Hispanic Ministry in the Episcopal Church has not grown at the same rate as the population in the United States, says a group of concerned bishops. Their report, A Wake Up Call: Hispanic Ministry, Atlanta, April 16, 2001, Easter Monday, is here excerpted.
We, a group of bishops committed to the mission of the Church especially among Hispanic peoples in the USA, meeting in Atlanta on the day after the Easter Sunday, 2001, feel compelled to make the following declaration:
Two recent events have moved us to take this step: the Census 2000, and the last General Convention in Colorado. The Census 2000, with its tremendous increase in ethnic population, has caught many people by surprise... The projection is that by the year 2050 there will be in this country 80 million people of Hispanic ancestry.
At General Convention, the Church was urged to double its membership by the year 2020. Perhaps it was a providential coincidence that in the Convention of l979 celebrated in Denver, the Church was also challenged to initiate, in a more strategic manner, the Hispanic Ministry. Since then, this ministry has grown in most dioceses. Yet we are not satisfied. We are not satisfied because the Hispanic Ministry’s growth has not mirrored the growth in the Hispanic population...
We believe that the following factors help determine the particularity of this ministry:
a. Language. It is imperative for Latinos/Hispanics to learn English, but it is also our obligation to preach the gospel to first generation immigrants in their own language. When is the Church going to awake up and meet the urgency of this challenge?
b. Culture. Everybody feels comfortable in his or her own culture. This is self-evident. The culture has molded our personality. Only a person with a strong character and a broad intellectual education might be able to overcome the anxiety we experience in an alien environment.
c. Overwhelming immigration. As we mentioned above, the presence of the Hispanic immigration is evident in almost any place and the projections of future population is astounding. We need to work with the present and plan for the future.
d. Poverty. The Episcopal Church in the United States is often thought of as the Church of the affluent. Traditionally we have helped the poor through social agencies, but on rare occasions, we have made an effort to include them into our membership. Now that large masses of poor knock at the doors of our churches, we don't know what to do with them...
We believe that this is a blessed and providential moment for our Church. If we renew our commitment to the Hispanic Ministry, our Church will flourish and it will help us to achieve the challenge of the General Convention. We call upon the Presiding Bishop to convoke a national Hispanic/Latino Missionary Conference as soon as possible and to appoint a representative committee with enough resources to plan, organize and prepare such event.
To overcome certain obstacles we recommend the following:
Mission attitude. Unfortunately many of our parishes have developed throughout the years a sort of "maintenance culture." These congregations of devout Christians are resting in their traditions and customs of years past. They feel happy in their environment and content with their accomplishments. As a rule, they do not face major economic hardships and some live out of their own endowments. Unfortunately, these good Episcopalians do not even think of the possibility of expanding the kingdom of God with new blood, with new faces, with new people who are different from them. We need to adopt a missionary attitude.
Welcoming attitude. We would like to think that there is no racism in our Church, however, in l994 the House of Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter on The Sin of Racism, in which it recognized that while in the past various resolutions were passed inviting people to join the Episcopal Church, it was done with the assumption of being assimilated into the system. The message, in essence, has been "You are welcomed to become like us." "Such efforts may have represented progress in their time, but they are seen by many today as the product of a dominant racial attitude, which is at the heart of institutional racism."
The Episcopal Church must welcome the new Hispanic/Latinos as it has welcomed us in the past in our countries of origin. More emphasis must be done to foster vocations for the ordained ministry and to provide the new Episcopalians with adequate literature for their formation and nurture.
Commitment. We are glad that the Hispanic ministry continues to be a missionary imperative in some dioceses and we are grateful to those bishops who have done an outstanding job in supporting it morally, financially, and pastorally. We believe that we as bishops have a strong moral power among our people and clergy. If we strongly urge parishes to initiate and support this ministry, many will follow.
Hope. Those of us who love the Episcopal Church believe that still there is hope. And there is hope not only for the Hispanic mission but also for the Episcopal Church to grow and flourish. All that is needed is a change in mentality. We must abandon our status quo to become a dynamic force impelled by the passion of the gospel. In other words, we must become a Church in state of mission; that is, a missionary church.
Let us by the power of the Holy Spirit be once again a truly universal Church that like her Lord, welcomed with open arms, all sorts and conditions of people for the glory of God. Let us pray that the Lord will grant all of us "a new heaven and a new earth" in our firm determination to know Christ and to make him known.
Your bishops and friends: Leo Alard, Texas; Onell Soto, Alabama; Wilfrido Ramos- Orench, Connecticut; Víctor Scantlebury, Chicago; William J. Skilton, South Carolina, John Said, Southeast Florida.