The Rev. Antonio Cabello is pastor of San Esteben Martir (St. Stephen the Martyr), ELCA, 225 S. Kennedy Drive (IL Route 25), a congregation of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod located in the northwest suburb of Carpentersville, Illinois. The people of God at San Esteben gather for the Holy Eucharist on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. in English and at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. in Spanish.
A Saturday Eucharist is celebrated in Spanish at 12:00 noon in Elgin, Illinois, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, with the strong support and encouragement of Pastor Arthur Puotinen. The congregation provides a variety of community ministries, including counseling for domestic abuse and individual counseling through Alexian Brothers Parish Services.
After his internship in El Paso, TX, Pastor Cabello served congregations in Ontario and Escondido, California. He is married to the Rev. Neris Diaz-Cabello. They are the proud parents of Crystal, Antonio, Jr., and Celso. Pastor Cabello can be reached at email@example.com.
New Beginnings / Nuevos Comienzos
LT: Pastor Cabello, tell us about the history and ministry of San Esteben Martir.
PC: When I arrived at St. Stephen’s in September of 1998 there were about twelve persons worshiping at that time. There was one family who was Hispanic and the rest were of Swedish or German Lutheran descent. Basically they were just “holding the fort.” The idea of ministry redevelopment had been suggested to them, but they were hesitant.
LT: What was the climate or spirit of the parish at that time?
PC: There was a lot of tension in the parish community…enough tension that it even had spilled into the local press. No one wanted to go to a church that was airing its conflicts in the newspaper. When I came, we tried to get some of the long-time members involved – with mixed results. We started very slowly to offer one liturgy in Spanish at 11:00 a.m. In time, more people began worshiping regularly, especially families with youth and young children. We grew to about 250 people in two years. Then we went to 300 and leveled off there. We have 1,200 people in our registry. Like many congregations, there is a lot of coming and going.
Transitions / Transiciones
LT: It sounds like you have experienced significant transitions. How has congregational lay leadership developed during your ministry?
PC: The leadership of the parish changed from Anglos to Hispanics. Some of the Mexican American people on the council were born in this country. The congregation itself has become very flexible, making necessary adjustments along the way as needed. We did a lot of outreach at the beginning to first generation Spanish-speaking people. Now we are reaching out more and more to second generation Hispanics who are more comfortable in English. They look for pastoral guidance in English. They are more stable than those who have recently immigrated, those who are new to the country. However, both groups face crisis and transition.
Immigration / Inmigración
LT: In your ten years of pastoral leadership, has there been a continuing influx of new immigrant Hispanics?
PC: Yes. Hispanic immigrants continue moving in despite the discrimination experienced in Carpentersville. The town has been notorious for this. Some, even if they have documents, choose to live in another town so as not to be bothered.
LT: Carpentersville, Illinois might be named among a trio of US cities that have contemplated or taken official action against immigrants: Postville, Iowa and Hazel-ton, Pennsylvania come to mind.
PC: But you see, they tried here but never enacted ordinances. The discussion created such resentment among the people. Recently in Chicago, when I met someone from another parish, I mentioned, “I am from Carpentersville, do you want to go on a retreat with us?” They answered “Never in Carpentersville!” It is notorious in this state among Mexican-Americans that this town doesn’t want or like immigrants.
LT: The atmosphere here was negative enough that they just moved?
PC: Yes, some of them moved to Elgin, some to Palatine—places where they felt more comfortable.
LT: Do they feel comfortable enough to come here to worship?
PC: We went from 300 worshippers down to 75 on Sundays because of the conflict and tension. We established a ministry in Elgin, trying to regain the people we lost.
LT: Who provides you with hospitality in Elgin?
PC: Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Pastor Puotinen opened their doors to us as partners in mission. We celebrate a 12:00 noon Eucharist in Spanish on Saturdays. We do picnics together. We’ll soon do our second joint Thanksgiving service. It’s a good congregation that has provided partnership with us. There is no other ELCA congregation in Elgin doing Hispanic ministry. There is an LCMS parish with Spanish language ministry.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church is an excellent example of partnership between a local congregation, the synod, and the ELCA. Bethlehem’s council and members of the congregation took up the challenge of their neighborhood and community. After many meetings with Pastor Puotinen, I was invited to speak at a council retreat about the possibilities of Hispanic ministry. Many questions and issues were raised. There was a congregational meeting to consider a partnership with San Esteben, and a decision was made to go ahead with a joint outreach venture. In addition, the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Fund for Mission and the New Start partnership brought the resources of the ELCA and the synod to our evangelical outreach witness. Together Bethlehem and San Esteben answered the call to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in creative ways to the people in Elgin. Together Pastor Puotinen and I, along with lay leadership from both of our congregations, walk the neighborhood streets to make Christ known.
