A Look at The School of Theology’s Hispanic/Latino Ministries

By Kevin Cummings

Hispanic/Latino ministry is a continuing commitment of The Episcopal Church to further embrace a vibrantly growing demographic. Likewise, The School of Theology has been working to foster Hispanic/Latino ministries in the U.S. and beyond. In the past four years, trips to Cuba with students from the seminary have helped to expand educational opportunities for their future and develop spiritual leaders for a vibrantly growing demographic of The Episcopal Church.

One example is Brooks Cato, T’13, who restarted a Spanish-language service as priest-in-charge of his former parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal in Newport, Ark., a Mississippi Delta town of about 7,500. “I was afraid that my attempts at preaching in another language would do more to scare people off than bring them in, but I’m not that important. Not even my stumbling grammar was enough to keep people away,” Cato said. Attendance slowly grew in Newport, starting with just a couple of Hispanic parishioners and increasing in the first year to about 20 people joining in to celebrate Holy Eucharist.

Cato, who is now a curate at Christ Church in Little Rock, said, “While I recognize that there are certainly things that might be helpful to specific demographics, I think what Hispanic ministry needs more than anything else is the same thing that everyone needs: a place to feel safe and welcomed in the search for God. Like anywhere else, that search may lead us to recognize the areas where individuals need particular help. Sometimes, these are areas we’re equipped to deal with, sometimes not. It’s our job as the Church to learn our people first, then help them do what they need or want to do.”

Colin Mathewson, T’13, serves in the Diocese of San Diego, where he grew up 15 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Mathewson leads a Spanish-language service as priest associate for mission at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Among his numerous Hispanic/Latino ministry efforts is his service on the board of directors for Dorcas House in Tijuana, Mexico, a home for about 40 children of inmates in nearby La Mesa prison.

“There is so much potential for Latino ministry in The Episcopal Church, and particularly in a border diocese such as San Diego, but it can be difficult to drum up the necessary investments for this type of ministry, which can take years to become financially sustainable,” Mathewson noted.

Mathewson and Cato are former students of pastoral Spanish instructor John Solomon, and two of the many School of Theology graduates delving into Hispanic/Latino ministry to enrich the Church and serve the people.

Solomon said he would like to see more seminarians involved in missions on the U.S.-Mexico border. “That could work as a ministry but it also works as a type of immersion program without ever having to leave the country,” he said.

The Rt. Rev. J.  Neil Alexander, dean of The School of Theology, praised Solomon’s efforts, who began teaching at the seminary in 2008, and former pastoral Spanish Professor Maria Lytle for helping students build the foundations of their ministries.

“For a number of years Sewanee has had a program of teaching pastoral Spanish and held a variety of worship services, including both the daily offices and celebrations of the Eucharist in Spanish. This is not only to give our students experience in these areas so they can conduct Spanish/Latino ministries when they are out of school, but also to simply expose the entire community and student body to these services,” Alexander said.

Antonio García Fuerte, a native of Spain, was impressed with The School of Theology’s Spanish program when he visited last year as part of the student exchange program with Westcott House in Cambridge, England. “Before I came to Sewanee, I knew there were Hispanic/Latino ministries already working around the U.S.A., but I never imagined they would be so organized and so fruitful,” he said.

After graduation in June from school in Cambridge, García Fuerte will move to London and serve as a deacon. “The idea is that, upon my return, we will kick-start Hispanic and Latino ministries in London,” he said. “There are quite a number of Spanish and Latinos around the churches in London, but no specific ministry for them. The Bishop has been trying to introduce this ministry before, but there was a lack of priests to minister in Spanish.”

The Rev. Dr. William Brosend, professor of homiletics, will travel to Cuba in the fall of 2015 to teach at the Seminario de Evangélico de Teología. He has been a key figure in The School of Theology’s work in Hispanic/Latino ministry. “I am committed to expanding our preparation of seminary students for bilingual ministry,” Brosend said. “To that end, I have studied language and culture in Los Angeles, El Paso/Ciudad de Juarez, and Costa Rica to better prepare them.”

Brosend’s most significant contribution to Hispanic/Latino ministry has been in his role as executive director of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, which has dedicated the sixth annual National Episcopal Preaching Conference, slated for March in Los Angeles, to preaching in Spanish. “I am responsible for planning, recruiting the faculty, and look forward to a very successful event,” he said.

The Vision at The School of Theology

“This year the level of enthusiasm in Spanish is probably been the highest I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Solomon said. “For the first time, I’ve had seminarians come and ask me to help them be able to read at Spanish-language services. It shows the interest and momentum that is coming from the bottom up rather than the top down.” Some School of Theology faculty members are also studying with Solomon, including Dr. Cynthia Crysdale, the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Wright, and the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga.


Alexander said there are plans to increase the education opportunities and staff for Hispanic/Latino ministry at The School of Theology. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that as we move forward we will grow more deeply into this whole area of ministry,” he said. “That will demand of us at some point to add faculty and staff that focus in these areas and to put other resources in place, like scholarships for native Latino candidates for ministry, as well as continuing to support Anglo students who have a passion for the Spanish language and the ability to serve in bilingual communities.”

