other type of ministry, can emerge and evolve in immensely unpredictably ways. As every local church is different, so to is every manifestation of Hispanic ministry. God creates the church in a diversity of ways and grows diversity in the church in providential, mysterious and diverse ways. The story of the Hispanic ministry at Chapel Hill is the story of providence, mystery and diversity in a local church. The Story Begins: Pablo and Francisco As with many of the Anglos in the story of Chapel Hill, Pablo Amor and Francisco Bienvenido’s relationship includes economic ties. They met working in a field harvesting tobacco. As they worked, Francisco talked to Pablo not just about the weather, the crops and the work, but about Jesus. This was Francisco’s mission as a pastor, his calling, to reach for the Lord those who had left Mexico (or other countries) for work in the USA. Soon Pablo began to attend a Bible study at Francisco’s mobile home and not too long afterwards, Pablo was converted from an empty Catholicism to Christianity. It is interesting to reflect on this little story. It is a pure movement story. Two guys are at work in a field in a foreign country. One is on a mission to feed his family that was still in Mexico, and the other on a mission of the Gospel to reach persons just like the first guy. This pastor was completely unsupported by anything but his call and his spouse, who was working in a nearby field. He was without legal status, without hope for


ecclesiological advancement, without a pension fund, without a salary, without a brotherhood of pastors who would come to his aid. Just him and Jesus out there chopping tobacco, looking to do what God had called him to do. Looking to do the work of the Gospel in a foreign land; searching for lost sheep. And without this moment, without the Bible study he invited Pablo to at his mobile home, without the courage on both the pastor’s and the layman’s end to let go of old ways and accept the new things in a new land, the entire story of Chapel Hill’s Hispanic ministry would never have been written. One of the major issues in the religious life of many Hispanics, including the conversion of Pablo in that mobile home, is the relationship between Protestants and Roman Catholics. In most of Mexico, there is great tension between the semigovernmental institution of the Roman Catholic Church1 and Protestant groups, which tend to be far more movement oriented. Many Catholics and Protestants in Mexico use the terms “Catholic” and “Christian” as antonyms. “Christians” are understood to be Protestants but not Catholics. Pablo had been Catholic. After he met Jesus, he became a Christian. This type of thinking was very disconcerting to me when I first became involved with Hispanic ministry and several times I questioned Pastor Francisco as to why he saw Catholics as non-Christians. When I first brought this up at our fellowship dinner one Sunday night, I think he thought I was beyond crazy to even imagine that Catholics might be Christians, but we talked through it and eventually I began to understand the huge gulf between Protestants and Catholics in Mexico. This gulf is so deeply rooted and so antagonistic as to, at times, rival the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. But I was not the only one who learned. Pastor Francisco also began to see that life in the United States does not include the kind of


religious and cultural strife between Catholics and Protestants that it does in Mexico and that Protestants can work with Catholics without compromising truth. However, for Francisco and many other Hispanics, there is a critical difference between American and Mexican Catholic churches The issues of Catholicism and ecumenism can become a point of critical failure between mainline churches and Hispanics when it comes to how to treat questions about baptism, especially rebaptism of those coming into the church from a Catholic background. The vast majority of Hispanics who become Protestants do so after having been baptized as infants in Mexico (or another country). Some do not see a need for baptism, but the normative cultural tradition in Mexico is that if a person leaves Catholicism, that person is baptized into whatever Protestant group they become a part of. This is not seen as rebaptism but as an initial baptism into the faith. I have heard two arguments for this understanding time and time again from both Hispanic pastors and laity: the first is that baptism into the Catholic Church in Mexico is not baptism into the church at all but is baptism into the society, no different from getting a birth certificate in the USA. The second reason, which I have heard so many times now that it has lost its shock value to me and which clearly shows the depth of this theological position, is that an infant baptism into the Catholic Church was a baptism into the “Church of Satan.” While I certainly do not agree that the Roman Catholic Church is in any way satanic, this is a very common perception of many, especially poorer, immigrant, Hispanic Christians. They understand the Catholic Church in Mexico to be, at the very least, a tool of darkness. This is especially true in areas of Mexico where Roman Catholicism has heavily influenced by its syncretism of Aztec and other indigenous religions, generally


southern and rural areas. Of course, not all Hispanics or all Mexicans see an absolute demarcation between Protestant and Catholic, but many, especially of the less educated and the poor, clearly understand themselves as either Christian or Catholic. This understanding creates a number of pastoral difficulties. Clearly, if a person believes that they were baptized as an infant into the Church of Satan, that person is not going to be too pleased if a pastor suggests a service of baptismal remembrance. Additionally, if a person sees their infant baptism as being no more spiritually meaningful than getting a birth certificate, there is no real reason for that person to want to remember that event either, especially when that person is living in another country. Here United Methodism faces a paradox: how are we to be true to our institutional heritage and also to the movement of the Holy Spirit within the lives of our newest communicants? Clearly, the issues surrounding rebaptism are different for those persons coming from Mexico than for persons who can honestly “remember their baptism and be thankful.”2 Perhaps in future years, the church will make provision for folks in this situation as it has for those coming into Methodism from non-Trinitarian “Christian” groups such as the Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witness traditions. In the meantime, pastoral sensitivity is essential in dealing with such issues: some persons need to be theologically challenged at this point, others have such a terror of Roman Catholicism that gentleness needs to prevail. The First UMC Carthage Chapter In the summer of 2002, several factors came together to convince Russ Cain, the pastor of First UMC in Carthage, TN, about six miles from Riddleton, that it was time for that church to begin to explore Hispanic ministry. The church had hired a Latina to be


their janitor, which had pricked the conscious of some in the congregation to get involved in Hispanic ministry. Further, George McDonald was a prominent member of that congregation and was pushing for a Hispanic ministry. Additionally, Stephen Sanders, the pastor at Hartsville and Chapel Hill, had expressed an interest through Linda and George McDonald. And so Cain contacted Eduardo and Vanessa Aler-Ortiz, who were the Tennessee Conference Coordinators of Hispanic ministry to come and help the church get things off the ground. Initial planning meetings that summer included Eduardo, Vanessa, Cain, Sanders and George McDonald. The Aler-Ortiz’s were Ten-Ten-Ten missionaries from Puerto Rico on mission to the Tennessee Conference. While technically they were tasked with developing ministry across the conference, their job description also included developing Hispanic ministry at First UMC in Murfreesboro. This part of their job kept them from being as effective in connectional ministries as many in the conference had expected. In fact, very highly placed persons in the Conference told me that they had started no other works at all except at Murfreesboro. This was not the case, because they were very active and helpful with the launching of the Chapel Hill ministry. But otherwise, for whatever reasons, there seemed to be a paucity of results from their work. The other seeds they planted, for whatever reasons, did not seem to bear much fruit. At the planning meetings, a few key decisions were made. They included having several months of training in Hispanic culture and Spanish classes for English speakers to be better able to welcome Hispanics into the church. Additionally, they determined to open the classes to member of Chapel Hill. The first of the classes, which included


instruction in Spanish and in Hispanic culture, was held at First UMC Carthage in August of 2002 at about the same time that Pablo Amor moved in across the street from Linda McDonald. It would be impossible to underestimate the importance of these classes in both language and culture to the eventual development of the Hispanic ministry at Chapel Hill. Time after time, even after several years of shared ministry, cultural issues that might have otherwise sunk the ship were no problem because the English church had come not just to a corporate understanding of both some of the specific cultural differences between Anglo and Hispanic culture but also and more importantly, had come to understand generally that Hispanics and Anglos have cultural differences that must be worked through as cultural, not personal, issues. A frequently used example of these differences can be found in how Hispanics and Anglos feel about time. Anglos expect things to begin when they are scheduled to begin and end when they are scheduled to end. Hispanics are more relaxed about the clock. What Vanessa managed to explain, and the Anglo side of the church managed to learn, was that if the ministry was to grow and be strong, it would have to operate at the intersection of Hispanic and Anglo cultures, respecting both cultures as it grew into something new. One of the interesting parts of my work at Chapel Hill was becoming a cultural interpreter for Hispanics in the church. I had to help them understand the manifestation of Anglo culture3 that they were experiencing at Chapel Hill and from time to time in the larger world. Essentially, this was the same thing that Vanessa and Eduardo did for the Anglos. For example, I had to explain why the English service used candles and why an Anglo member of the church had a picture of Jesus in his house. In Mexico both practices are associated with Catholicism and hence had no place in the church or in a Christian’s