Protest Comes to the Church’s Door / Protesta llega a la Puerta de la Iglesia
LT: Tell us about the recent anti-immigrant protest that came to your church’s front door. You and your congregation provided a powerful witness on behalf of justice for immigrants.
PC: A demonstration was held by the “Minutemen” in front of our church, in response to our hosting a free clinic for Mexican immigrants. We provided space for them to receive education and information regarding their legal status and how to apply for citizenship. The Mexican consulate was involved in this with us. We served 1,200 people in three days.
In addition, we provided HIV testing, medical evaluations and blood pressure screenings. This free clinic is an example of what it means for San Esteben to provide a ministry of Word and Service. We shouldn’t run away from opportunities like this. We are experiencing tremendous prejudice in our society, but as church we are called to serve the people in Jesus’ name without asking to see their green cards. If we want to be a church of the people then we need to be a serving church. Immigrant people of faith, already steeped in Christianity, bring great gifts to our church. In the metropolitan Chicago area alone, Hispanics are upwards of 1.4 million and growing. We are called to reach out, to invite, to welcome and serve.
LT: Did you know in advance that the “Minutemen” were coming?
PC: The police department called me the day before telling me that they were going to put up a yellow cord. They told us to assume that the “Minutemen” were going to be at San Esteben. We as church and community didn’t want to provoke a confrontation and of course I said, “Whatever you say, we’ll do.” We have developed a good working relationship with our local police department. I was encouraged by the knowledge that the police were going to provide protection for the people who would be served that day.
LT: What did you do when the “Minutemen” showed up?
PC: We didn’t want to give them more publicity. We stayed inside the church. We continued with the clinic. We had 25 attendants in the parking lot guarding the cars and the building. Along the way, I was scared. This was something we didn’t expect or plan for. It was the hand of God that protected us. At other places, where the “Minutemen” protested, there were altercations. They finally left after they got the attention they wanted. Because of this dramatic situation at our church, some of our members are still afraid to come to Carpentersville to worship.
LT: What kind of support did you receive from synodical leadership? Were they on the front line with you?
PC: They were notified in advance by e-mail but they were unable to be present. Pastor Puotinen from Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Elgin came to stay with us for a while and he witnessed the intentions of the “Minutemen.” We took pictures, we were in the newspaper and we shared pictures by e-mail.
Transitions, Continued / Transiciones – a continuación
LT: The immigration issue looms large. Is there another major theme or two that shapes your ministry?
PC: Well, from every struggle, there is something good that comes. We are also in ministry to a segment of the population that is underserved: Hispanics who are English speaking, but who desire to keep their Hispanic-Latino culture and heritage. Some of them come from other towns, like Bartlett. They come for the ministry we offer, centered in Word and Sacrament and the fullness of the Lutheran tradition. Many of the married couples use Spanish and English interchangeably, in varying degrees. They like the opportunity to worship in English and Spanish.
LT: So the use of the two languages, Spanish and English, is a dynamic, changing reality?
PC: Let me give you an example. Ten years ago we asked how many of the children wanted their homework for First Communion in Spanish. Out of twenty-five, we had two who wanted their homework in English and the rest preferred Spanish. In the current First Communion class there only are two who want their homework in Spanish; the rest prefer English. These students are coming from the same extended families that came ten years ago. Their assimilation and the process of learning and using English have diminished their use of Spanish.
LT: How do you maintain Hispanic culture (Hispanidad) given the acculturation process and a preference for English? Can these two be maintained?
PC: Yes! That is the issue we are trying to balance. This is a new area of ministry for us. We want to experience the heritage in a way that is not limited to the use of Spanish. We use Evangelical Lutheran Worship with its expanded collection of hymns from Hispanic/Latino traditions and the bilingual Eucharistic liturgy (Setting 7). We provide Quinceañeras, First Communions, Presentaciones and other cultural celebrations. In these ways we hope to enjoy a living Hispanidad in the United States.
New Challenges & Opportunities / Nuevos Desafios y Oportunidades
LT: What other challenges and opportunities are you facing?
