Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spanish Language and Hispanic Ministry Intensive

This week I have been in residence at The Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, for a program sponsored by the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. It has been a really enriching and exhausting experience - as cross-cultural experiences usually are. We have been learning liturgical Spanish, so that we can (with God's help!) make our way through the Eucharistic Prayer, for example, en espanol. But even more importantly (at least for me) has been the cross-cultural learning about things like the story of the Alamo (with an accent, i.e. told from the other side) and of entering into the liturgical year from a Latin@ perspective and re-materializing what has so often been spiritualized about the Christian faith - which is after all, about birth and life and death. We've talked about border crossings, literal and metaphorical, and done a "case study" of a new church start called San Gabriel.. We've talked about the Virgin of Guadalupe and tomorrow on our last day we'll talk about the Dream Act and Interfaith Public Policy matters. 

But for me, the highlight was today, with Fr. Al Rodriguez, who talked about "New Generation Latin@s." (That is not a typo, by the way - I've learned that you can be inclusive by writing Latino/Latina as Latin@!) First he told us that by 2050, thirty percent of people who live in the USA will be Latin@s. Most of that growth is not through immigration but birth rates. But the chart above also shows the way that already breaks down, with new immigrants being the smallest group (shown in yellow) and more than half of the Hispanic population in the US already being second and third and fourth generation people who speak English (and some of them don't speak Spanish!)

Yesterday's speaker, the Rev. Jesus Escamilla, a former U.S. marine and Mexican-American, spoke about teaching his granddaughter Spanish so she does not forget where she has come from. And in so doing, some lady came up to him in the grocery store where he was doing this and saying, "here in America, we speak English!" That's a whole other post! But the point here is that this immigrant pastor was inadvertently setting us up for today's conversation and that is that for his children and grandchildren the traditional approach that churches have taken to Hispanic ministry are not going to work going forward. And of course this is the age-old problem for immigrants: the first-generation tends to have some level of homesickness, the second-generation tends to become fully enculturated, and the third-generation tries to figure out how to appropriate the stories of their grandparents with the new world that they fully inhabit.

It was in this context that Fr. Rodriguez noted that going forward it is not Spanish proficiency that clergy and lay leaders need, although some Spanish clearly helps. But rather, what we desperately need is cultural competency and awareness at a much deeper level of our neighbors. He spoke about the third-generation immigrant named "Brad Gonzalez" who is already our neighbor.

For me, as a church leader, there are implications here for congregational development. But as a human being the lessons here go much deeper. I have been reflecting on my old neighborhood in Westport, Connecticut, at the end of a little lane where there were four houses. We were the mainline Protestants, I was a fourth or fifth generation American whose people had come to this country from Germany, England, and Scotland. Next door was a Muslim family from Egypt. The parents spoke with accents but had lived in the US a long time. The children, however, were fully enculturated into the United States; the youngest daughter was one of our first babysitters. Across the street were Italian Roman Catholics - probably third-generation. And next to them were Jews who had moved to Westport from Brooklyn.

We were not close but of course like in most neighborhoods there were events that brought us together. It is just the world we live in. It is hard to get to know our neighbors, but this is a human challenge -and for Christians it is even a commandment: "to love our neighbor as self."  First thing, though, is to get to know our neighbors.

In my work as a member of the Bishop's staff, I drive to a different congregation each week. As I follow my GPS I am driving through neighborhoods and trying to pay attention. One throwaway line that really struck me today, that my clergy colleagues might not all appreciate (but do need to hear) is that too often we Episcopalians have been like bankers - waiting for people to come to us to do their business. And we need to learn to be entrepreneurs, i.e. to go out into the streets, and neighborhoods, and soccer fields (and here in Texas, rodeos!) to pay attention to the neighborhood, and to ask the question of how we can be better neighbors. Not to grow the church, not to increase the pledges (although perhaps in the long-run these things may happen) and not out of a sense of desperation, but simply because this is where we meet the living, resurrected Christ.

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