“That’s God himself knocking at the door,” says Panizo. “The mission field is here. The world is my parish, and the world is here.”
Joey Shelton, co-director of field education, says the divinity school’s new efforts in Hispanic ministry are aimed at helping students prepare for ministry in that changing world right outside the door.
“It only makes sense that we give our students the tools to engage all people,” he says. “We’ve long helped all our students understand and appreciate the importance of varied church traditions and of worship with diverse people. Now, we need to give them more tools to engage the growing Hispanic population.”
The four field education placements and the overseas language immersion may not necessarily produce pastors who go directly into Hispanic ministry—though that would be wonderful, says Shelton. But in whatever context these students eventually serve, they will be equipped to help congregations work toward being in ministry with others.
“Wherever God is leading us,” says Shelton, “these students will be leaven for the long term.”
Whatever the context, Hispanic ministry is difficult ministry, with many challenges rooted in issues of poverty. As a 2003 report on Hispanic ministry from Duke Divinity School’s Pulpit & Pew Project noted, “Overall, the Hispanic community remains disproportionately affected by poverty, low education levels, poor health and discrimination.”
At Cristo Vive, for example, the congregation is mostly first generation immigrants from Central and South America, working poor who are employed in area hotels, restaurants and construction trades. The church has 26 members and about 35 attend its weekly worship service on Sunday afternoon, but it serves about 129 families through various ministries including tutoring, English as a second language classes, adult literacy classes, preschool readiness, and children and youth programs.
Those served by the ministry live difficult and unstable lives, says Panizo. Many are undocumented workers, living “on the margins,” fearing deportation, and frequently moving in search of better jobs.
In some ways, the challenges of Hispanic ministry are the same as in any ministry, differing only in degree, says Colón-Emeric. Financial issues, pastoral formation, lay leadership and other challenges exist in all congregations, but are much more intense in Hispanic ministry. Few Hispanic ministries have their own building or the means to build one. Once started, such ministries are difficult to sustain.
The usual United Methodist expectations regarding a congregation’s ability to support a pastor and become self-sustaining don’t work in an impoverished community. While 100 members might support a typical Methodist congregation, that’s too few for most Hispanic ministries.
“You can’t expect 100 people who make $1,000 a month working 12-hour shifts, six days a week, to be able to support a pastor,” says Panizo.