Two Languages, One Church: First United Methodist Pasadena Embraces Hispanic Ministry

Date Posted: 3/22/2018

By: Sherri Gragg - 
En Español 

In the fall of 2016, Coordinator of Mission Field Development, Arturo Cadar, met with the pastoral leadership of First UMC, Pasadena over lunch to tell them about Pastor Ruben Olivares. Olivares had recently completed the apprentice program at Crossroads UMC. Cadar was confident that Olivares was ready to take the next step into ministry and that he would be a good fit for First UMC, Pasadena.
“Thirty years ago, the racial demographics of our community was 75 percent Caucasian and 25 percent Latino. Since that time, those statistics have flipped. Pasadena is now 75 percent Latino and 25 percent Caucasian,” said The Reverend Will Reed, Senior Pastor of First UMC, Pasadena.
The problem was that Reed’s church had not kept pace with the changing demographics in the community. It remained steadfastly Caucasian. Reed knew that it was essential for his church to embrace their Latino and Latina neighbors if they intended to remain relevant in ministry. He was also well aware that in order to bridge the racial gap, he would need a Latino partner in ministry. Olivares was the answer to his prayers.

An Invitation to Worship
Olivares joined the staff of First UMC, Pasadena on January 1, 2017. His first goal was to establish a new Spanish-speaking worship community that would meet in their own service at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. In a reflection of Jesus’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew chapter 22, Olivares and his family literally went out into the streets of the community to invite their Spanish-speaking neighbors into the great feast of God’s grace at First UMC, Pasadena. “We went to parking lots, stores, and out into the streets to invite people to the new Hispanic service in Pasadena.”
Over the course of the last year, the number of worshippers in the Spanish-speaking service has gone from zero to between sixty and ninety attendees each week. “In the beginning, we set goals for the 12:30 p.m. service that we felt were achievable,” said Reed. “They blew right through them, so we adjusted them up. We have been really pleased with the growth.”

The Key to Growth
The growth of the Hispanic worship community has been nurtured through intentional relationships and fortified by prayer. Associate pastor in charge of bi-lingual outreach, Mireya Martinez, believes the Hispanic community’s commitment to intercession is the key to God’s powerful movement in the church. “This group regularly gets together to pray,” said Martinez. “They are really calling out to God, and seeking his will. The women meet on Thursdays afternoons for a devoted time of prayer. Another group has committed to waking at 5:30 a.m. each morning to pray. Prayer connects them to each other, to their community, and to what God is doing.”

The Bold Work of Unification
First UMC, Pasadena has moved far beyond simply creating a space for Hispanic worship. The church has boldly undertaken the work of uniting their community. Spanish, English, and bi-lingual worshippers meet together regularly for joint, culturally and linguistically diverse worship. They also build community by serving alongside each other in ministry to others.
Perhaps the most powerful strategy for unification is the commitment from all three pastors- Reed, Olivares, and Martinez to lead through the example of the way they love and serve their church together. “We are one church,” Reed said. “We try to make sure everyone knows that we are all three their pastors.”