home. The process of creating a new culture at the juncture of Hispanic and Anglo cultures meant learning in every direction. Perhaps the funniest such incident happened one afternoon when a member of the church called me and asked, very nervously, what an “honor roll” was. Her daughter had made the honor roll at school but she was having trouble believing her daughter’s explanation that the honor roll was a good thing to be on. During the planning period, Pastor Sanders began a Spanish language Bible study at Chapel Hill. For three months exactly two persons would attend: himself and Pablo Amor. This one other person was enough for Sanders to keep the study going. And this Bible study would eventually be one of the threads God used to pull together the Spanish language congregation at Chapel Hill. Pablo Amor, however, did not first come to Chapel Hill for a Bible study; he came for worship services in a language he did not understand and knowing only a few people who were there. He came because Linda McDonald, who knew Pablo was working for George, had invited him. Linda would later share with me that she saw Pablo and a friend of his named Paco riding bicycles to a job. She waved to them, overcoming her fear, and invited them to church. Paco never came, Pablo would not only come, he would come faithfully to English and Spanish language services and bring his family when they arrived from Mexico. The English language congregation helped ease his transition by learning “Jesus Loves Me”4 and a few other songs in Spanish. Pablo would eventually, in 2005, become an officer of the church. By October 2002, interest in the ministry at Carthage First had waned. Fewer and fewer folks were coming to the classes from First UMC and at one of the class sessions,


Linda McDonald looked around at all the people there and realized everyone there was from Chapel Hill save Vanessa Ortiz. And so Linda suggested that the next week they just meet at Chapel Hill. Vanessa and the rest of the group agreed. And so the next week the classes would begin at Chapel Hill. With the pastor’s Bible study and the moving of the Spanish language and Hispanic culture classes to Chapel Hill, the basic building blocks of the initial Hispanic ministry at Chapel Hill were in place. There would be very significant evolution of the ministry over the next few years, but the ship had left the port. There was another important development in October of 2002. Pablo’s wife, Paula, and their daughter Patricia came to Riddleton from Mexico. Since they had no legal documents, had very little money and had never traveled outside of their small town in Mexico, it was a very harrowing and dangerous trip. When Chapel Hill gathered for worship on Sunday morning, they prayed for her safe passage. An Anglo congregation praying for a Hispanic mother and daughter to cross safely into the States, knowing it was illegal. Several members fondly remembered that particular prayer about five years later. Paula and Patricia arrived one night a week or so after the prayer with only the clothes on their backs. They met Linda McDonald for the first time and she tried to find some clothes for them but was unsuccessful in Carthage, so she called Pastor Sanders. Sanders happened to be on the board at the Help Center in Hartsville and had a key to the building. So they all went shopping. This was a small but significant moment for the Hispanic ministry. It seems that at this point, Amor came to realize that Chapel Hill was his true church home. A place he could trust, a place he could be at home, a place where he was honestly and openly welcome.


One of the realities of Hispanic ministry is that it is often, as it was in this case, a spur of the moment ministry of necessities. While this is true of all ministry settings, the poverty and especially the displacement of persons across international borders makes these occasional needs more extreme. Persons who have come to the United States illegally and many who are here on legitimate visas are simply unable to go home in a crisis. If a parent dies, the vast majority of immigrants cannot go home and will rely on the church for support that for most others would come from extended family. Additionally, immigrants tend to be making far more money than their parents overseas and so if they have an economic emergency, cannot realistically rely on family. Instead they must rely on the church. Another of the greatest challenges for immigrants is navigating the health care system. Over and over, pastors with immigrant congregants find themselves making late night trips to hospitals with congregants with sick babies or after accidents at work. Pastoral care is, of course, about coming to visit and pray with the sick, but it is also about getting people admitted to the hospital or to see a doctor. This exact situation faced Vanessa Ortiz in October of 2002. Patricia, Pablo Amor’s daughter, recently arrived from Mexico, became quite ill. Pablo called Linda McDonald and she arranged a doctor’s visit with a doctor in Carthage for the next day. But then McDonald realized that the doctor didn’t speak Spanish and that no one in Patricia’s family spoke enough English to adequately translate for the doctor. So she called Vanessa. Vanessa lived about 45 miles away, but she took the time to drive to Carthage so that Patricia could have an effective doctor’s visit. Vanessa would make another special trip to Carthage to help Patricia enroll in Kindergarten and yet another to help Patricia’s teachers understand some of her behavioral issues. This type of


ministry is normative in the immigrant Hispanic setting, especially in areas where the Hispanic population is a relatively new phenomenon. And while, thankfully, many hospitals now offer Spanish translation, even in rural areas, the pastoral role as liaison between the immigrants and the various systems that make up society remains very important, especially for those congregations with large percentages of non-English speakers and/or large percentages of undocumented immigrants The Ministry Evolves When the Spanish language and Hispanic culture classes began in Carthage, Pablo Amor began inviting Francisco Bienvenido to the classes, but Bienvenido refused. He did not want to get involved with an Anglo church because Anglo churches had a reputation of failure in Hispanic ministry, a record of extending welcome only to pull it away later. It was for this reason that he and his family had begun to attend an African-American church, New Day Christian Ministry led by Pastor Van Banks. (At the time they moved to Lafayette, there was no Hispanic church.) However Amor kept asking and kept pushing and finally Francisco and his family attended the Spanish language Bible study and also, on their first week, helped with the culture and language classes. The first time that they attended was the second week the classes had moved to Chapel Hill. On that Sunday in October, Vanessa decided that they needed to have an impromptu worship service, which they did. They followed the same pattern for a couple of weeks, and eventually, after a few weeks, the worship service became distinct from the Spanish lessons and the Bible study. Another development that happened in the first few weeks was that the Bible study, which had been lead by Rev. Sanders, began to be lead by Pastor Bienvenido.


The Bienvenidos were not the only persons that Amor invited. When Amor realized that the Chapel Hill church was serious about Hispanic ministry, he felt free to invite a lot of folks, and quite a few would eventually be Sunday night regulars. Likewise, when the Bienvenidos realized that things might actually work out at Chapel Hill for a real Hispanic congregation to develop, they began to invite individuals and families to Chapel Hill. Additionally, they also invited Pastor Banks, his wife and the Hispanics attending New Day Christian Ministry on Sunday morning to come to Chapel Hill on Sunday nights, and a good number began to come, including Pastor Banks, who came enough for his presence to be unremarkable. The invitation to Chapel Hill, however, was part of a slow exodus from New Day of Hispanic persons, not all of which came to Chapel Hill. Part of the reason for the diminished ministry at New Day was that Pastor Banks and New Day became less responsive to Hispanic concerns over time, including Bienvenido’s idea of having a Spanish language service. Chapel Hill was obviously open to such possibilities. Had Pastor Banks and New Day been more amenable to the possibilities for ministry that existed in their congregation, the great blessing poured out at Chapel Hill might have happened there instead. As it was, not just the Hispanic but the entire work at New Day diminished, and Pastor Banks became embittered at Methodism for having stolen his congregation, even after having enjoyed what was perceived by most at Chapel Hill to have had a cordial relationship with the Chapel Hill church from about January to August 2003. Christmas Eve 2002


