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Search for Hispanic director continues

Search for Hispanic director continues

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Search for Hispanic director continues

By Jenna De Marco | July 17, 2009 {1049}

NOTE: Headshots of the Revs. Dr. Jeff Stiggins and Gary Garay are available at

Although finding a new director of Hispanic Congregational Transformation remains a top priority for the Florida Conference, the search for the right candidate has taken longer than expected.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins

That’s been necessary in order to ensure the position is filled by a highly qualified individual, said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Office of Congregational Transformation. Stiggins is overseeing the applicant search and supervises the position.

Once the right person is identified, the conference will move quickly to complete the hiring and appointment process, Stiggins said. The position has been open since the April retirement of the previous director, the Rev. Liana Perez-Felix.

Attracting applicants for the position has been a challenge, Stiggins said, but that does not minimize the significance of the role.

“We very much want this position and see it as really important to working with Hispanic congregations and helping Hispanic leaders know that they are part of the whole church,” Stiggins said.

Rev. Gary Garay

The Rev. Gary Garay, chairman of the Florida Conference Hispanic Assembly and senior pastor at Christ Hispanic United Methodist Church in Orlando, believes the director position is critical in shaping Hispanic ministries within the Florida Conference.

“This position is important because it contains the responsibility of the strategic direction of leadership in order to cultivate a sense of urgency for the congregational transformation amongst Hispanic leaders and their congregations,” he said. “As individuals and churches, we are transformed to transform others. … This position is also important for the nurturing and equipping of the Hispanic leadership.”

Members attending the recent 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event approved a resolution by the Hispanic Assembly recommending that the conference appoint a new director of Hispanic Congregational Transformation. The resolution passed with an amendment changing the date the new director should be in place from July 1, 2009, to Jan. 1, 2010. The conference has been advertising the position since shortly after Perez-Felix’s retirement, but so far, only a few applicants have expressed interest, Stiggins said.

“The timetable, at this point, is totally in God’s hands,” he said.

Information about the position has been publicized in as many ways as possible, Stiggins said, including the conference Web site. Recently, notification of the position was given to a national group of Hispanic district superintendents and conference workers and MARCHA, an organization of Methodists concerned with Hispanic affairs. The General Board of Discipleship’s Web site also included a description of the opening under its Hispanic ministries link.

The Hispanic or Latino population is projected to comprise 24 percent of the 19.4 million people expected to live in Florida by 2013.

Mission Insite Study

The unique skill set needed for the position is one reason it is taking time to find qualified candidates, Stiggins said. Candidates must demonstrate fluency in both English and Spanish and be ordained United Methodist Church clergy.

The job description was revised this spring to reflect the suggestions of more than a dozen clergy, laity and conference staff who engaged in a discussion Stiggins called the “Hispanic Dialogue.” This group of people — six of whom were recommended by the Hispanic Assembly — will also comprise the selection committee for the position.

The director of Hispanic Congregational Transformation will “cultivate a sense of urgency for expanding both the scope and effectiveness of ministry among Hispanic persons in the Florida Conference,” according to a position summary statement.

“The idea is that this person is to help us do a better job of reaching Hispanic people — through Hispanic congregations, Hispanic missions and through (Hispanic) ministries that are in non-Hispanic congregations,” Stiggins said.

Ministering to Floridians with Hispanic origins is complex, Stiggins said, because of the wide variety of people representing this group. A Mission Insite study conducted for the Florida Conference found an estimated 3.9 million “Hispanic or Latino” people lived in Florida in 2008. Within that group, a variety of origins were represented: 26.6 percent Cuban, 15.2 percent Mexican, 21.1 percent Puerto Rican and 37.1 percent “other Hispanic or Latino.”

“The world is constantly changing. Our Hispanic churches are not the same as they were 20 years ago,” Garay said. “The composition of our communities has changed radically. The Hispanics in Florida don’t come from just one cultural background, but there is great cultural diversity. This represents a great challenge, which makes us transform our lives, our vision, and analyze the concept we have about the mission in order to see if it goes according to the context we are living in.”

The Rev. Gustavo Betancourt, minister of New Church Development for the South East District of the Florida Conference, discusses the resolution calling for a new director of Hispanic Congregational Transformation. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1249.

The “Hispanic or Latino” ethnic group is projected to be the fastest-growing segment of Florida’s population through 2013, the Mission Insite study shows, with a growth of 6.7 percent. This segment of the population will comprise 24 percent of the 19.4 million people expected to live in Florida by 2013. All other ethnic groups will experience negative or nearly flat growth in the same time period, according to the study, with the white (non-Hispanic) population declining by an estimated 8 percent.

These numbers underscore the need for the conference to deliver effective ministry to Hispanic populations. Otherwise, “we cannot be faithful in reaching the people in our communities,” Stiggins said.

Although the new director’s responsibilities may occasionally overlap with those of the Rev. Samuel Gonzalez, director of the Florida Conference’s Hispanic New Church Development, the difference in their duties is in the areas of focus.

“The person we will be looking for will work with existing Hispanic ministries … to help them be both more faithful and fruitful in the ministry to which Christ calls all congregations,” Stiggins said.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.