Beyond ‘se habla Español’: Latino in the UMCSC

Conference's Hispanic/Latino task force hopes to move beyond awareness, focus on congregational development

By Jessica Brodie

National Hispanic Heritage Month begins Sept. 15, and United Methodists passionate about Latino advocacy are hoping to bring heightened awareness and advocacy to the conference, as well as new exposure for a Pentecost Journey training event later this fall.

Members of the South Carolina United Methodist Hispanic Latino Task Force have been hard at work since January 2015 to be in ministry with Latino people in this state, and they want the conference to know their work has only just begun.

With more Hispanics/Latinos living in South Carolina than there are United Methodists (235,682, compared to the estimated 232,000 United Methodists), the first prong of the task force’s work has been to make people aware of the need to reach out to this population and stand in solidarity, whether that is through immigration reform advocacy or teaching English as a Second Language classes at the local church.

But the Rev. Elizabeth Murray, task force convener and coordinator for Hispanic/Latino ministries for the conference, said awareness is only the beginning. The conference needs to be intentional about cultivating Hispanic/Latino pastoral leadership and worship experiences so all voices can be present.

“Having all voices, including Hispanic/Latino voices, at the table in our conference is going to be very important in Hispanic/Latino ministry,” Murray said, noting that the conference currently has only two pastors who are Latino—the Rev. Enrique Gordon, a provisional elder who is Afro-Latino and working toward ordination, and the Rev. Sonia Brum, a Latina member of the South Carolina Conference serving in Atlanta as part of the General Board of Global Ministries—along with one clergy candidate. “I would love to see the UMC be a place where Hispanic/Latino people felt welcome.”

Esperanza UMC in Greenville, which Gordon pastors, is the only active Hispanic/Latino congregation in the conference.

The Rev. Richard Reams, co-chair with the Rev. Emily Sutton of the task force, said anyplace a church can start with Hispanic/Latino ministry is a step in the right direction, as long as it is a concrete step and not merely wishful thinking.

“Wishing things will change and/or longing for any type of multi-ethnic ministry are great, but without action they will not amount to anything,” Reams said. “The question becomes what can we do now to effect change in our particular context? What work can we do now? That's the question we want to help churches ask and answer. We want to be a resource that begins to move them into making dreams into reality. We want to encourage folks to start where they are and not be paralyzed by where they are not.”

One path: Engaging Hispanic/Latino community

Murray said one way the UMC can help make that happen is by more intentionally engaging the Hispanic/Latino community. Pentecost Journey, set for Nov. 18-19 at Aldersgate UMC, Greenville, is a good first step, she said. Reams agrees.

Pentecost Journey is a way for teams of pastors along with their laypeople to learn, brainstorm and ultimately come away with a strategic action plan for how to engage their local Hispanic/Latino communities.

The task force organized the event last year, and this year’s event carries on the initial work in a more meaningful and strategic way.

“It was a great event last time, but we realized the most effective thing for churches to go forward is to have the pastor and lay people come together so they learn the same information and they’re able to create a plan of action together and be able to start to implement that when they go back so they’re on the same wavelength,” Murray said.

The Rev. Kristin Dollar, who is helping to organize the event, said Pentecost Journey is a time of discernment for non-Hispanic/Latino churches who seek to be in relationship with Hispanic/Latino communities. Speaker the Rev. José Luis Villaseñor, church planter and pastor of Fiesta Cristiana in Apex, North Carolina, and president of the Hispanic/Latino Caucus of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the UMC, will guide participants in creating an action plan for creating or developing Hispanic/Latino ministries within their own congregations.

“In God's Kingdom, those of all tribes, all tongues and all nations will come together to worship the Lamb of God,” Dollar said. “If we seek to participate in God's Kingdom, it is mandatory that we learn to live and worship together as the body of Christ.”

The cost is $40; register at

Next steps: Congregational development

Murray said congregational development is next on the task force’s agenda. That means not only cultivating Hispanic/Latino people to serve in the UMC but also creating Hispanic/Latino places of worship.

“I think we’ve done a good job of helping people know we are here as a resource and helping people learn about why Hispanic/Latino ministry is important,” Murray said. “Now we’re moving toward creating worshipping Hispanic/Latino communities.”

For more information about the task force, click here. To register for Pentecost Journey, click here.

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