On Christmas Eve of 2002, fire would strike the Bienvenido’s home. Though no one was hurt, their mobile home burned to the ground. They lost everything but the family Bible and, inside the Bible, their “bank account.” But the funds they had in the Bible were woefully insufficient to restart their life. Chapel Hill pulled together a table here and bed there and helped them start over. They would move from Lafayette out into the countryside, into a home that they would eventually rent-to-own. They were now living about twenty-five miles from Chapel Hill, but remained faithful to the church. In the spring of 2003, several changes were on the horizon. Eduardo and Vanessa Ortiz were planning to return to Puerto Rico and Stephen Sanders was planning to move home to Texas. It was important to make sure that the leadership team was in place. Vanessa Ortiz visited with Sanders, the Amors, the Bienvenidos and the Anglo leadership of the church. Together it was decided that the worship service needed to be formally launched as a part of the ministry. At this point, the training for Hispanic ministry had just about completely evolved into the Hispanic ministry itself. The training in both culture and language skills would last for a total of about nine months. It cannot be overemphasized how important this training was in helping launch the Hispanic congregation. Language classes continued on for several years. By March of 2003, when the first scheduled worship service occurred, the Sunday evening “classes” had evolved into the following structure: Soccer / Fellowship time / ESL Classes Spanish language Bible study / Spanish lessons (lead by Francisco and Felix Bienvenidos) Worship services (lead by Francisco Bienvenidos) Fellowship Dinner5


Eduardo and especially Vanessa Ortiz would remain involved in the ministry until they moved in June, as would Stephen Sanders, but these three, knowing they were leaving, began to take a back seat and turn the leadership of the emerging new service over to Francisco Bienvenido. This basic structure, put in place in March of 2003, would be altered time and time again as various needs would present themselves: a youth Bible study would be created, then wane, the soccer field would be full one week and empty the next. But the core of things would endure: classes, worship then dinner. The racially mixed nature of all these events was a powerful reality. Hispanics, not surprisingly, dominated the soccer field, but games were made up of all the younger men and teenage boys, with an occasional girl stepping out on the field. And every one sweated the same. The ESL classes, originally led by Vanessa, would eventually be lead by Grace Thomas, an Anglo. While the Spanish language Bible study, after it was turned over to Bienvenido, was all Hispanic, it had begun as a class taught by an Anglo to a single Hispanic for three months. And while the Spanish language Bible study was going on, Spanish lessons were going on at the same time. While one might have expected this setup to create ethnically segregated sessions, nothing could have been farther from the truth. The SSL6 class became an amazing juncture of Anglo and Hispanic worlds. The class was lead by Felix Bienvenido, Francisco’s son, and he taught a core group of about five to eight Anglos with a few other Anglos usually present. What was astounding about this, more than the leadership of a young Hispanic of a group of adult Anglos, was that at every lesson, a good number of Hispanics, mostly day laborers, would “help” Felix by


sitting around in the classroom and good naturedly laughing at the attempts of the Anglos to learn Spanish, occasionally providing real help in terms of providing a more accurate translation into Spanish or English than Felix could manage. The great beauty of this moment was that it gave young, poor Hispanics the opportunity to be in charge of and to laugh at those who were both their sisters and brothers in Christ but who were far more powerful than they in worldly terms. The worship services were also racially mixed, with English translation of Spanish language preaching. Typically Pastor Bienvenido preached with Felix translating. Bienvenido also lead the singing on guitar. The congregation varied greatly in composition, but was typically about a third Anglo and two thirds Hispanic. However it was quite likely the dinner every Sunday night that was the greatest cultural mixing pot. The Anglos provided all the meals at first, bringing traditional southern fare like green beans, macaroni, ham and fried chicken. However fairly soon, perhaps a year into the development of the ministry, Hispanic families began to bring their foods as well: tamales, pollo in mole (my favorite,) carne, cut and cooked just a little differently than the Anglos’ meats, salsas and cheeses and without fail, tortillas. The support of the ministry by the Anglos was critical for the development of the Hispanic ministry on two fronts. First, there were not enough devoted Hispanic families to be able to afford to provide enough food for the interested but uncommitted Hispanics who came, often it seemed, mostly for the promise of a meal. Francesca Bienvenido would later tell me that without the food, the ministry would never have taken off. Secondly, the opportunity for Anglos and Hispanics to sit around and talk as brothers and sisters at the


same table was deeply profound. People that seemingly had so little in common: from vastly different cultures with vastly different levels of education and vastly different incomes, found things to talk about in common, even though in many cases, they did not actually share the same language. How can two people share at a meaningful level without sharing language? Clearly the level of sharing is diminished without shared language, but nonetheless, when people sit at the same table as equals they are able to communicate because they are able to see one another as people, not as members of a group or as threats or as potential employers or employees or anything else but people. And people do not need words to talk. This is the heart, the very nature, of ubuntu: the sharing across cultures by individuals, which transforms cultures and individuals to the better. This is precisely what happened at Chapel Hill. In June of 2003, I became the pastor of the Hartsville/Chapel Hill charge. I had originally been projected to another appointment, but at a good-bye barbecue dinner for Pastor Sanders, a friend of mine, the District Superintendent asked Sanders if he knew a pastor who would be good to fill his position in Hartsville. He mentioned my name because I knew a little Spanish, we were friends, and he thought I had the temperament for it. The church I was projected to go to happened to be in the same district as the Hartsville/Chapel Hill charge and the District Superintendent made the switch. I was shocked when I found out; the change cost me several thousand dollars a year, but I cannot now imagine trading those dollars for the incredibly wonderful and enriching experience I had at Chapel Hill, which ended in June 2007.


When I first arrived at Chapel Hill, I knew only a little Spanish and even less about Hispanic culture or ministry. In the first couple of weeks, I would attend services, eat with the folks, both Anglo and Hispanic, and even play a little soccer. In fact, as mentioned in the introduction, the first word I really learned at Chapel Hill was “mano;” though I knew that “mano” meant “hand,” I realized that it thus also could mean “foul.” I eventually did learn how to play an acceptable game of soccer. Years on the basketball court helped me understand how to pass and play defense, but the whole kicking it with the foot while running remains a little tough for me. Very early in my tenure at Chapel Hill, I think it was the week after the soccer foul, the church was lining up to go through the buffet line to eat. I was in the back of the line, as is the Anglo tradition. But a couple of the boys came and got me and escorted me to the front of the line so that I could eat first, as is their tradition. It felt a little weird, as pastor I always ate last and occasionally had visited through the whole meals and failed to eat. But I shuffled up to the front of the line. Since the hall is narrow, I literally shuffled as I tried to shake hands with folks as I passed them. Finally, just as I reached the front of the line where Pastor Francisco stood waiting for me and I reached for a plate, a little girl, who was in her last summer before starting first grade, jumped in front of us all, grabbed a plate and started to get some of that good cooking for herself. She was hungry! But immediately her mother grabbed her back into the line. The mother, shocked and embarrassed, hollered the poor girl’s name, gave her leg a not so ginger smack and said quite forcefully “El Pastor come primero! El PASTOR COME PRIMERO” And so I learned three more Spanish words: “Pastor,” “eats,” and “first.” More importantly, I realized that there were cultural things going on around me that I did not know or really


understand. My tradition was not the norm; at the same, the Mexican tradition was not quite the norm either. We were creating new out of old. Everything worked out fine eventually. The little girl quickly forgot her lesson and has since jumped in front of me a hundred times. The mother has lost the tension she felt around me. And I got back to eating last. Additionally, I am honored to say that this same little girl, with her mother, father, and her little sister, made the four hour trip to my hometown when my father passed away and I was able to host them (along with many other folks) at the dinner following my father’s funeral in my home church. Another thing that happened in the early weeks of my tenure at Chapel Hill was that the Bienvenido family became worried and almost never came back after my very first week there because they thought things were not going to work out between them and me. That first week I was quite overdressed and blown away by the energy and vitality at the classes, worship and dinner and further hindered by my very poor Spanish. Thus to the Bienvenidos I seemed to be aloof and cold. They thought that I was “an evil pastor,” the very incarnation of what they had wanted to avoid when Amor had first urged them to come to Chapel Hill. While the clothes were something I could remedy the very next week (they eventually came to call me “el pastor sandalias,” “the sandals pastor”) it took several weeks and meals together before we began to really warm up to one another. While I was immediately struck by the love and joy of the fellowship at Chapel Hill, one of the things that surprised me very early into my tenure was a phrase that I would hear often repeated during prayers in worship, and would hear throughout my time at Chapel Hill. Week after week, I would hear, during the spoken, communal prayers that


