Program Responds to Growing Need for Hispanic Leadership in The United Methodist Church

January 18, 2012

By Helen R. Neinast*

Students in the Spanish-language Bachelor of Theology program come from all across the United States from a wide variety of ministry settings. Some are just starting their formal theological education while others have years of training in certification programs and United Methodist Course of Study work.
The program, co-sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica and offered in collaboration with the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, is in its fourth year. Designed for pastors whose primary language is Spanish, this program presents new avenues for additional theological education at the Master of Divinity level at any of the 13 United Methodist seminaries. It also can provide a way to associate and full conference membership in The United Methodist Church.
"This specialized program provides a way for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry to respond to the growing need for Hispanic leadership in The United Methodist Church," said Saul Espino, GBHEM's director of specialized ministries. "Students in this program are already superb leaders both in their churches and in their communities; their continuing education in the Bachelor of Theology, along with mentoring, prepares them for candidacy toward full membership in their annual conference."
The Rev. Lourdes Calderon of the New Mexico Conference was recently accepted as an associate member as a result of her participation in this program. She pastors two local churches and is coordinator of Hispanic/Latino ministries for the conference.
"I tend to a very marginalized community where immigration issues affect most families. My training in the Bachelor of Theology program . . . has been a great way to continue my formation [as a pastor.] What is meaningful to me about worshiping and studying with fellow students is that we are united in the same cause, to be instruments of God to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the places we serve. We tell our stories and each one of us learns from and supports the others," she said.
For the Rev. Eliud Martinez, the Bachelor of Theology program has "given me new tools to analyze and understand the reality of the immigrant community that resides in the United States. Now I can understand better their religious beliefs and cultural diversity. We [students] come with great enthusiasm to learn and to share our experiences. It makes us better pastors." Martinez is a local pastor in Crossville, Tenn.
The Bachelor of Theology program is under the supervision of Rena Yocom, assistant general secretary, GBHEM, and is administered by Espino. Both are staffers in GBHEM's Division of Ordained Ministry. In addition to the courses offered in Nashville, there are required residence courses at the Latin American Biblical University and classes offered through distance education.
There are 29 active students in the program. A total of 16 semester hours is offered each year, and six students are expected to earn their Bachelor's Degree of Theology by 2013.
*Neinast is a writer and a consultant for organizations and individuals dealing with structural and internal change. A published author, she lives in northeast Georgia.