“Be ready to preach to the parade.” That was the counsel of my mentor and colleague, Pr. Dimas Planas Belfort (of blessed memory), as I began a bilingual ministry of Word and Sacrament in the 1980’s in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park community. This was Pastor Planas-Belfort’s concise way of preparing a younger colleague for the relentless waves of change experienced in the area’s neighborhoods.
The pastor’s pithy phrase was in part tongue-in-cheek — of course there were members of the parish (Incarnation Lutheran Church, a.k.a. Encarnación) who had lived in the area for decades, or who had roots there from birth or baptism. Others had arrived more recently, but were very much at home in the community.
But the “parade” image was not unfounded. Transition and change were ongoing (not unlike most urban communities). West Humboldt was a type of demographic fault line in those days, approximately dividing the Latino population to the north and east from the African American communities to the west and south. The northwest side congregation’s valiant effort to persevere amidst that change is evident in the fact that, since my years there (through 1991), the ELCA parish has been the host site for merged ministries that have had two additional names (Spirit of Joy and Mission of Christ). As I write these lines, the people of God at Karlov Avenue and Kamerling Street are preparing to pursue ministry at a new site (the former North Austin Lutheran Church) under yet another name, “United Mission of Christ Lutheran Church.”
In the opening decade of a new century, the public consideration of Hispanic-Latino mobility is focused primarily on immigration. Not lost on Lutherans, whether of “blue” or “red” state persuasion, is the fact that their historic congregations bear the signature of earlier immigrant waves, etched in the stone and stained glass of their sanctuaries. Is it a parade… or a pilgrimage? We who have here “no lasting city” are in fact all migrants, journeying toward a heavenly home.
With this issue, Let’s Talk begins a two-part focus on ministry and theology in the Hispanic-Latino context. We open with a question posed by Julio Cruz-Natal based on his article, “What the Lutheran Church Offers to Hispanics”. Any Lutheran seriously engaged in the Hispanic-Latino ministry context in the United States has often heard one quick response to this query, effectively answering, “Nothing, really. Aren’t they all Catholic?” A native of Puerto Rico, Pastor Cruz-Natal represents a generation of life-long Latino Lutherans. He dispels the false premise of a totally Roman Catholic Latin America. In his thoughtful “Pastoral Perspective,” our campus ministry colleague from Augustana College couches his response in both personal and communal terms. The availability and genuine welcome of Lutheran congregations can be transformative for Latinos. The care of souls (Seelssorge to generations of German immigrants) and catechesis of the believer are hallmarks of Lutheran ministry for Hispanics… and for people of all cultures and languages. “What do we offer?” It is a provocative inquiry. Let’s Talk awaits your response. We’ll include letters in the second issue addressing our theme, to be published later this year.
A sustained and substantive ministry with and to the Hispanic-Latino people will require Lutherans to commit to and invest in parish ministries, resources, programs, curricula and training for the long term. To invoke a sports image: we need to think of a distance run, not a sprint.
Lydia Rivera-Kalb highlights one such commitment, as the newly appointed director of the Multicultural Center of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In her synopsis, “Preparing for Ministry in Hispanic-Latino Settings,” Pastor Rivera-Kalb highlights an initiative which builds on preceding efforts by our Southside Chicago seminary, including the seminal Hispanic Ministry Program directed by the Rev. Roberto Navarro in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.
Diaconal ministry training is another resource through which the saints are equipped for ministry. An essay on “Diakonia” by Mike & Carol Bennett enriches “the read” offered by Let’s Talk this time around, with application to the whole church, not just to our issue theme.
Once ordained, the challenge of 21st century ministry can fatigue the most vigorous of parish pastors. How are they sustained and refreshed? A ministerium — the collegial community of pastors drawn together for mutual encouragement, study, conversation and prayer — can be a life-line of support. Pedro Suarez describes one such group, the Cofradia Catolica Reformada, which has developed in recent years from Midwestern, Lutheran Hispanic-Latino grassroots.
An ELCA pastor and liturgical scholar at Notre Dame University, Maxwell Johnson, reminds us that the faith is shared in the cultural context of Christian community. “Popular religiosity” runs parallel at times to the church’s doctrine and practice, at times supplying at the grassroots level perceived inadequacies and at times intersecting the church’s official teaching. Dr. Johnson’s paper on “Religiosidad Popular, The Virgin Mary and Lutherans” was first presented at a gathering of the Cofradia minis-terium last fall.
Antonio Cabello also addresses this theme in his paper, “Mary, Mother of God: A Confessional and Patristic Reading from a Hispanic Pastor.” He cautions against an “easy way” of dismissing Mary in our theology and liturgical practice by waving her off as being “too Catholic for us” as Lutherans, and he questions the exclusion of the Marian day of Our Lady of Guadalupe from North American Lutheran liturgical festival calendars. A parish pastor serving at Iglesia Luterana San Esteben Martir, Carpentersville, and a hospice chaplain, Pastor Cabello has years of experience as a mission developer in Hispanic-Latino communities. He boldly asserts that “Lutheran doctrine about Jesus Christ is so strong that veneration to the Mother of God only adds to the glory and place already given to the second person of the Trinity.”
How can Lutherans attune themselves to the growing Hispanic-Latino communities in their midst? When it comes to addressing the need for outreach to communities of color and of languages other than English, we have a demonstrable fondness for “strategies.” I once heard these mission plans compared to a baseball catcher setting a glove just so, providing a pitcher with a target. Dozens of ELCA synods have developed such documents, many of them addressing the Hispanic-Latino context. There’s a place for planning, but finally, the work has simply to be done. The “pitch” must be delivered. Otherwise, a paralysis-of-analysis can set in. At best, any written directives will flow from extended relationship, prayer and study by those who actually are in the Hispanic-Latino communities. And even then, such documents are only a snapshot from a given time and place.
A preliminary strategy written for the Northern Illinois Synod has been received by that synod’s outreach committee as a foundational document for doing Hispanic-Latino ministry in their portion of the Land of Lincoln. A task force has been formed which has begun to implement some elements of this strategic vision. Your issue editor is the lead writer for these notes, here titled, “Great Commission Imperatives for Hispanic-Latino Ministry.”
Our regular columnists haven’t lost their touch. They, too, enrich this edition, writing without thematic restriction. Frank Senn’s As I See It viewpoint on “The Social Dimension of Marriage”, offers food for thought en route to weddings this summer. Benjamin J. Dueholm’s On the Way piece entitled: “High Church, Low Church, ‘Long Tail’ Church?” ruminates on the inclusive intent of Evangelical Lutheran Worship to embrace the disparate worshipping communities and pieties of the church called “ELCA.”
Our theme will continue next time around. We will include a retrospective on pioneering Lutheran Latino ministry leaders of the Chicagoland area. First hand accounts of current ministry partnerships linking Illinois Lutherans with Latin American communities are anticipated. And of course, we’ll have readers’ responses, such as Thelma Megill-Cobbler to Maxwell Johnson… and your letters.
As this issue goes to press, preliminary plans are being made for a festive banquet in honor of the first twelve years of Let’s Talk. Watch for details about this autumn ’07 event. On behalf of all the members of the Editorial Council, the invitation will soon be extended: Let’s Celebrate!