An Urgent Need

But probably the most urgent need in Hispanic ministry—and the area where Duke Divinity School can most contribute—is formal theological education. Both the 2003 Pulpit & Pew report and a 2005 report for the Association of Theological Schools noted that the vast majority of pastors serving the Hispanic community have little or no theological education. In a poor community, few people have the education and financial resources necessary to enter seminary. In a nation that is now 14 percent Hispanic, only 3.9 percent of students in accredited ATS schools are Hispanic. Likewise, very few Hispanics are UMC pastors. According to the UMC’s National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, 88.4 percent of UMC pastors are Caucasian and 11.6 percent are “racial/ethnic.” Only 1.2 percent are Hispanic/Latino.

As ordained, seminary-educated Hispanic United Methodist pastors, Panizo and Reinoso are rare. Throughout the North Carolina and other conferences in the Methodist Church, most Hispanic ministry is conducted by lay missioners—lay people, often volunteers, who have undergone basic education in Bible study and church ministry and who are mentored by ordained pastors.

Prior to her appointment as the conference’s director of Hispanic/Latino ministry, Santiago served as a lay missioner at a United Methodist church in Jacksonville, N.C., and will start working toward ordination this summer through Duke’s Course of Study program. She says the church needs to invest in Hispanic leadership and encourage lay missioners to explore ordained ministry.

One of the primary goals of the new Hispanic Studies Program will be to take basic theological education into the community, says Colón-Emeric. Plans are still tentative, but the program intends to explore new ways to provide educational support to lay missioners and other Hispanic pastors, perhaps through weekend retreats or other venues.

At the same time, the program will be the center of scholarship and research in Hispanic theology and religion for students in the divinity school. Plans include basic and specialty classes, lecture series featuring noted Hispanic theologians, and theological and cultural exchanges with theological schools in Latin America.

Whether in the academy or in the local church, this ability to be flexible and adapt is an essential aspect of Hispanic ministry. For United Methodists, it can mean challenging the most basic preconceptions about church and what it should look like.

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