a part of the Hispanic tradition, persons giving thanks to God for “este pais de oportunidad.” I went home one Sunday night and got out my dictionary to make sure I was translating the phrase correctly. I was. The phrase means “country of opportunity.” Here were some of the poorest of the poor, in the country illegally and under great pressure because of their immigration status, giving thanks to God for the nation in which they were sojourners. Over time I came to see that most of the people in the church were indeed tremendously thankful to God for the opportunities that they were afforded in the USA to make enough money to feed their families both here and in Mexico. I suspect that while this is true of the immigrants, their children will have less thankful thoughts if no meaningful immigration reform is enacted. I would soon meet Pastor Banks. The Bienvenidos were still making New Day Christian Ministry their church home and attending Chapel Hill on Sunday nights. The Bienvenidos were, in fact, when I arrived at Chapel Hill, considering diminishing their nascent work at Chapel Hill to help launch a Spanish language service. In the process of trying to find the right path, Pastor Banks was invited to preach at Chapel Hill. The service was great fun for me, with Banks, an African-American, preaching in English, with his wife translating into Spanish. Pastor Francisco led the music, singing coritos in Spanish with the Hispanics in the congregation singing along in full voice and the Anglos, including myself, trying to sing along. In the week after the service, however, there were heated discussions between Pastor Banks and Pastor Bienvenido. Banks told Bienvenido that he was “not comfortable with Methodism” and it became clear that he was not willing to further


accommodate the Spanish speakers at New Day. Bienvenido decided that he was going to cast his lot with Chapel Hill. However the two pastors remained friends and co-workers in Christ. While the experiences of this one church are certainly not definitive for others, my experience has been that the worship styles of many black churches are more akin to the worship preferences of many Hispanic worshippers, thus frequently Hispanics find black churches more initially receptive than white churches. However, the historic norm of the black church as a sanctuary from white culture may at times create even more resistance to Hispanics than is found in white churches. Certainly there would seem to be great disagreement in the pews about whether we in fact are in “este pais de oportunidad.” When Vanessa and Eduardo Ortiz returned to Puerto Rico in June of 2003, one of the programs that had to change was the ESL class. It was a little harder to find a leader for this class than the others. However, Linda McDonald had heard of a woman in Hartsville, Grace Thomas, who had led an ESL class in Hartsville that had folded for lack of interest. Linda got in touch with her and invited her out. Since Grace could only do the class on Tuesday, the class was moved. The Bienvenidos could not be at Chapel Hill on Tuesdays, and so the ESL segment of the Hispanic ministry became somewhat splintered from the rest. However, it remained an important part of how Chapel Hill was helping its neighbors. Thus there were, each week at Chapel Hill, two language lessons. On Sunday there were Spanish lessons, on Tuesday there were English lessons. Both of these were important for the language learning itself that occurred in each group, for the fellowship that developed within the groups, especially in the ESL group, which became somewhat of a social gathering for Hispanic women in the neighborhood, and beyond these things,


for the symbol of the Anglo churches commitment to the Hispanic ministry that was found in the Anglos learning Spanish as the Hispanics learned English. Time after time, as I interviewed the Hispanics who got involved with the church at this early stage, they would mention that they knew they were welcome at Chapel Hill because for a few hours each week, as they met for Bible Study, there were Anglos in the next room studying how to speak their language. This was true hospitality in action. If there is any single learning that can be taken from this story and applied widely in other churches, it is this: if a church is serious about beginning an Hispanic ministry, it should begin by learning the culture and language of those it hopes to be in ministry with. In the summer of 2003 Chapel Hill took six youth, some Anglo, some Hispanic, to Springhill Camp in Indiana at the urging of an Anglo member of the church, Bennie Watson, who had been involved with the camp while a member of a church in Northern Indiana. There were about 250 youth at the camp. At the end of the week, the adult leadership of the camp voted one younger and one older youth “Campers of the Week.” Both elected for that week were from Chapel Hill. The older youth was Felix Bienvenido, Pastor Bienvenidos’ son. The younger was Zack Chandler, an Anglo youth at Chapel Hill. The church was very proud and both gave short speeches at the final service at Springhill Camp, with parents, sponsors and youth present. One of the areas where there was a more or less complete blending of Anglo and Hispanic ministry was in the area of youth ministry. This was possible for several reasons. The Hispanic youth in general had much better English than their parents, so communication was simpler. Further, though the youth were split between schools and


school systems, they were all having essentially the same educational experience. It was among the youth (the Mexi-teans) that the greatest cultural mélange took place. One of the variations on the basic format of study-worship-meal that we experimented with was a youth group that met during the study time. The group, which I led, did not last more than a few months because it was really impossible for us to meet anywhere but outside due to space constrictions and once it got cold, the group disbanded. However, over the summer that the group met (in 2004) it was fully integrated and, while we had occasional language issues, especially while reading the Bible, it was remarkably normal youth group meeting, which I say with the benefit of twelve years of youth ministry experience. Regular youth issues were the order of the day. One of the best memories that I shared with the youth of the church in this time period was one evening when six or seven of us were sitting around one of the tables after worship eating. I tried to sit with different people on different nights, but, having been a youth minister for twelve years, found myself both invited to and eating with the youth more often than not. After I finished my meal that night, I went back for a dessert. When I got back to my seat, all the kids were quiet and trying not to smile. Something was obviously up. They had spiked my coffee with green Tabasco sauce: the hottest of hot sauces. Having lived in Texas’ Cajun Corner (on the Gulf Coast right beside Louisiana) for a few years, I had become intimately familiar with Cajun food, which is generally hotter than Mexican food. So I prepared my mouth and my mind, girded up my loins, and, after staring into the eyes of all the kids around the table, took a drink of the coffee. Thankfully, the coffee-sauce was not as hot as I had expected, though it was quite hot. I made a face like I had just taken a drink of the devil himself, but made a point of


not reaching (immediately) for the offered water. Instead, I reached for the remaining Tabasco, shook a very generous amount into the coffee, stirred the brew vigorously and took another drink from the caldron. But this time I faked it. I just let the coffee touch my lips, not enter my mouth, though I then took a drink of the water just for the effect. Then, with all the kids watching, I passed the cup to the guy beside me. All the kids hooted and hollered and the first boy’s eyes got big, but pride was on the line and he took a little drink, and the passed the cup around. It went around the entire table and I am not sure who really drank and who faked it, but we all were “in the club” after the cup had been passed between us. Communion? I don’t know. I do know that the importance of table fellowship cannot be overestimated. We become family at the table. After the Springhill Camp summer camp in 2003, Chapel Hill had a Vacation Bible School toward the end of the summer. That year there were both leaders and children from the Hispanic congregation, the Anglo congregation and both Lily Hill and Williams Chapel churches. It was a very, very diverse group. As the ministry evolved, it experienced a change in focus in regards to the Hispanics who were drawn to the group. While initially many of the folks who were drawn to the church were migrant workers, as time went on folks who had moved to the area to stay began to make up more and more of the church. This was a very natural process. Migrants naturally move on. Those who move in stay longer. Thus they can participate more deeply in the life of the church. They can become a sustaining and stabilizing presence. Most of the families lived in the area, but Chapel Hill also became a Sunday destination for one gentleman who lived in Nashville and for several families


