Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 – Oct. 15
Community outreach sparks new congregations
|Lourdes Rodriguez (left) and Daisy Santiago, members of San Juan United Methodist Church in Erie, Pa., dance during worship opening the 2006 Western Pennsylvania Conference. Photo by JACKIE CAMPBELL|
by Jackie Campbell
The Rev. Beth Nelson felt like a proud aunt when she saw the joy and enthusiasm of San Juan United Methodist Church members opening worship at the 2006 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
Nelson was associate pastor of Henderson United Methodist Church in Erie, Pa., in 1981 when the congregation’s Hispanic ministry led to the birth of San Juan Church. Jose Claudio, who once played on Henderson’s softball team, is now pastor of both churches. He and his wife, Lourdes Rodriguez, helped start San Juan, and she chose the name.
Henderson’s Hispanic ministry began after members had difficulty communicating with four Cuban refugees they sponsored. They invited Alberto Pons to teach Sunday school for Spanish-speaking people in the neighborhood.
As more people came, Pons, a missionary on respite leave, became their pastor.
The Henderson church initially provided a summary of the sermon and the scripture in Spanish. “Then it got too crowded and we decided to start a church,” Nelson said.
In 2002, the district superintendent asked Claudio to become pastor to the San Juan congregation. Henderson, a multi-cultural congregation, was added to his charge in 2005. He is also completing a degree at Empire State University in Buffalo, N.Y.
The two congregations work closely together, particularly in youth ministry and in outreach to the community.
“More people come to the churches when there are special activities, especially at Christmas,” Claudio said. “The people come and join us. In order to make disciples we keep that relationship with the community.”
Community outreach also is key to the growth of a newer Hispanic congregation in Kentucky.
The Corona de Vida ministry, started in mid-2003 by Iosmar çlvarez and his late wife, Janet, at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Hopkinsville, has grown from seven to 52 families under the leadership of the Rev. Isabel Soberal, pastor since January of 2004.
“Corona de Vida’s ministry exists to serve people as a way of teaching Christ’s love for them,” said Soberal.
The Hispanic Ministry also provides outreach services including health care, education, interpretation, transportation and English classes.
“People are happy with our ministry,” Soberal said, “because they know that Christ is there for them every moment and that they are pilgrims as He was and the Father will look after them as He did for His people in old times.”
—Jackie Campell, staff writer for the Western Pennsylvania Conference.
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Sept. 15-Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, a time for celebrating Hispanic/Latino heritage and culture. Hispanics are an integral part of United Methodist ministries, particularly in the seven states where three-fourths of more than 40 million Hispanics in the United States reside: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona and New Jersey.
Hispanic ministries are also winning people for Christ in other areas. Most have grown from the outreach of non-Hispanic congregations. Others have been developed by Hispanic members of several United Methodist churches working together to create a new community of faith.