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Conference hires director of Hispanic congregational transformation

Conference hires director of Hispanic congregational transformation

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference hires director of Hispanic congregational transformation

By Jenna De Marco | Nov. 19, 2009 {1106}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano is available at

After six months without a director of Hispanic congregational transformation, change is on the horizon for the Florida Conference.

Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano

The Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano, a native of Puerto Rico and well known to many Hispanic conference members and clergy, will assume the position in January.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, led the selection committee that chose Feliciano. It was Feliciano’s “proven track record as an entrepreneurial and transformational leader” that caught the committee’s attention, Stiggins said.

“Juan has a history of results,” Stiggins added. “Wherever he has gone, he has quietly, humbly made things happen.”

Feliciano, who is fluent in Spanish and English, has served in several churches and academic institutions in both Puerto Rico and the United States. In many of these positions, he launched new ministries and programs. From this he brings “a wealth of experience in the field of congregational transformation and turning around churches in Wisconsin and Puerto Rico,” said the Rev. Dr. Rinaldo Hernández, pastor of La Nueva Iglesia Cristiana del Doral in the Miami area.

Feliciano’s experience helping different groups of people find common ground “is a quality that is really valuable in the diverse, multicultural” Florida Conference, Stiggins said. Using technology well and facilitating leadership development are among Feliciano’s other relevant assets, Stiggins said.

“I think one of the strengths of his ministry is that he really believes in helping lay people discover the gifts that God has called them to invest in mission,” Stiggins said.

A key component of Feliciano’s role will be to train lay and clergy leadership within the conference’s Hispanic missions, congregations and ministries. Feliciano said learning more about these ministries will be his first priority.

“I want to get to know more of the local churches’ context and reality and leadership, both pastoral and laity,” he said. “I really want to get a chance to see the dynamics in the Hispanic congregations.”

Feliciano will also be educating congregations about the practices of fruitful churches and The Methodist Way, he said. He also intends to encourage more communication between Hispanic congregations and ministries.

To accomplish these goals, Feliciano envisions offering training and teaching events for church leaders, as well as creating written resources for their congregations.

Working with institute provided insights

Some of Feliciano’s connections to the Florida Conference stem from serving since 2006 as a consultant to the conference’s Hispanic Theological Institute.

The institute is not a place, but a group of people interested in and qualified to train leaders in the Hispanic community. It is a theological education initiative of the Hispanic Assembly, an umbrella for the conference’s Hispanic ministries. Hernández, who has known Feliciano since 1994, serves as director of the institute.

The Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano presents an infant he has just baptized to the congregation. Photo courtesy of Juan Feliciano. Photo #09-1343.

As a consultant, Feliciano has been one of the “driving forces” of the institute, Hernandez said. In addition to helping define, organize and plan the initiative, Feliciano also developed curriculum that “takes into account the actual needs of our Hispanic congregations in Florida,” Hernandez said. Feliciano has taught many of the courses, as well.

About 150 to 200 leaders have participated in these training events in the past three years, Feliciano said. Topics include Bible study, evangelism, worship, Wesleyan ethics and theology, communications, United Methodist social principles, and Christian education for youth and children. Summer meetings generate the most attendance, Feliciano said.

Education is a strength and passion of Feliciano’s. He holds five degrees, including a Master of Divinity from Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and a doctorate in education from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

“I believe in learning, and that has helped me to learn and become a facilitator,” he said.

Feliciano has also used his facilitation skills in working with the annual Hispanic family retreat and leading a Hispanic clergy couples’ retreat in the Florida Conference.

Other ties to the conference include his longstanding friendship with the Rev. Gary Garay, president of the Hispanic Assembly and pastor at Christ Hispanic United Methodist Church in Orlando. Garay expects the “good relationship” already established between Feliciano and the Hispanic Assembly members will foster a quicker, collaborative adjustment period.

Diversity, immigration provide ministry opportunities

The growing and diverse Hispanic community in Florida provides a unique ministry challenge, Feliciano said. This varied community includes people of Cuban, Mexican, Caribbean, and Central and Latin American heritage.

Specifically, frequent relocation among many people of Mexican and Central American descent makes it difficult to train and retain leaders, he said. Additionally, Hispanics immigrating to Florida may sometimes be fearful of greater involvement because of their status in the United States. Diverse theological backgrounds are also a factor, he said.

A solution, Feliciano says, can be found in the Wesleyan and United Methodist traditions. Feliciano has successfully used the five practices of The Methodist Way, he said, in churches he has served. “The grace, the mercy, the Biblical tradition is our best fortress … our best strength,” he said.

The Florida Conference must “do ministry well in the Hispanic community,” Stiggins said, in order to adequately serve a rapidly growing population. According to a June 2009 Mission Insite report produced for the Florida Conference, the number of Hispanics living in Florida will increase 6.7 percent by 2013. Hispanics currently comprise 22.1 percent of the state’s population, and by 2013 it’s estimated that percent will increase to 24.3. No other ethnicity was projected to grow faster.

The Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano poses with his wife, Anamaris Chico, and their grandson, William, after William’s baptism. Photo courtesy of Juan Feliciano. Photo #09-1344.

Hernández agrees reaching the vast Hispanic population in Florida is vital to the ministry of The United Methodist Church.

“We have some very healthy Hispanic churches in this conference, but what we are doing to reach out to the growing Hispanic population in Florida is still very little,” he said. “Our existing congregations need to be more active and really intentional in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but also, for the transformation of our own churches.”

In order to be in close proximity to the majority of the state’s Hispanic population, Feliciano will reside in South Florida, commuting to other locations as necessary. He will move there at the end of December with his wife, Anamaris Chico; two of his daughters, Yariana and Mariana; and grandson William. His oldest daughter, Ana, will be moving to other locations within the United States to pursue graduate education, while his 32-year-old son Juan will remain in Puerto Rico.

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.