from Lafayette and Lebanon, between ten and twenty miles away. This stabilization of folks attending the services took several years, and on any one Sunday a crew of Hispanic pickers traveling through might show up. (One afternoon we had about 40 Guatemalan tomato pickers show up and all the Anglos, who generally lived closer, ran home, emptied their freezers, and cooked some more food!) However, the general pattern was clear: those who lived in the community full time were the most likely to remain faithful to the church. As the nights grew longer and the growing season ended, Pastor Bienvenido wanted to have a prayer service on the first Saturday night of each month that would last from early in the evening until midnight or so. None of the Anglos were terribly excited about getting involved with this service, and so a new key was cut and given to him. It did not seem like a big deal at the time, after all, it was nothing different than the Chapel Hill had done for the members of Williams (sic) Chapel. However, in addition to being a sign of great trust, it was an important step in allowing for the growth of the Hispanic ministry along lines that were chosen by the Hispanic leadership of the church. However, this event was so natural that at the time that it went completely unnoticed. In researching for this text, I had to figure out when Bienvenido had been given a key. No one remembered. Allowing the ministry to develop along lines chosen by Hispanics rather than Anglos was a multi-step process. There was never a plan for the long-term development of the Hispanic ministry. Things just happened. There was never a plan to develop a worship service: it evolved from a class. There was never a plan for finding a Hispanic pastor: one just showed up on a Sunday afternoon. There was never a plan to turn over the keys of


the building to Pastor Bienvenido. It was just the next door that God allowed the church to go through. One door at a time. Perhaps at this point we are seeing one of the differences between institutions and movements. Chapel Hill had been a small, dying institution for a long time. The events of Holy Sunday had moved it to one place. The ubuntu that emerged from the Williams Chapel experience taught it a new way of being: an open way. Institutional rigidity helps institutions survive, but it can close them off from new works. Chapel Hill was exhibiting a different spirit: a movement spirit. And it was contagious. The movement of God at Chapel Hill jumped languages, cultures and even national boundaries, but it did so little step by little step, strengthening the bonds of trust and love between Hispanics and Anglos and eventually allowing for the empowerment of the Hispanic congregation to do what it thought was important for its own development. Once the Hispanics in the church felt empowered by the Anglos to do what seemed best for them, they would feel truly and deeply welcomed. They would truly feel what Pastor Bienvenidos had assumed no Anglo congregation could provide: love. That fall, the Chapel Hill church had its first Chili-Supper and Cakewalk for the community to raise funds for the 2004 Springhill Camp the next summer. The event was held at the old schoolhouse, which is on the George and Wilma Draper’s property and drew people of all races from the whole community, predominantly Anglos, quite a few Hispanics and also some African-Americans from both Lily Hill and Williams Chapel. This was the first event I had attended outside the church that showed me the depth of the interaction between the Hispanic and Anglo cultures. While there was some segregation at the various tables, and likely undercurrents that I was not aware of, everyone, probably


about 75 people total, were gathered together for a few hours of fun and fellowship that everyone knew was to raise money to send Hispanic and Anglo kids to camp together. Christmas Eve 2003 At Christmas Eve services in 2003, I was a little disappointed with the sparseness if the Hispanic turnout. While I had invited everyone at the Spanish language service, only two families came. On reflection, I realized that my invitations have been poorly done. I had just assumed that everyone who was in town would be there and would be clued in to the traditions that surround Christmas Eve services. So I hadn’t felt the need to do any additional promotion, explanation or teaching for those in the Hispanic service. Instead, I just invited, and so the Christmas Eve service mirrored the English Sunday morning service: mostly Anglo. Nonetheless, 2003 was a good year for the Hispanic ministry at Chapel Hill. We were off and running! It was a fantastic year of growth and expansion. The year began with classes to help the Anglo church develop Hispanic ministry. It ended with ministry in place and growing. 2004 would be a year of slow gradual changes, but would begin with another almost tragic situation for the Bienvenidos. On the way back from church one Sunday night Francisco and Francesca were driving in their van with a brother in the church named Daniel Cocina. As they were turning across a four-way stop, they were in a violent collision with pick-up truck that had failed to stop. They were taken by ambulance to a Nashville hospital. Francisco and Francesca suffered bumps and bruises, but were not seriously hurt given the violence of the collision. Brother Daniel, however, had his lower leg broken so severely that he had to be fitted with a steel rod. This required several trips


to the hospital and osteopath. Cocina had no insurance coverage and was treated at the expense of the state. I was at the hospital after the wreck and helped them navigate the system. Our trip to the cashier was very interesting. When the cashier realized that the Bienvenidos and Cocina were all undocumented, she closed the file she was making, began to take her notes on the back of the file itself and seemed to loose interest. Cocina and the Bienvenidos were very concerned about the bill and wanted to make arrangements to pay it. They did not understand why the cashier was so casual about the entire affair, and I didn’t either. However I was not surprised when no bill ever arrived. While the Bienvenidos and Cocina were profoundly thankful for the treatment, one could argue that this incident was a perfect example of why undocumented immigrants should not be allowed into the USA. One could also make a convincing counter argument that if the Bienvenidos and Concina had been able to put down legal roots, they might have been able to afford health insurance. Either way, the argument that people come to the USA to receive benefits is simply false. People come here to work. At the same time, it is also true that poor immigrants to the USA, documented or not, very often receive better medical care than they would in their home countries. Still, the vast majority of immigrants come here to work. Though there is a criminal element in those coming north, most do not even understand that medical aid, food stamps and other government programs even exist. Thus they often suffer rather than avail themselves of care. In fact, one of the crueler colloquial Spanglish phrases that I learned at Chapel Hill was “on a Mexican pension,” which refers to a worker who had been seriously hurt on the job and was returning to Mexico maimed. Such a worker, had they been a citizen, would have been entitled not only to medical care but to disability benefits. Even if they


knew of such benefits, undocumented aliens are unable to avail themselves of them. This makes them quite valuable to unscrupulous employers. Additionally, the charge heard from time to time that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes is false. In a state like Tennessee, where state taxes are consumption based, we pay all our state taxes at the grocery store. Undocumented immigrants also normatively pay national income taxes and social security taxes as well, though, since the social security payments are made to false numbers, those paying them will never see any benefits. One of the most surreal moments of my time as pastor of the Hartsville/Chapel Hill charge was one Sunday when an undocumented member of the church showed me the check issued to him by the US Treasury for his federal income tax refund. The check, for about $2000, was more money than he had ever seen. He asked me to explain why he got the check. When I launched into an explanation of the tax code, he said, through an interpreter, “Yes, I understand the details: my employer explained them to me. But this is my question: if I am illegal, why did they send me this money?” Obviously, the government has more than one agenda at the same time. In the summer of 2004 another group of “Mexiteans” was taken to Springhill Camp. Though they did not win the same accolades as they year before, they had a good time and grew in their understanding of what it means to be Christians. Later in the summer, a total of sixty people would be a part of Vacation Bible School. George and Wilma Draper’s grandchildren, whose mother is Vietnamese, were in town and so the racial mixture that summer included African-Americans, Anglos, Hispanics and