In recent times, the school has added more specific instruction in certain areas. “The world is getting smaller by the day in terms of communications and so we are trying to make our connections not only with the church in Latin America and Spanish-speaking parts of the world but to a huge number of new folks in many of our dioceses, particularly those that Sewanee serves, some of which have double or even triple digit growth in their Hispanic/Latino members.”

Among the consultants for the seminary’s Hispanic/Latino ministry are the Rev. Canon Isaías Rodríguez, senior Hispanic missioner of the Diocese of Atlanta, and the Rev. Anthony Guillén, The Episcopal Church’s officer for Latino/Hispanic Ministries. Guillén and Rodríguez are among the top leaders in developing ministries and are regular visitors to Sewanee.

Solomon noted that The School of Theology would like to partner more with the college at the University of the South in developing Spanish-language ministry. Additionally, Education for Ministry at The Beecken Center of The School of Theology is in the process of developing a Spanish version of their four-year program.

Cuba

President Obama’s announcement on Dec. 17, 2014, detailing plans to normalize relations with the people of Cuba, invigorated The School of Theology’s ongoing relationship with The Episcopal Church in Cuba and the Seminario Evangélico de Teología, an ecumenical seminary in Matanzas that hosts both Episcopal, Baptist, and Presbyterian students.

A group of seminarians and faculty from The School of Theology journeyed to Cuba in January, 2015. “There’s genuine excitement about the potential changes but there have been no visible changes yet,” Solomon said shortly after returning to Sewanee. “Nobody knows exactly what to anticipate. The one topic mentioned more often than not was the establishment of embassies in each respective country.”

Solomon has traveled to the Caribbean Island four times since 2011, networking and helping build a relationship between The School of Theology and both the Cuban seminary and The Episcopal Church of Cuba to develop ways to assist with some of the many needs there. A handful of those needs include reliable transportation for clergy, church infrastructure, educational opportunities, textbooks, computers and vestments.

On three of the prior trips, Solomon was joined by School of Theology seminarians. This most recent trip in January included seminarians Boyd Evans, Kate Bast, Nate Huddleston and Josh Stephens, and Winnie Smith, a 2012 college graduate of the University of the South and youth director at St. Luke’s Parish in Darien, Conn.

“We came back with some very concrete ideas,” Solomon said. For instance, each professor at the Cuban seminary was asked to submit a request for two to three books they can use in the library, and plans are developing for more visiting professors to travel to Cuba. “The level for doing something in Cuba is far greater after this trip. The momentum has increased and the support has broadened,” Solomon said.

Evans, T’16, said he was impressed with how the Cuban parishes make do with so little. He observed that some of the parishes they visited had garden ministries, which help feed and employ the local communities. He noted that several churches also had clean water ministries. “It was amazing to see how much the churches there have been able to accomplish with little to no resources. It made me feel guilty that we don’t do more with the abundant resources available to us on a daily basis,” he said.

Visiting Cuba was like stepping back in time, Evans noted, especially with many 1950s era American cars still on the road, horse and buggies still in use for transportation, and manual labor in the fields. He added that, overall, there was a vibe of contentment and satisfaction among the residents. “There wasn’t a feeling of poverty,” he said.

In addition to the seminarians, Rodríguez, Brosend, and School of Theology Instructor Donna Mote, chaplain at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, went on the trip and conducted a workshop at the Seminario Evángelico de Teología in Matanzas, which was attended by the Cuban seminarians, along with Episcopal clergy and the Bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado del Carpio. Brosend spoke on homiletics, Mote discussed pastoral care and the Book of Common Prayer, and Rodriguez covered several liturgical topics.

The group from this January trip made the Cuban seminary their residential headquarters for the week while visiting six rural parishes. Currently the Sewanee–Cuba relationship is primarily about networking and providing educational opportunities, but Solomon would love to create an exchange program for seminarians from the two seminaries.

In 2014, two visitors from Cuba came to Sewanee to continue the bridge-building, Dr. Clara Luz Ajo, a professor at the Cuban seminary, and the Episcopal Bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado del Carpio. During the Advanced Degrees Program in June, Luz Ajo met with Rodgríguez and Alexander, and also participated in daily Holy Eucharists. Luz Ajo also met with Karen Meridith, executive director of Education for Ministry, about the future Spanish-language version of the Education for Ministry (EfM) texts.

Delgado del Carpio was celebrant and preacher at a noon Eucharist during her visit. She spent some time in Sewanee speaking with John M. McCardell Jr., Sewanee’s vice-chancellor. “For both of our guests, this was their first visit to Sewanee and an unparalled opportunity to get to visit our facilities, meet our colleagues, and see what we have to offer,” he said.

The University of the South has another historical tie to Cuba in its seventh vice-chancellor, the Rt. Rev. Albion Knight, who was the first Episcopal Bishop of Cuba. Knight served at the University from 1914–1922. Knight brought a global vision to Sewanee, said Jerry Smith, University of the South associate histiographer and Robert M. Ayres Distinguished Professor of the College. Smith noted that Knight was interested in creating education and economic opportunities for people on the Mountain in and around Sewanee, including a plan to set land aside for affordable housing, similar to the work he did in Cuba.

“He is important, then and now,” Smith said. “He is a very good model for The School of Theology to recall as we open up our relations with Cuba and extend our global vision.”


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