The Western Jurisdiction Hispanic-Latino Ministry Council drew up a timeline, at its 2018 annual meeting, for working on issues of Advocacy, Leadership Development, and New Communities of Faith – the three issues of its strategic plan. Participants from the California-Pacific, Desert Southwest, Mountain Sky, Pacific Northwest and Oregon-Idaho conferences joined colleagues from California-Nevada and representatives of general agencies at the Oct. 8-9 meeting, held at the United Methodist Center in West Sacramento, CA.
The Advocacy focus group – Laurie Day from Mountain Sky, Lowell Greathouse from Oregon-Idaho, and Marcelo Escarzaga of California-Nevada (Javier Olivares of Desert Southwest, also a part of the group, was unable to attend) – committed to updating the Immigration Audit by the end of the 2018 fourth quarter, and to disseminating information from the audit in the first quarter of 2019, by posting it on the jurisdiction website and asking conference communicators to share the information. The goal is to educate people throughout the West that immigration is an issue that concerns the entire jurisdiction, not just border areas, they said.
In the first quarter, too, the team wants each conference to create a 5-10-minute video of someone from that conference sharing their personal story of immigration and how it has impacted them.
The focus group will create a template for using the videos for education and discussion. Each package will include a Scripture that relates directly to the content of that video, reference to an official United Methodist position (from the Social Principles or another official source), and 3-4 discussion questions.
“The sense is, this would be a tool kit that you could use in a Sunday school class, in a small group at the church,” Day told the council, “so that, again, we can see that this [immigration] is taking place throughout the whole of our jurisdiction. White people believe – some of them – that they don’t know immigrants, and that immigrants don’t impact their lives,” she added.
Day noted that annual conferences could add onto the initial video package and create a resource utilizing multiple stories from throughout their conference.
“There is a true movement in the Church, responding to the needs of immigrants,” Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño told the council. Citing the “tremendous work” being done along the Texas border by United Methodists in that state, and calling it “really phenomenal,” she said, “We’ve been trying to move the Church, worldwide, to address this issue of immigration and refugee work, and we are finally seeing a movement in The United Methodist Church, after decades of working on this matter.”
Now, the bishop told the council, it’s time to move to the next phase.
“One of the things that is very clear to us is that our worldwide Church, because it is a worldwide Church, has an incredible potential to accompany immigrants in significant ways, from the place that they leave to the place where they land – for there are many places where they may get stuck, in between. So how do we begin to work in that worldwide network so that we accompany migrants wherever they are on this planet? It is true that most migrants, most refugees, are headed for the United States, but we’re not the only place where they head to, or where they land,” she said.
“It’s a big challenge, but I think it’s something that we can do.”
Carcaño said because of the nature of bishops’ work in residential areas all over the world, the Council of Bishops Task Force will be the lead body in helping figure out “how we’re going to build these connections.” However, that is the “big picture,” she said.
“Our more ‘micro’ picture is, how does that get lived out in the Western Jurisdiction? We are a lead jurisdiction in terms of responding to the needs of migrants, in so many ways – but what are the next steps that we need to be taking?”
Jorge Domingues, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Cal-Nevada conference, added that it is “very crucial” that the ministry council engage with the WJ Immigration Task Force – “a body that is actually also reflective of the very broad diversity of immigrants coming to our area: Hispanics, Latinos being just one [part] of that group. We are dealing, also, with a very intense migration, including undocumented migration, from the Pacific Islanders’ communities, also from Asia, and even from Europe, coming into the Western Jurisdiction through different channels.”
He said the California-Pacific and Desert Southwest conferences, both very involved with the border issues currently at the forefront, can help frame the conversation in terms of how the jurisdiction can respond with ministries that are relevant for local churches, during “this very scary moment that we are facing all over – because the raids, the detentions, they are not just happening at the border, they are happening everywhere.”
The Advocacy focus group also made plans to help the education process regarding human sexuality issues and the proposals for A Way Forward for The United Methodist Church that will be considered at a special called General Session in February.
Domingues questioned the common assumption that there is greater resistance to inclusivity within Hispanic-Latino communities – even those in the Western Jurisdiction. That is possibly true, he noted, but said the evidence of that is merely anecdotal.
“One thing that is true,” he said, “is that if there is one cultural contribution to this conversation of the whole Church that the Hispanic-Latino community offers, it is the contribution of how we handle our conversation as being part of ‘familia,’ of being part of family.”
In the Hispanic-Latino community the concept of family includes extended family, he pointed out, meaning there are many more cultural, generational, and age differences, differences related to urban versus rural living, and so on. But when the family comes together it experiences those differences and that diversity within an environment of love, he said.
