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Church must continue reaching to Hispanics, commission told

9/30/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

For related coverage of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, see UMNS stories #461 and #464. A photograph of the Rev. Minerva Carcano.

By Linda Bloom*

HOUSTON (UMNS) - When the Rev. Minerva Carcano was growing up in Edinburgh, Texas, there were two Methodist churches in town - one for Hispanics and one for "Anglos."

She was thrilled when the two churches joined forces for vacation Bible school - held during the first summer at her own church and the second summer at the other church, which she had never been inside before.

Her joy turned to dismay when it became clear that the school's final program would be confined to the fellowship hall because the Anglo congregation "did not want their sanctuary soiled by brown children."

Carcano, now almost 50 years old and serving as a United Methodist clergywoman in the Oregon-Idaho Conference, recalled that experience of her youth during the Sept. 25-28 meeting of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Her presentations and Bible studies were part of an emphasis during the meeting on Hispanic United Methodists, particularly women. The denomination has encouraged the growth of Hispanic members and congregations during the past decade through its National Plan for Hispanic Ministry.

The Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie, a commission member from Dallas, pointed out that Latinos and Latinas would soon be the majority population in Texas, and she added that if the church is serious about its call to make disciples for Christ, it must be serious about mission with this population.

Trevino-Teddlie, director of the Mexican-American Program at Perkins School of Theology, led commission members through part of "Pentecost Journey," a basic resource that she helped put together for the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry. The curriculum sensitizes congregations to issues relating to Hispanics.

Carcano said she has celebrated the improvements in her own life because of her faith and involvement in the church, but stressed that she knows "people of my generation" who continue to struggle and live in poverty.

That struggle has intensified with the economic decline of recent years, she added, recalling church families who were "working hard but not making it."

Maria Cantu, a candidate for lay missioner from Vida Nueva United Methodist Church in Houston, agreed that poverty, along with immigration status and difficulty with language, were the major problems faced by Hispanics today. She participated in a panel discussion with two other local Hispanic women and two Hispanic commission members.

But the Mexican native and grandmother of 11 had high praise for the freedom she felt within the church. "As Hispanic women, we are now free to express ourselves - we can preach, we can teach," she told commission members. "All women, Hispanic or not, have gifts to bring to the church."

Irma Turrubistes, a pastoral leader at Vida Nueva, also sees value in her neighborhood evangelistic work and involvement in the church, despite the lack of economic resources. "One of the reasons I have come to the United Methodist Church is that I see a big future," she said.

The Rev. Maria T. Santiago, a commission member from Puerto Rico, still finds barriers for women, both inside and outside the church. In Puerto Rico, for example, men usually are pastors of the big churches, while "women tend to be sent to missions, sometimes impossible missions. We go where nobody wants to go.

"We have to empower ourselves," she added. "No one is going to do it for us."

Even low-income women can empower themselves. Turrubistes noted that every morning a small group of women comes to her home to pray, eat and prepare for the tasks of the day. In the church itself, about 35 women sell food to raise money for mission. "It's the women who are doing it," she said. "They come with their children."

In the neighborhood around Central Park United Methodist Church, the Rev. Guadeloupe Diaz has been organizing the women and other residents, many of them immigrants, for the past four years. Programs range from a counseling program for abused women to preschool classes to spiritual guidance. "We never close our doors, even if we can't pay our bills," Diaz said.

Commission members visited Central Park and witnessed the work that has been put into the building, with the help of volunteer labor and a $25,000 grant. As she showed them around, Diaz mentioned it was not unusual, on a given day, to have a viewing organized by a nearby funeral home take place in the sanctuary as preschool kids played in the social hall and women prepared meals in the attached kitchen.

Commission members also visited Iglesia Metodista Unida San Marcos, the first Hispanic church chartered by the Texas Annual Conference in 1989. In addition to a meal and lively worship, the Rev. Silverio Sanchez shared his journey from Mexico to the United States and from small-business owner to pastor.

He told how his congregation bought and converted a former bank building into a house of worship. "We're still in the saving business," he quipped.

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*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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