By Jessica Brodie
There’s little I love more than looking around during worship and seeing diversity. I love it all—different accents, different shades of skin, different ages, different genders, different styles of clothing. It energizes me in a way I can hardly describe.
Perhaps I think it’s a foretaste of the Kingdom, how all our beautiful unique ways will join together as one for the glory of our Creator, our awesome God. Or perhaps it’s because it reminds me of my upbringing in Miami, surrounded by a wealth of colors and cultures. Or perhaps it’s far more shallow than any of that: I get bored when everyone is the same.
And when you get right down to it, I’m convinced the people in our churches should look like the people we see on our streets or in the grocery store: a mixture of races and ages and colors and languages. Just like God’s Kingdom.
Yet as I travel to churches across the South Carolina Conference and look around me, I see plenty of black and white people, plenty of old and young people—but very few of my Hispanic/Latino neighbors.
I know I’m not in Miami anymore, where all things Spanish dominate the culture, but South Carolina has a huge population of Hispanic/Latinos—an estimated 241,000 Hispanic/Latino people in this state alone. That’s more than the total number of United Methodists here! In fact, South Carolina is number two in the nation in terms of growth for the Hispanic/Latino population. Yet the most recent Conference Journal reports only a little more than 300 Hispanic/Latino members of South Carolina UMCs.
I’m not sure why we don’t have more Hispanic/Latinos in our UMCs, and I don’t think there’s an easy solution. Certainly, Hispanic/Latinos are highly visible in Catholic and non-denominational churches, but not in this denomination. And it’s not the language barrier; just because someone is Hispanic/Latino doesn’t mean they only speak Spanish. Most Hispanic/Latinos speak English, and their kids definitely speak English.
I do know that if we begin to be intentional about attracting more diversity in church, we’ll see some improvement. A new Hispanic/Latino Task Force now exists in this conference (I’m a member), and I applaud the ways they are trying to take initial steps to raise awareness, advocate and be in ministry with Hispanic and Latino brothers and sisters in Christ. But I think the true responsibility lies in us as individuals.
This month, which is also Hispanic Heritage Month in the UMC, I call upon United Methodists in our state to begin to pray about this. I urge you to take a moment, bow your head and ask God to help bring more Hispanic/Latinos into our churches. I urge you to take a look at your worship services or church offerings and see if there is anything that is a barrier to diversity (for example, do you only have pictures posted of one race or culture, or only one style of music, or one culture’s favorite foods?). I urge you to be intentional about inviting Hispanic/Latino friends or neighbors to your church.
And most of all, I urge you to ask God to use you as an instrument to open that door, because surely, God will find a way when we cannot.
By Jessica Brodie