“And I think that this is where the Hispanic-Latino culture can be a voice and contribute to this conversation,” Domingues said. “It is not about ‘what do you think about the inclusion of LGBTQ+ in the Church?’ because that’s a question that actually calls for people to take positions, and that divides. The conversation that takes place in the Hispanic-Latino cultural context is ‘what actually brings us together?’ and ‘why are we together?’ and ‘how [do] we handle our differences at this table, where we are experiencing different flavors, different spices, and different tolerance to those spices and flavors that we have?’ And I think that that is a conversation that puts the issue, not as ‘we have to make a decision about this,’ but as ‘how do we continue a conversation around the table?’”
Bishop Carcaño questioned whether the Hispanic-Latino community has been sufficiently resourced about all that went into the WJ Mission Cabinet’s decision to support the One Church Plan.
“I know that in this conference and, I think, as in every conference in the West, it’s been shared throughout the conference, on our web pages and that kind of thing, but has this reached our Hispanic-Latino brothers and sisters? And if it hasn’t, how do we help so that it does reach them?
“What are the things we really need to help this jurisdiction address, to engage the Hispanic-Latino voice on this critical matter between now and February?” she continued.
Manuel Padilla, representing the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, reported that the Plan had translated the Commission on a Way Forward’s report and the three proposals into Spanish – Spanish not being one of the official languages of the General Conference that receive automatic translation.
The council agreed to create a resource packet to be posted on the Western Jurisdiction website and conference websites by year’s end, to include the translations done by the National Plan (with a summary, graphs, and timeline that Padilla said were in the process of being created), a translation of the Mission Cabinet’s statement, a cover letter, question and answer section, and a video of a dialogue at Marcha West in August in which people of different ages, from different places, and from different engagements with the Church, aired their perspective on the issue.
“I really like the translation idea,” affirmed Joel Hortiales of Cal-Pac, “and also embracing the idea of familia, and also advocacy/peace – that particular concept: ‘We can handle the issue as familia.’”
Yuni Rueda, representing the Hispanic-Latino young adult ministry LaHype, agreed, saying, “I think it’s important that we keep in mind that we approach it as the familia way, because a lot of young adults still don’t know how to process [the issue].”
The Advocacy team also asked the council to partner with the Western Jurisdiction Inter-Ethnic Coordinating Committee to host a one-day dialogue event regarding human sexuality, in each annual conference, in the first quarter of next year.
“The focus would be on doing this with the Hispanic-Latino community. However, we could work with [any] conference to determine if it makes more sense, in that setting, to do it in an inter-ethnic setting,” Day said.
Path 1 representative Pax Escobar, whose background is in negotiation and conflict resolution, noted that whatever the outcome of the 2019 General Conference, there will be people who got what they wanted and others who didn’t – and all of them will feel some degree of hurt.
“How mediation happens after is going to be key to either lessen the emotional energy or to enhance it – and lead to more separation or more discontent or more animosity,” she warned. Escobar said she has suggested to Marcha leadership that mediation be taught to leaders at various levels of the Church, or that they receive some sort of other tool.
“Because we all put our bias into everything we do, without us noticing it,” she said. “And by us doing that, other people, who don’t think like us, feel like we’re not listening. And if we’re a family, then that sense of – ‘I hear you. I do not agree with you, but I hear you’ – is key. ‘I hear you; I hear what you’re saying – even if I don’t agree.’ And to do that well requires a little bit of practice, and a little bit of skill.”
Bishop Carcaño told about meeting with a group of racial/ethnic leaders last year, concerning A Way Forward. She related that at the end of the meeting, they said, “this is very painful, this is very difficult; it’s a very divisive issue in our congregations – but Bishop, if you will lead us to be focused on mission and ministry, we will not leave. We will stay.”
“They’re saying, ‘our concern is mission and ministry. And we’re willing to live with the issue of homosexuality and full inclusion, with all its complexity and even its pain, and what it causes in terms of brokenness in our community, if the Church can be focused on mission and ministry.’”
She challenged the council to be mindful of “how we keep our Hispanic-Latino brothers and sisters – all of us – focused on mission and ministry that is inclusive but is focused on our work as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Lowell Greathouse of the Oregon-Idaho conference pondered, “I wonder, then, if one of the lessons of this, but also of what happens in February – with however that ends up being – is how do we truly create a community setting that is open, and has enough time for people to share, so that the product of the work is the process.”
He told about an August meeting of about 45 people in Oregon-Idaho, from all over the world: from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, as well as all over the United States, on this topic – and the Africans, he said, did not expect to be listened to. “And that’s not what happened! So fairly quickly, after the first evening, people said, ‘This is the kind of church I would die for – to be a part of a church where I could be heard.’
“So, in our work, I guess maybe that’s the question: how do we do the work in such a way that people feel moved enough to say, ‘I would die for a church that cares about me and my culture that much.’ And that just takes time, it takes time, so that LBGTQ isn’t off the table, but it’s not the first part of the conversation.”
The Advocacy group identified incarceration as another focus for its work but admitted it does not have capacity and vision for that topic, currently, and deferred consideration of how it might engage with that issue to the second quarter of 2019.