Hispanic Heritage Month reminds all of their profound impact on the UMCConference News Leadership Missions and Outreach
Add Latinos -- the term used to describe those who hail from Latin America - Central America, South America, and the Caribbean – and the figure jumps to 26.2%. And projections say both figures will keep increasing.
It is both a challenge and a major opportunity for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. And as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month through Oct. 15, all United Methodists need to appreciate the contributions and diversity Hispanics bring to the FLUMC big tent.
|Rev. Dr. Rinaldo "Rini" Hernandez|
"We currently have 60 Latina/Latino pastors serving in the Florida Conference: 32 are serving predominantly Spanish speaking churches, five are doing bilingual ministry, 20 Latinas/Latinos serve predominantly English-speaking churches, and three are on Extension Ministries," Conference Director, Latino/a Ministries Rev. Dr. Rinaldo "Rini" Hernandez said.
"In many places where Latino/a pastors are serving predominantly English-speaking congregations, Hispanic people in the community feel attracted to get to know this Latino/a person who is pastoring this church, potentially opening opportunity for multicultural, multilingual ministry."
One major success story involves Tamiami UMC in Miami.
There, Rev. Dr. Edwin Cotto helped make the church a fixture in its community by looking outward instead of just inward.
"We provide food, clothing, furniture, and guidance for aid provided by government agencies and employment opportunities," he said.
|Rev. Dr. Edwin Cotto|
"In addition, we guide them in their spiritual life and provide them with a family environment so that those who wish to be part of the church have a healthy and pleasant environment and with the opportunity to participate in various ministries."
That has not been without significant challenges, though.
He was appointed to Tamiami in 2019, and just as things were picking up, COVID-19 came along.
"Significantly, I received the church at a critical moment with a very small number of faithful. When the church began to have sustained growth in 2019, in March, we were forced to close the temple and continue our programming virtually," he said.
"In our community of Little Havana, the indicators of highest contagion in Miami-Dade County were reflected. The fear of contagion has been a deterrent to the entire congregation gathering as many have preferred to participate in services from their homes and technology."
That complication didn't stop the growth, though.
"Despite COVID 19, we started nine new members, and we have a new group to become part of," Rev. Cotto said.
"The church continues to meet and serve the community and a group of immigrants from Venezuela, Ecuador, and Chile. We are grateful for God's care."
Riverside UMC is another success story.
"Both churches are located at the heart of what used to be Little Havana, which in time has turned to become more multinational and primarily Central American immigrants, documented or not," Hernandez said.
"These two churches are doing outstanding ministries connecting with their communities, understanding their needs, and providing opportunities for sharing Christ through concrete actions of service. Revs. Victor Gonzalez and Edwin Cotto have been very active in mobilizing their leadership and congregations to understand the transitions going on in the community and provide opportunities to be present with them in their needs."
A study by the University of Florida predicts the Hispanic population will significantly outpace the state's non-Hispanic white and black populations over the next 25 years.
The study cited both migration and high birth rates among what it said is a relatively young group of migrants.
It projects that Miami-Dade County will experience the largest increase, where the number of Hispanics is projected to increase by nearly 900,000. Other large counties, including Broward, Orange, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach, also will experience strong growth.
But it won't stop there.
The UF study predicts smaller counties will experience large-scale percentage increases as well. Osceola (281%), Flagler (257%), and Lake (217%) counties could lead the way by 2030.
The Florida Conference considers that an opportunity for growth and service.
"The most important challenge, in my estimation, is how to reach out to Latinos/as in their communities who are not connected to any faith community," Hernandez said.
"And how can we expand the Kingdom by starting Fresh Expressions or other forms of gathering in communities near the church location? We have Latinos/as now in Florida in almost every community, big, medium or small, and Kingdom expansion and multiplication is one of our primary challenges."
He acknowledged the "multiple challenges" facing UM churches to meet this need.
"Churches need to be open to multicultural ministries," he said. "There is the challenge of worshipping and doing ministry in more than one language, as the first language of our second- and third-generation Latinos/as is primarily English. Related to that is the challenge of being relevant to people from all generations, not just first-generation Latinos/as.
"Many of our pastors are adapting to new ways of doing ministry - the use of technology for worship, discipleship, and spiritual growth; serving migrant workers and other undocumented populations; worship in more than one language, and so on."
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org.
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