Last week I received an email from a colleague in ministry. The gist of his message was, "Debbie, we want to do Hispanic ministry at my church, but we need someone to lead it. Could you recommend someone to us?" Hmmmm. My response was, "Unfortunately our Spanish speaking pastors are limited. There are not a whole lot of folks out there to pull from, so I don't have a good suggestion for you. I do know a couple of pastors who are doing good work with their laity (who live closer to you than I do) who might have some suggestions."
I put the word out, but knew full well we don't have people to loan out. We particularly lack people to start new ministries, though with the size and health of most of our Latino congregations, that's what all of our pastors are being charged to do.
While I waited for responses, I started thinking about how few of us there are not just here in California/Hawaii, but nationally as well. I only know 3 people from seminary who are doing Hispanic ministry and know that nationwide conferences are looking for people who can do the ministry. Here in Cal-Pac the Hispanic ministries are in crisis. That's no secret, not to those of us who work in it anyway. We don't have any strong, healthy, vibrant congregations one would want to inherit. I mean, why would I trade my 30 person, struggling ministry for someone else's across town? We lack vision. We lack leadership (something that will hopefully change with the appointment of the new Director of Latino Ministries). We have very few folks who are ordained, a handful, maybe. And while there's nothing wrong with local pastors, I love them, but the lack of ordained folks means there's also a lack of power, clout, voice, and vote. Which is a huge problem.
In general, we do not have enough Latino ministry pastors. We have other complications as well. 1) Most of our current Latino pastors are first generation, which means they aren't fully familiar with US culture. 2) Many come from other denominations so they don't know how to negotiate an often unfriendly system. 3) A good chunk of the pastors are not fully bilingual, which isn't a criticism....it takes A LOT to learn another language, but that hinders their relationship with a) the conference b) their DS and Bishop c) English speaking churches and pastors that otherwise might be helpful d) the ordination process.
In addition to these issues, which often go unnoticed by the general population of clergy and laity (at least from my perspective), I'm of the opinion that we have a serious problem in that we do not have many, if any, second, third, fourth generation, young folks who can lead our Latino ministries. (I would say this is in large part because we don't have congregations in which these folks will/can be active...so there's no *breeding ground* (for lack of a better term) for a Methodist discipleship and subsequent leadership. I'm not talking tokenism here. I'm saying there is a HUGE population of these folks and they have been left virtually untouched by the church, and that's not okay. Seriously.
Hispanic/Latino ministry is a hugely complicated endeavor. There are differences and distinctions at every turn--dialect, nation of origin, 1st generation vs. 2nd-nth generation immigrants, those that fully embrace their Latino heritage and those that have fully assimilated and don't even claim to be Latino. Cultural rubs. Different levels of integration. The list goes on. It's no simple matter, which means it's no simple ministry. As such, we need folks who guide us, teach us, and inspire us in each of those areas. We need folks from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, etc. We need first generation folks, we need 2nd generation folks. We need those who shout "viva la raza" and those who don't. Because it's only in being representative and diverse in who we are as the church that the *others* will begin to see themselves as fitting in this strange community of believers.