. After discussing Hispanic ministry from a statewide perspective, Jose realized, “No matter where our church is located, the mission field is the same. In the Hispanic community the need for those families to connect with a God-loving church is so important. This meeting was a great way to help our churches come together and help each other in reaching out to those who do not know Christ and are so empty.”
Although leaders sometimes get discouraged because there is a lack of funding or volunteers, Jose believes this nucleus of Hispanic ministry leaders is the spark to keep the fire burning. “I believe resources will follow in abundance when we set out in faith to do God’s will in our community. When others see what God is doing in transformation of lives for the Kingdom, then the excitement of others and the urge to invest in our efforts will come about.”
Past, Present and Potential
When Reverend Diane McGehee, Director of the Center for Missional Excellence shared an update on the momentum that is building within the Texas Annual Conference around the expansion of Hispanic ministry, attendees were amazed. “During a visioning process in 2011, the Texas Conference set up a Hispanic Ministry Task Force which created a list of 22 Hispanic congregations of various sizes so we could get to know each other, share and pray together. We have since been developing an intensive new church start training and leadership development program for our pastors so they do not feel alone.” Adds Diane, “Our next steps are to create a system to multiply and replicate ministries and to add stronger emphasis as a Conference to our local mission opportunities since God is bringing members of so many Spanish speaking nations into our communities for disciple making. We are in a 2nd Pentecost moment in history as God has literally assembled the nations within the boundaries of the TAC. This is an exciting time for the church! As a part of the TAC’s efforts to reach the growing multi-national population within the boundaries of the TAC, Bishop Huie has been working with other denominational and faith judicatory leaders through an Interfaith Coalition that is speaking from a faith perspective for compassionate immigration reform that protects families and workers. The Center for Missional Excellence is also working to help local churches look intentionally at our communities, explore both the resources we have to offer and the resources within our local communities, and build partnerships that make more of a collective impact for change.”
Event host David Sanchez, pastor at El Mesias UMC in Houston says, “As Rev. Scott Moore, Pastor Cindy Doran, and Rev. Diane McGehee spoke about the Texas Conference plans and understanding of the need to reach the Hispanic community in Houston area, I got excited because this is the challenge the Lord has put in my heart. I am excited about the future of Hispanic community and ministry because I see the Texas Conference with a strong conviction to develop a deeper understanding of this community and with a hungry heart to provide training for Hispanic ministry and to invest resources to reach this growing and challenging community.”
Workshop leaders touted the value in constructing something new. “There’s a great deal of excitement about Hispanic ministry as we brainstorm together,” Diane adds. “We know this will bring challenges, but there’s a positive sense that God is at work. God has assembled the Spanish speaking nations within our borders and we have the awesome opportunity to work together – as never before – to reach them for Christ.”