Building “La Communidad de Dios:” Next Step in Hispanic Ministry


Clergy and Laity from across the conference are working in tandem to facilitate new possibilities in multi-cultural outreach.
Although he was raised in a border town, Ruben Saenz did not know as a young child that he was Hispanic. In his hometown, everyone lived and worked together as one community and all ethnicities were represented in leadership. It was not until he was 12 years old – when he moved to a town near San Antonio -- that someone first labeled him “Hispanic.” Today, Ruben serves as Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center for the Rio-Texas Conference and shares his expertise across the globe. “Even the Hispanic community is not a monolithic group anymore, and each of their stories impacts their personal view of the world and the church,” he shared in a video interview with Rev. Diane McGehee, Director of the Center for Missional Excellence for the Texas Annual Conference (TAC).
A representative sample of TAC laity and clergy leaders involved in Hispanic ministry gathered in February to further the conversation about reaching a multi-cultural world. Other facilitators and presenters included: Beatrice Garza (Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans); Will Faircloth (missionary serving with the Igleia Evangelica Metodista de Costa Rica), Charles Rotramel (CEO of Houston reVision) and other pastors, artists and professionals. “This was what we hope will be the first of many such conversations to include more voices and expanding conversations about how churches can most effectively be in ministry with (rather than to) the community in which God has placed them,” adds Diane.

Sacred Space of Possibility
Each participant brought an item to place on an altar to demonstrate their vision for the future of the Texas Annual Conference with regard to the Latino community. Rev. Silverio G. Sanchez, Executive Pastor, Holy Covenant UMC, Katy, shares, “I brought a clay jar made by Mexican natives filled with water, representing the water of life mentioned by Jesus.”
John Esquivel, member of First UMC and board member with TAC’s Justice for our Neighbors, brought a picture of his immigrant grandparents and father who were Catholic until experiencing the unconditional love of Methodists in San Antonio. “This hospitality that Methodists are known for,” notes John, “has  impacted my father, myself, my wife and my children as well and prayerfully will impact many generations to come if we take time to ask and listen whether they need us to fill their belly or soul.” He was again reminded through this experience that, “multicultural ministry is more complex than you think it will be, reminding us to reach out with understanding and a listening ear.”
Rev. Oscar Garza, Cypress Trails UMC, calls this time of dialogue a “collective recognition of where we are lacking in multicultural ministries, and how we can do better in becoming part of the communities around us.” Oscar shares a direct result of attending this event, saying, “At the end of the meeting, I had conversations with several attendees about the possibility of creating a new church and a charter school. Those are the kind of possibilities you hope happen when you put these type of people together to ask, What would it look like if…” When small ideas gather momentum at the grassroots level they can have real potential – particularly when you bring creative minds together which was the case at the February event.”
Bishop Janice Huie shared thoughts about the input that resulted from this cross-section of leaders getting together on the TAC Facebook page, saying, “One of the things I heard was that we need to listen to those we are hoping to serve, rather than inviting others to worship in our usual way. We need to learn to share in worship in a way that will help express their love of God.”
Having studied the diversity within the Latino and Hispanic community at length, Ruben shared insight that “Hispanics have a robust understanding of the supernatural. They need to know God still shows up and can bring them a miracle.” Adds Ruben, “I really don’t believe a lot of our people are finding that type of spirituality in our Methodist churches and many are leaving to seek that elsewhere.”
“I would say that we need to work together at all levels and not commit the same mistakes we have in the past,” shares Rev. Cesar Martinez, Foundry UMC, Houston.  “There is interest to continue the dialogue, but we must also act in whatever capacity we can while we dialogue. There has to be support for Hispanic ministries not just first generation but beyond, and there has to be accountability too. The power dynamic needs to shift from giver and receiver, to co-workers in the kingdom of God.”

Silverio shares, “I’ve participated in many Hispanic ministry trainings, workshops and retreats in our conference but this one was, by far, the best. We had the chance to see, from different angles, what the need for Hispanic ministry is for today’s community. This event served as confirmation of a lot that we are implementing in Holy Covenant UMC in Katy.”

Rev. Laura Merrill, El Valle District in the Rio-Texas Conference challenged the group with several questions about Hispanic ministry.  “We have to honestly ask ourselves, Why are we doing this?  Are we doing it because that’s what churches do? Or are we doing it because we expect to see Christ in them?  If we feel like we are doing this because we are called to encounter others via the Gospel, it’s going to change the nature of our connection with them.”
John’s most memorable “takeaway” from the weekend related to the item on the altar fondly nicknamed the “super lemon.”  Notes John, “Someone brought a typical lemon and one that was considerably bigger -- that they plucked from a Charlie-Brown-type scrawny tree near their home. It became a powerful image and symbol of unleashed vitality in our discussion. This is what could happen if the United Methodist Church knew no bounds in ministry.”
Diane adds, “Before departing for home, participants sought to visualize what living into such unbounded possibility might look like, by painting their vision for God’s future as the church in community. Those images now form a mural on display in the Conference Center, reminding us that God’s possibility is greater than all that we can ask or think. It will visually encourage us to become the church that our communities need by listening deeply to the stories of our communities and then finding ways to connect those stories with the story of God.”

Video interview with Dr. Ruben Saenz

Video interview with Rev. Laura Merrill