PC: We hope that our outreach in Elgin will soon reach at least forty or fifty persons worshiping on Saturday, growing to 150 in the future. Developing a multi-point ministry is a real challenge.
LT: You are known to your people as both Padre Antonio and Pastor, correct?
PC: That’s right. It depends on the background of the people. We have a lot of converts from Mormonism and they call me “Pastor.” Those coming to us from the Roman Catholic Church call me “Padre.” Those who come from English speaking evangelical churches call me “Pastor.”
LT: What support are you receiving from the ELCA churchwide staff and synod leadership as you minister on the “front line” in this context?
PC: I have been here ten years and there have been different bishops and different strategies nationally regarding Hispanic ministry. The strategies are still evolving. I would say that support was quite good at the beginning, but it weakened along the way. The needs of the people and of the congregations were not being met. That has improved during the past year due to the change of synodical leadership and a listening ear given to the Hispanic parishes and pastors. Natural Church Development (“NCD”) has been helpful to the churchwide and synodical leadership in understanding the needs and the assets of the Hispanic community.
LT: Is NCD helpful to Hispanic-Latino ministries?
PC: It hasn’t changed what I am doing, but I think NCD has helped the people of the national church hierarchy to understand what we in parish ministry have been doing for years. A key question is this: Does the ELCA really want to be Church in, with and among the immigrant Hispanic/Latino people? If so, how are we going to do this? Sometimes churchwide and synodical leadership want to be the parent. Sometimes they want to be the partner. It’s a very confusing approach to things.
LT: Does the MCS have a developed and funded Hispanic / Latino Ministry Strategy to assist San Esteben in your evangelical outreach?
PC: We are in the process of developing such a strategy for the Metropolitan Chicago Synod at this time.
LT: Who are the participants and the framers?
PC: A group of pastors and lay people along with synod staff and Bishop Miller. I am part of this group. On the day of St. Nicholas, December 6th, we will gather for Vespers and a presentation of the strategy at San Jose, Franklin Park. We will review and discuss it with the gathered pastors and lay leaders in preparation for the synod assembly in June, 2009.
LT: Where are the current Hispanic/Latino ministries in the synod?
PC: We have Santa Cruz, near Midway Airport; Trinidad, Humboldt Park; Esperanza de Santa Maria, West Humboldt Park; Zion – Cristo Rey, Lawndale; St. Francis of Assisi, Aurora; Sagrado Corazon, Waukegan; St. Stephen the Martyr, Carpen-tersville; St. Andrew, West Chicago. These congregations have been in place for a number of years.
LT: Are you confident that the strategy will be approved by the 2009 synod assembly?
PC: I am very hopeful that the strategy will be approved in June 2009. It will be important to have the investment and support of leaders from each of our synod’s conferences.
LT: Can you say a little more about how the strategy is going to be funded so that it is more than just a paper document?
PC: At this point we are discussing funding. I hope that sufficient monies are approved so that we can have a strong beginning as we implement the strategy.
LT: What are some “growing points” that Hispanic/Latino pastors, lay leaders and, for that matter, all of us need to face as we move toward the second decade of the 21st century?
PC: Because many of us come to the Lutheran Church from other Christian churches, we need to develop a clearer understanding of what it means to be a Hispanic/Latino Christian who is also a confessional Lutheran. Some of us come to the Lutheran Church with antagonistic feelings toward the Roman Catholic Church and we want everyone to feel the way we do. Others of us come from Evangelical or Charismatic/Pentecostal backgrounds and want our congregations to look like the churches we left. That’s why all of us need to grow in our understanding and respect for each other’s spiritual journeys, and dialogue together about how best to be Hispanic/Latino Lutherans enriching the Lutheran way of being Christian with our spiritualities and cultural gifts.
We also should be in dialogue with the ecumenical church, with our sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Wesleyan, and Pentecostal traditions. We need to learn from them, to share with them, and to grow together in our common witness to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
LT: What is your best hope for Lutherans in North America as we increase our outreach to Hispanic/Latino communities?
PC: I hope that our partners in ministry will have open hearts and ears to the needs of the Hispanic/Latino people and to our spiritualities, which are our gift to the church. It is imperative that Lutherans in North America be willing to take up the cross that Jesus is giving us in serving the immigrant and the poor, and, I pray that we remain faithful to the Word of God and the basics of the Christian faith.
LT: Thank you, Pastor Cabello, for your time, for your pastoral leadership, and for sharing the witness of San Esteben Martir, Carpentersville, Illinois.