An Invitation to Reflect on our Practice of Ministry in the 21st Century
The most recent US Census (2010) reported that the Hispanic/Latino population is becoming the largest minority group in the United States. This is a sensationalist claim, but not because the population projections aren’t true. While Hispanic and Latino communities keep growing in numbers, this increase in population is not being driven by migration, as many people assume. Instead, it is attributable to a younger population and higher birth rate.
The US Census Bureau reported that, by the end of the year 2012, 63 out of every 100 Hispanics living in the United States were between the ages of 18 and 27. Living in a predominately English-speaking society, cross-cultural children born in the United States naturally become bilingual, with English as their primary language. This shift from immigrant to native born was already apparent as early as the year 2000. It is now reshaping the composition of the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States. This shift in the population is challenging the current strategies and outreach programs of The United Methodist Church.
A Changing Landscape
It is almost impossible for The United Methodist Church to maintain its institutional relevancy if it continues to rely on the ministerial paradigms of 100 years ago. Unfortunately, many of our denominational leaders show a lack of awareness about this new profile of Hispanics and Latinos living in the United States. Some persistently invite foreign pastoral leaders—whose practice of ministry is mainly in Spanish—to found and shepherd new US Hispanic/Latino congregations. However, these pastors all too often lack the basic cross-cultural and theological training needed for the task. Often they desperately try to mirror a core of doctrines and liturgical acts that are significantly different from our Wesleyan tradition.
Just as members of the mass media are beginning to show a disposition to reinvent themselves in order to survive and thrive, the church also needs to respond effectively to the spiritual needs and expectations of our Hispanics and Latinos, who together represent 17 percent of the general US population. Flexibility, veracity, and respect are key ingredients in any type of relationship. Becoming flexible enough in our perception and understanding to embrace the new, distinctive, US-born Hispanics and Latinos will empower us to strengthen our relationships with them as individuals, parents, educators, and religious leaders, both within our own communities and with the rest of society.
Taking Meaningful Steps
As this new ethnic reality arises, it parallels the needs and expectations of The United Methodist Church in the United States for church growth. As a result, the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry must redirect its creativity, energy, and resources to meet the spiritual needs of Christians in the United States today. The National Plan needs to increase its scope, reinvent its methodology, and contextualize its mission and role in society.
As the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry committee has reaffirmed, our commitment to annual conferences, districts, and local congregations continues. We will still provide the necessary and properly focused level of accompaniment for their Hispanic/Latino ministries. Yet, we are also mindful that the rapidly changing make-up of this young population is pressing us, as the body of Christ, to hold our third national consultation. So, from March 12 to 14, 2015, the III National Consultation on Hispanic/Latino Ministry will be convened at the Divinity School of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The main purpose of this consultation is to provide the sacred space required to originate a communal process of reflection and dialogue. In this sacred space, in this new millennium—in light of the new composition of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States and in society in general—we hope to find effective ways to rearticulate our theological and ministerial understanding.