Too many churches and Christian organizations have a narrow view of ministry to people in their communities, and Edgardo Colón-Emeric, assistant professor of Christian theology and senior strategist for the Hispanic House of Studies, explains why: “Many of us prefer to be surrounded by people who are just like us.”
“As an ecumenical theologian, I believe that Christian unity is not based on a common ethnicity or common language,” he says. Colón-Emeric describes his vision as “Christian unity based in God. The church is one because God is one, and the more the church is visibly one in its mission, the more the world will believe in the One who sent it. Praying and working for that unity to be more visible is the ecumenical task.”
Colón-Emeric was the first Latino to be ordained as elder in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and he currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. He frequently speaks at Latino/a pastoral retreats to support the development of Hispanic ministries in the North Carolina conference. He was the founding pastor of Cristo Vive UMC in Durham, N.C.
But his vision for ministry extends beyond North Carolina. Through his leadership in several Methodist theological initiatives in Latin America, members of the Duke community have the opportunity to teach and provide theological education for Methodist church leaders throughout Central America. He is the director of the Methodist Course of Study hosted by the Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador, which trains pastors in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama. He also directs the Methodist Pastoral Certificate Program in Guatemala.
Many students in the Th.D. program have gained teaching experience through Colón-Emeric’s leadership of the Duke-Peru Theological Initiative, a partnership between the Methodist Church of Peru and Duke Divinity School. Doctoral students also receive an expanded vision of training clergy – beyond the borders of North Carolina and the U.S. – as they support the work of the Seminario Teológico Wesleyano to prepare ministers to serve churches in Peru.
Colón-Emeric’s ecumenical ministry crosses both ethnic and denominational boundaries. His research and teaching engages the theologies of Wesley, Aquinas, and Bartolomé de las Casas in questions emerging from the Hispanic context. He has been co-chair of the ELCA-UMC joint committee and also serves in national and international dialogues between Methodists and Roman Catholics. His work explores the ways that the Christian theological tradition informs and challenges the church on issues such as poverty, justice, and inclusion of those previously considered “other.”
“I am an ecumenist because despite the sinful history of racism and denominationalism, despite the persistent laments of mainline Christianity’s decline, despite the ideological polarization of faith into conservative versus liberal, I hope that the church will be one,” he says. From his scholarship to his service to the church, Colón-Emeric helps people “make Christian unity visible” as a witness to the transformation possible by the Triune God.