Vietnamese. To have sixty people, even if most were children, in a space the size of the church at Chapel Hill is a challenge, especially when you add all the props, the craft tables and such that are part of VBS. One of the Hispanic ladies who helped out the VBS was Paula Amor, Pablo’s wife. She had given birth to her second child in the spring, named Pixi, and looked exhausted. It seemed that she just wasn’t making the adjustment to the USA as well as others were. She seemed lost and alone. Some of the Anglo ladies of the church took notice and they decided to take her out for a day of shopping and to a spa. They arranged to leave both her girls with a sitter and took Paula to town. They bought her some new clothes, got her hair done and let her relax for a day. I found the change remarkable. Paula, who had not changed her looks at all since coming from Mexico, with long braided hair parted in the middle and wearing old borrowed clothes, suddenly looked “American” with short hair and modern clothes. Her looks no longer tagged her as a recently arrived Mexican but instead she looked like anyone else in the grocery store or at church. While part of me mourned this transformation and the loss of culture and heritage that it represented, the reality is that Paula lives on the margins between the US and Mexico, really not in either place. And she was pleased as punch at the change. Not only did she fit better in the world in which she lived, and not only was her husband pleased by the change, but the fact that the makeover was a gift from the other ladies of the church, from the Anglos, made it extra special. It was a gift of acceptance and love. Did accepting this gift make her a traitor to her race and place? Is adapting to the general


culture a sellout? Maybe so, but Paula is in a distinctly different place from her home and I would say she is simply adjusting. Or, perhaps rather than seeing Paula as a traitor to her heritage, one could see her as a participant in the creation of a new people of God. The reality is that she herself is a different, almost a new person, since coming from Mexico. Our nation has long experienced racial segregation and pain. There is the possibility that the influx of Hispanics into the USA will help our country overcome our deep and evil sin of racism. However, for this to happen, we will all have to follow in Paula’s footsteps and receive the gifts that other races offer us (going in all directions) that we might all be transformed into something better than we were before, something that is a mixture of cultures, an ubuntu, a mestiza. There were several sets of baptisms in 2004. I was privileged to baptize four infants: Paula’s baby Pixi along with three Anglo children: Drew Inman, a grandchild of Herman Henry, Katie Grandstaff, whose family gave the land for Chapel Hill in 1833, and Ben Stacey, another Henry grandchild. In a church the size of Chapel Hill, the baptism of four infants in one year was a great blessing. There were also believer’s baptisms in 2004, most of Hispanic adults in the Cumberland River, about five miles from the front door at Chapel Hill. One of the Hispanic brothers brought a shofar to the riverside, at the old Rome Ferry crossing, and as persons were baptized, with Pastor Bienvenido and myself standing knee deep in soft mud, the brother would blow the shofar and the sound would ring up and down the river sending chills up and down the spines of all present. Pictures would be taken and would


end up on the walls at Chapel Hill. Usually when there was a baptism, we would baptism three or four folks at a time. Ahead of this time, there would be a time of spiritual training in what it means to be a Christian. At one baptism, both Pastor Francisco and I were surprised with Zack Chandler, one of the youths who had been “camper of the year” at Camp Springhill, walked down into water to be baptized without having told us that he planned to do so. His uncle, not a regular at Chapel Hill, was there at the baptism, but this did not seem too very odd at the time; every baptism had both Hispanic and Anglo folks there as witnesses. Making the baptism even more interesting was that Zack, a skater, had dyed his normally strawberry blond hair very, very pink. As he walked into the water I asked him, whom I knew was a Christian, if he had been baptized, because I did not know if he had been baptized as an infant. He had not and when we dunked him under the water, Pastor Bienvenido and I together burying his old self, not only did God wash away his sin, but, as the shofar blew, the river also washed the pink from his hair. Had any of the others baptized that day been baptized as infants? Probably so. Did I baptize them anyway. Yes. While I realize that this is in direct contradiction of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church, I believe that this is because the institutional church has yet to adapt to the changes in the religious life of Americans created by the growth of the Hispanic population in the USA. When Zack came to be baptized, had he been baptized as an infant, rather than saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” I would have said “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” For those who cannot remember their baptism and be thankful, whose baptism, though it may have been in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was for them imprisonment


within a church or culture corrupted by Satan, the baptism I helped provide was a baptism to new and full life in Jesus Christ. My role as pastoral counselor to the Hispanic congregation began in the fall of 2004. One Hispanic couple called me for some marital counseling, which I thought was very strange because, first, my Spanish is bad and secondly, I did not really know this couple that well. Mostly, however, I was surprised because counseling is my greatest weakness as a pastor. But nonetheless, we found ourselves gathered one weeknight in my office, which was in Hartsville. And, to my surprise, the counseling session was standard in every way. The man’s English skills were better than my Spanish, and he served as interpreter from time to time for me and his wife. It was a little odd, but seemed to work. I listened to them explain an argument that they had carried with them a long time, asked a few questions here and there, and they seemed to come to a place of emotional calm. All I really did, I think, was to provide a safe place for them to talk. We met several more times over a couple of months and they seemed to work things out between them. After that I seemed to pick up more of a role as counselor to the Hispanic portion of the congregation than I have ever had with Anglo churches. Apparently, word got around. This was an absolutely baffling thing to me. Couples would come to my office, we would pray together, then they would argue with each other in Spanish for 30 minutes, with me understanding maybe 1/5 of what they were saying to one another once they began to speak with passion, then they would be emotionally spent and we would pray again. Then the woman would hug me while she was crying and the man would shake my hand with deep appreciation and say “God bless you, Pastor, I am so glad we


have you to help us.” And I would nod and say, with absolutely perfect accuracy, “de nada.” (literally: “it is nothing” figuratively: “your welcome.”) The only thing that I felt I ever actually did, from time, to time, was to relate a Bible story to the stories that the couples were telling me, but I never really knew if that helped or not. I read several books on cross-cultural counseling,7 which affirmed my bewilderment because they affirmed that I really didn’t know what I was doing. Only one time did this pattern vary: I was counseling a couple and they asked me to make a moral judgment about the actions of one of the two. But we had a problem; even with a Spanish/English dictionary, through the couple’s tears and passion and my ignorance, I could not translate a key word, which turned out to be “jealousy.” In desperation, I called the local Mexican restaurant and asked to speak to the manager. Luckily I was a regular and so she translated on the speakerphone for us for a few minutes, but this was unsatisfactory and so I found myself driving to the restaurant to bring her to the church. She came and the four of us resumed the counseling session. The couple began to explain to me, through her, their difficulties. But pretty soon the interpreter began to completely take over and I found myself nodding like a bobble head doll when the restaurant manager would turn to me and say things like, “ISN’T THAT RIGHT PASTOR!!??” Though I had little idea what was actually being said, I was sure that the counseling session ended with the man clearly castigated for something and the woman fully vindicated. And though that couple never returned to me for counseling, perhaps they just


went straight to the restaurant, I am certain from the enduring relationship between myself and them that my efforts were, at least, appreciated. At least two themes emerged in counseling sessions: first the tremendous pressure that these families are under and second the difficulty of discussing sexually oriented problems within the Hispanic church milieu. The vast majority of immigrant Hispanic, especially undocumented, families have to deal with financial, legal and cultural pressures that other families can hardly imagine. While the financial pressures on these families may in fact be less in the USA than in Mexico, else these families would return to Mexico, financial pressures remain higher for immigrants than for other persons in this country. Further, from time to time, recent immigrants buy into American consumerism and then become completely depressed with the reality of everything that they do not have. However it is other legal and cultural pressures that are more typically problematic. These pressures always include the threat of deportation. They also include the pressures of raising children in a different society, pressures related to the lack of good English skills, the difficulty of being unable to return to Mexico without significant risk and expense, a particularly painful reality when parents in Mexico die, and many other pressures. The church is a haven from many of these because it is a place where people can come together to share and deal together with their lives. However one aspect of life that my Hispanic congregants apparently had trouble sharing about with Pastor Francisco was their sexuality. Many of the persons that I counseled with, if you can call it counseling, were dealing with essentially sexual issues. There seemed to be a sense of shame about such


