We are in this together
New Latino ministries and other ethnic-specific
and multicultural ministries are taking root as
a result of the ELCA’s training of mission
“If you know how to fix shoes, you have to be a shoemaker. You don’t want to fix cars,” he says. “I’m a Latino. I speak Spanish. There’s no way I can do an African American ministry. At least that’s my bias.”
But it wasn’t until he attended an ELCA training for mission developers — people working to start or renew ELCA congregations — that he started looking at Latino ministry differently.
“As I learned with you guys, we have to try to do something different. We have to try to think outside of the box,” he says.
By “you guys,” Alfredo means ELCA Lutherans.
Alfredo is a recent graduate of the master of divinity program at Seattle University where he studied to become an Episcopal priest. In the summer of 2013, he was one of a group of Episcopalians who attended the ELCA mission developer training. The Episcopal Church is one of six denominations with which the ELCA has a full communion partnership.
“In the school of theology we learn about this high systematic theology,” Alfredo explains. “We focus on spirituality, but once you finish, you don’t know what to do. You don’t have the tools to create something. You have all of this wonderful knowledge and all of these beautiful books, but no tools.”
Alfredo was excited to get those tools at the training. Then later in the summer he traveled to Chicago to meet with ELCA Lutherans again — this time at a training specifically for Latino developers.
“One of the things for me that was interesting as an Episcopalian is that the Lutherans are focusing on the book of Acts. They are about mission, mission, mission. Go! Go! Go!” he says.
“I came here from Mexico 20 years ago. As an immigrant, you start to figure out how to open your own business because you think, ‘Nobody’s going to hire me.’ That’s the philosophy. You start trying to open restaurants, open businesses, different kinds of things. You have a different experience when you’re an immigrant. My immigrant experience and my experience within the Episcopal Church gave me an entrepreneurial spirit. So the idea of mission for me is really entrepreneurial.”
After the training, Alfredo returned to Seattle inspired to get to work.
Prior to attending seminary, Alfredo worked for the consulate of Mexico. His job was to go out into communities and build relationships. “Within that context,” he says. “I discovered that the demography in Seattle is that we have a lot of Latino professionals here. They have master’s degrees, they have Ph.Ds.”
In addition, he says, there’s a large group of “New Generation Latinos” - 18 to 34-year-olds who, he says, “speak English well and are fully immersed in the American culture but embrace their Latino culture.”
Alfredo began thinking about reaching these populations differently. Rather than creating another Spanish-speaking worshiping community, he wants to create a worship experience that recognizes Latino people as English-speakers who embrace their respective cultures.
“People travel to Nicaragua. They travel to Mexico. They try to learn the language and the culture. Culture is not about language. It’s about an experience,” he shares. “I want to create a ministry that is a bridge between cultures, in which we can worship together.”
Of course, right now this ministry is only an idea. But the fact that Episcopalians and Lutherans can come together to share these ideas is inspiring for Alfredo.
“This is God’s church,” Alfredo says. “It’s not our church. It’s God’s ministry. Being over there in the conference, I said, ‘Wow, I can work with Lutherans. We can work in co-ministry. We can do something together. We are in this together.”
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