“To put these findings in national perspective, there are now more Latino Protestants in the United States than Jews or Muslims or Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined,” the study reported.
Cookie Santiago, director of Hispanic/Latino Ministries for the North Carolina Conference, believes the United Methodist Church could have great appeal to Hispanics if they knew more about it. In Mexico and many parts of Central and South America, the Methodist Church is virtually unknown. Nationwide, the UMC officially had only 45,417 Hispanic/Latino members in 2002, up 40 percent from 1996, but that number is believed to be significantly undercounted because it does not include Hispanic members in shared facilities, multicultural congregations, non-Hispanic/Latino congregations and new faith communities that are not yet chartered congregations.
The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Santiago says she was drawn to Methodism as an adult because she found it an intelligent and appealing form of Christianity, a thoughtful middle way between Catholicism and Pentecostalism. Wesleyan notions of grace, she says, speak with particular power to an immigrant population, struggling to find its way in a strange and often graceless land.
Ultimately, however, the issue for United Methodists is not about numbers or evangelism or “marketing” to a fast-growing segment of the population, she says. Instead, it’s simply about what the church is called to do and to be.
“I might be a little idealistic,” says Santiago, “but ever since I was a little girl, I’ve believed that if we are to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, then it doesn’t leave much room for questioning who our neighbor is.”
Like Santiago, Colón-Emeric says the question Methodists need to ask is not “Should we be in Hispanic ministry?” but “Who is our neighbor?”
Increasingly, for many Methodist congregations throughout the United States, that neighbor is Hispanic, says Colón-Emeric. For more and more United Methodist churches, Hispanic ministry is parish ministry.
The Rev. Rosanna Panizo D’98, pastor of Cristo Vive UMC, a Hispanic ministry in Durham that meets in borrowed space at St. Paul UMC, knows what Colón-Emeric is talking about. The neighborhood around St. Paul—the Bragtown area north of I-85—has undergone great change over the past decade and is now about 30 percent Hispanic/Latino, she says.