matters, as if they were unworthy to be discussed or at least that a Christian should not have such problems. After my first counseling session, I called a Hispanic pastor friend of mine and asked him to help me understand what had just happened, which was me sitting in room listening to a couple talk about their lack of intimacy. He told me that this type of subject was almost taboo in the Mexican church. This episode pointed to a more general critique of Hispanic Protestant churches, at least in the Mid-South. The church can seem like a place where everyone always smiles and says “Amen” or “Hallelujah” in every sentence and is good and whole and righteous in every way. There is not the kind of openness or admission of sinfulness that should be helpful for persons in the church. Of course this is a weakness that many churches have, but it may be more pronounced in immigrant Protestant churches. Relational difficulties in the immigrant church are certainly not limited to marital relationships. Given the reality that many Hispanic males are here in the USA providing for their families that remain in Mexico, whom they cannot easily visit even in times of great duress, relationship problems are endemic. I committed a severe faux pas one Sunday night when, chit chatting with a couple at Chapel Hill whom I was still getting to know, and whom were then and are now members in good standing, I asked the man what his wife’s name was. She immediately straightened up her back, began to draw her breath in through her nostrils and looked at him with fiery eyes. There was a long pause and we moved on. At the table that evening, I was quietly informed that though the couple had children together: his, hers and theirs, he was stilled married to a woman in Mexico, had children with her, sent her money and even, most shocking of all to the informant, continued to cross the border from time to time to visit her, thus endangering both


families. How common such arrangements are is hard to specify, but in a state like Tennessee, who’s Hispanic population is estimated to be sixty percent male (TN Bureau of Health Statistics), such arrangements cannot be too uncommon. An additional complicating factor in this is that undocumented workers are not legally able to marry in Tennessee, because one has to provide a Social Security number to do so. One of the relational complexities that came up in 2004 was that of Felix Bienvenido, Pastor Francisco’s son, who began to date an Anglo girl in the congregation. The girl’s mother called me on a Saturday night near the beginning of the school year. Her daughter had just gotten in the car with Felix to go out on a date and mom was concerned because she knew that since Felix did not have legal status in the USA and thus did not have a legal driver’s license. While she was worried about liability, her primary concern was safety. We both knew that if there was an accident, legal liability would be a complex matter, to say the least. However, having come to know Felix well, I was able to share with the mom that if I had to choose any 16 year old boy for my daughter to go out with, it would be Felix. The fact that I in fact have a daughter just a few years older than hers made this reasonable. Whatever the impact of my advice, the relationship between the two blossomed. Frankly, I was nervous. This was inter-racial dating in the rural south. This was serious. I went to church the next few weeks on eggshells, hoping that no one would corner me, point his or her finger at me, and say something like. “Now preacher, we all love the Mexicans, but...” I think everyone, at least everyone over twenty five, was keenly aware that we had broken new ground, but while there may have been some rumblings, but I did not hear them.


The two continued to date for about two years, until Felix went off to college8 while his girlfriend finished her last year of high school. The relationship was, as far as I can tell, completely uninteresting except that it was the first, though not the last, romantic relationship between Anglo and Hispanic at Chapel Hill. Christmas Eve 2004 Christmas Eve 2004 was richer than in 2003. While a few more Hispanics attended the English service that evening than had the year before, the real blessing was that an hour after the English service, a Spanish service was held. As pastor of a two church, three congregation, charge, I had to leave right after the English service to get to my church in Hartsville for their service, then drive right back to Chapel Hill, eleven miles each way, to get to my third service that evening. When I got there, the Hispanic congregants greeted me quite enthusiastically: they had not expected to see me. I myself was blessed to be a blessing to that service merely by my presence there. And though after the service I left to be with my family before the Christmas dinner really began, I could see happening at that time the development of the Spanish language congregation as its own family, not quite yet distinct from the Anglo side of the church, but with its own identity. I was the only Anglo at the service. All the other Anglos were home with their families. All the family that many of the Hispanics would see that Christmas was gathered there together right then at Chapel Hill. In April of 2005 Chapel Hill hosted the first County-wide Minority Health Fair in Smith County. Primarily organized by Linda Hensley, the event has been held annually since then on the last Sunday in April, in conjunction with Minority Health Month. The


first two years were at Chapel Hill with significant input from Williams Chapel and Lily Hill. In 2007, the event was held at Lily Hill with assistance from Chapel Hill and Williams Chapel. The 2005 event featured various health screenings and dental checkups. One of the greatest needs for the immigrant population is for preventative health care and this event was designed (by the state) to address this need. In June of 2005 a terrible event shook the foundations of the Anglo congregation. Christina “Crystal” Hunt, the girlfriend of a neighborhood man, Jeff Trusty, was murdered. The investigation was long, complex and emotionally draining for the church and community. Though neither were members, both Hunt and Trusty had attended services at Chapel Hill enough that I knew both and recognized the victim when I saw the news on TV. Trusty's grandmother, sister, her husband and their children all attended Chapel Hill. The murder happened in Nashville and was originally reported as a missing person. During the weeks during which the case went from a missing person to a murder investigation, there was much speculation at the church about whether or not Trusty had done it. Many in the church believed that he was capable of doing such a heinous deed, but whether or not he had actually done it was in no way clear. A few weeks after the murder, Nashville police combed the general area for several days with 300 personnel, dogs, and helicopters. Just before they were scheduled to finish the search, they finally found the body a few hundred yards from Trusty’s back door. The church was torn between feeling sorry for Crystal and her family, whom were from another town and thus not known very well, feeling sorry for Trusty and his family, feeling angry at Trusty, and, at times, being frightened of him. When I visited with Trusty and his family, there was


something in his manner that led me to agree with others in the community who suspected him. He acted as if nothing were wrong at all. He acted as if the 300 searchers, the dogs and helicopters were all there to investigate a parking violation. The investigation drug on and on after Hunt’s body was found. Trusty was arrested then freed on bond a few weeks later. Many in the church were angry and dismayed that the courts had let him go free, though his sister and her family were still mostly faithful in church attendance. Pastoral prayers were very strained throughout the summer and most of the fall. Occasionally during the service someone would ask for prayers for the Trusty family. Usually this was immediately met with a request for prayers for the Hunt family. Things were tense, but more than that they were deeply sorrowful. The forward progress of the English congregation was stymied as we tried to understand how this could have happened and how to respond. Those who had known Trusty since childhood seemed the least surprised of all. He was known to have a violent temper, especially when inebriated. Eventually all but one of Trusty’s relatives, Zack Chandler, pulled out of the church as suspicion grew, even with Trusty free on bond. Things were very difficult emotionally for the English side of the church, and the church would take about a year or so to lick its wounds before it was able to regain a sense of purpose and mission. Eventually, in July of 2007, Trusty went to trial for the murder and was convicted quickly. He is serving a life sentence.

The developing gulf between the two congregations was brought home to me by the fact that the Hispanic congregation was (blissfully) unaware of the tragedy through most of the summer. It was not the kind of thing that you advertise, but I was surprised


when I finally had to connect the dots for a group of Hispanic congregants. The Hispanics who were attending the English service knew that Hunt was missing from the outset, but I later had to explain to them that Trusty was a suspect. Those who were attending only the Spanish language service seemed to have no idea. This gulf between the Anglos and Hispanics was not developing out of animosity or bitterness or anything like that, but rather it was like a child growing to adulthood and spending more and more time doing its own thing in its own way, missing the goings-on at home. The Hispanic ministry had moved out of its infancy. When a ministry grows to the point where it is able to make its own decisions, where it is no longer dependent, it can begin to threaten the host church. I have talked with numerous Hispanic pastors, both in UM and other settings, who have built ministries to the point where their host church begins to be threatened by the growth of the ministry and thus cuts it off. Sometimes this appears to be intentional, at other times unintentional. Often it seems that both the host and the guest congregations feel betrayed by the other. Perhaps what kept this from happening at Chapel Hill was that there was never a great sense of “host” and “guest.” For the most part, we were all just going to church, some in Spanish, some in English, because the Hispanic ministry was organic to the ministry of the whole church. It grew up from rather than being grafted on. And when the Spanish language service grew larger than the English language service, it was seen a good thing, not a threat. But that didn’t mean there were never hurt feelings. I suppose that the thing that hurt me the most during this time was that, for a while, the entire Hispanic congregation considered leaving Chapel Hill. This was not primarily because of tension with the Anglos, though this was a consideration. Primarily,


