Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Latinos targeted for evangelical conversion

Bishops adopt $3.5 million plan to evangelize Latinos/Hispanics
By Jerald Hyche, Episcopal Church, July 13, 2009

[Episcopal News Service -- Anaheim, California] Despite concern that the money might not materialize, the House of Bishops on July 13 called for a $3.5 million commitment to evangelizing the nation's burgeoning Latino/Hispanic population that includes the creation of 46 new congregations over the next three years.

Resolution D038 was also approved by the House of Deputies, but now needs to be funded in the 2010-2012 budget. If it is, the church's Strategic Vision for Reaching Latinos/Hispanics would:

* Seek to increase the number of active Latino/Hispanic congregations to 354, a 15 percent increase from the existing 308;
* Target 100 small, predominantly white churches surrounded by high Latino/Hispanic populations by helping them draw neighboring minorities with a goal of increasing membership by 30 percent;
* Provide the marketing tools and leadership training necessary to create and sustain such growth, which would be overseen by a new ministry team within the Office of Latino/Hispanic Ministries.

"It's evangelism at its best," said Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina. "Here is a way that the average small church that may be predominantly Anglo can actually begin to open its doors and go forth and reach and embrace people who are right there in the neighborhoods. This is a way to go forth and make disciples of all nations, and you don't have to go more than a block to do it."

Retired Bishop Steven Charleston agreed: "This is not a program to others; this is a program coming from within our own church. We are a Latino church. We are a Hispanic church. They are us, and it's not a separation here. We're really empowering ourselves."

The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillén, program officer of Latino/Hispanic Ministries, said in an interview that "the exceedingly strong support of both houses demonstrates the excitement and the urgency of the ministry before us. My heart is full of joy because this vote affirms that this is the church's mission."

But Bishop George Councell of New Jersey and a member of the Program, Budget and Finance (PBF) Committee, offered a sobering perspective about hopes for such a program in light of substantial cuts proposed in the budget.

"We're about to be deeply disappointed," Councell said. "The budget is a document that is fully grounded in reality. And these things we're so enthusiastic about right now are going to be very hard if not impossible to fund. Applause and speeches and sermons and excitement are the best part of this convention. But when we present that budget, we're going to see another side of this convention and our lives. It's in our hands."

Bishop Keith Whitmore of Atlanta, also a PBF member, agreed with Councell about the reality of the yet-approved budget for 2010-2012, but said shortfalls still should not stifle a vision about the church's priorities.

"I hope we'll stop the nervousness around unfunded mandates," he said. "We need to make a statement to the church about what we think is important."

The Rev. Jerald Hyche is associate rector of St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Houston.

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