the possible move came about because the Hispanic congregation had grown quickly and was bumping up on the upper limit of what the building could hold. This growth was the result of a lot of people's work, both Anglo and Hispanic, but when Pastor Francisco began to ponder the next step and it seemed logical to at least consider a new space, he did so without any input from or the knowledge of any Anglos, even me. It would have been a bitter pill for the English congregation and for me if such a plan had come to fruition without our knowledge. I only found out about the meeting when one of the children, sitting beside me in the church service, asked: "What was the secret meeting last night about?" That is a sentence a pastor never wants to hear. And so I sat down with Pastor Bienvenido that evening and he outlined his concerns. I wondered if some negative racial comment had gotten back to his ears, but he insisted that the only consideration was the need for more space. There had been negative comments from time to time related to various issues in the church, but none that seemed unreasonable or malicious. And there had been a slight up-tick in these complaints in the time period just before this event. These complaints were, for the most part, the same kind of difficulties that I had helped deal with in other churches with plural services and with lots of kids making lots of messes. They were the complaints you would see in any church. When I asked why he had called a secret meeting, he said it was because he was afraid that the Hispanics might be kicked out if the Anglos knew what was under consideration. I understood: a church full of undocumented migrants has, of course, a strong contextual understanding of operating in the shadows. I assured him that as long as I was the pastor, they would never be kicked out. I also let him know that I was both hurt personally and displeased professionally. I really hate secrets in church. He let me know that, regardless


of what I thought, he still had concerns about having enough space. We had a lot of coffee that night. I stewed about this development for a week. There had been some rocky moments here and there, but nothing like this which I felt boded ominously for the future. I had thought that I had my finger on the pulse of the church, both English and Hispanic, and things were going reasonably well, but I learned better. So, discouraged, I talked with some pastor friends that week and also with my District Superintendent, Ron Lowery, who gave me wise counsel. He said that I must trust the Spirit to move as it will and if it is God’s will for the congregations to split, both would be blessed. Therefore I should work for the good of the Kingdom rather than the church. The next Sunday, after the service, I talked with Pastor Bienvenido again and let him know that I was hurt, but that if in his judgment and if it were the will of the congregations, I would fully support him in a new ministry setting. I let him know that if he was willing to be patient and work within the Methodist church, fairly substantial funds could be available to help either improve the facility at Chapel Hill or help the congregation establish a base of operations elsewhere. After this I heard very little about the plan to move from Chapel Hill. As it turned out, the cost of a move was prohibitive and the idea of being alone (without the Anglo side of the church) was scary. The reality that almost any church building can support two services and that this is a much more economic way to do things is abundantly evident in Hispanic ministry. Clearly, however, the English and Spanish services were developing their own personalities and histories. They were developing into distinct, but not yet separate, congregations.


In the summers, the ministry would begin later in the day. In the winter, the start time would be moved forward. In the winter of 2005, this pattern was taken to extreme. Rather than moving the service from 7:00pm to 5:00pm, as had been the pattern, (with some things before and others after the service) Pastor Bienvenido decided to begin with Bible Study at 1:00pm. The Anglos who were at the service at which this was decided were hurt because it meant that they would have to be at church for the English service at 9:00am, Sunday School at 10:00am, and be back at 1:00pm for Bible Study, staying until dinner time. It was just too much without enough break. The next week, when there were no Anglos at church at 1:00pm, the Hispanics were hurt. They felt they had been abandoned. This was the point at which the English and Spanish language services really transitioned to being Anglo and Hispanic services culturally: into Chapel Hill Church and Chapel Hill Iglesia. It is worth mentioning that even though this transition would become complete in a year or so, there was never, while I was a Chapel Hill, a service that was completely mono-ethnic. And while there were hard feelings, and the move to early afternoon could have been accomplished more diplomatically, the result was generally positive. We were no longer as ethnically or linguistically mixed, which was quite a disappointment for all concerned, but with the withdrawal of the majority of the Anglos from the Spanish language service, that service was able to become more authentically indigenous. The very first service that was held early in the afternoon was no longer or shorter than the week before. But the second week, the service got about fifteen minutes longer. The third week it was thirty minutes longer, and within a few months, the service time had expanded out to anywhere from one and a half to two hours longer than the one hour it had been when it was Spanish-language but culturally somewhere between Anglo


and Hispanic. I was teasing Pastor Bienvenido about the lengthening of the service one night and he said to me, with great and uncharacteristic seriousness, “The Holy Spirit, not the people, determines the length of the worship service.” I knew then that the service was better than it had been. A service that had been an essentially English culturally but done in Spanish, led by a Mexican pastor with an American pastor hovering in the background, was becoming a first generation Hispanic/Mexican church in Tennessee. The service was becoming faithful to its context. It was evolving to fit the needs of the congregants. The price for this was losing some of the immediacy of the multi-ethnic flavor that had defined and energized the congregation from the days of Williams Chapel. The multi-ethnic flavor was still there, but the services were becoming congregations. Thus during this time we began to work very intentionally to build long term bonds not just within the local congregation but also with the larger church. To this end, two of the Hispanic members of the church, Pastor Bienvenido and Brother Cocina, would become Certified Lay Speakers in 2005, attending an English language training that was translated. Two years later, nine members at Chapel Hill would attend the Lay Speaker training when the Tennessee Conference offered it in Spanish for the first time. Additionally, in 2005, fifteen Hispanics became official members of Chapel Hill. Perhaps most interestingly, two Hispanics, Pablo Amor and Pastor Bienvenido, were chosen as officers for the upcoming year. By the end of the year in 2005, attendance in the English services was running about twenty five and in the Hispanic services was running about thirty five. Both groups were weakened by a lack of interethnic relationship, and the English congregation was further weakened by the emotional pain and loss of attendees related to Crystal Hunts’


murder. Though Hunt had been a very occasional attendee during her life, I had probably only seen her five times, she was sorely missed. The Anglo congregation was torn by the events surrounding her murder, and while Trusty was out of jail, nervous about their personal safety. The Hispanic congregation, however, was stronger than ever. Not only did it continue to grow numerically, but it continued to deepen spiritually as persons who had come to Christ were discipled through Bible study, worship and outreach.

Worship and Christmas Eve 2005

Christmas Eve in 2005 was an amazing night. The church was very full of both Anglos and Hispanics. We sung both carols and coritos. We read in English and Spanish. We prayed in both languages. There were babies crying and little kids running around and translation into Spanish and then translation into English. Like many of the other services, the service itself was jumbled and confused because there was just so much going on. There were elements of the service that were designed to reflect Anglo traditions and elements of the service that were designed to reflect Hispanic traditions. Putting these things together was not easy or pretty. In fact, it was a mess. But it was also a thing of great and deep beauty: all of God’s people gathered together, praising God and singing the songs of Christmas. It was a Pentecost moment if ever there was one. Afterwards, Pastor Francisco said to me, as he would from time to time when we had some communication problem, “In heaven, we will all speak the same language.” But that night, his words were meant as an affirmation that Anglos and Hispanics had spoken the same language that very night.


The beauty of that night not withstanding, worship is perhaps one of the greatest difficulties in multi-ethnic ministry. Truly multi-ethnic worship is very, very clunky except in the hands of the very, very skilled, which neither Pastor Bienvenido or I claim to be. Truly multi-ethnic worship means far more than singing a Spanish hymn, wearing an African inspired stole or using some liturgical remnant written in a distant nation. Having salsa on the table does not make meatloaf Mexican food. It is simply a flavor. It is not wrong to flavor worship with things borrowed from other cultures, but multi-ethnic worship is more than that. It’s when the whole meal comes from two or more places. Like having both tamales and meat loaf. It’s not that it cannot be done; it’s just that most cooks are far better with one or the other, rarely both. And most people are only used to eating either meatloaf or tamales, not both, at least at the same time. Worship is always related to the heart of the worshipper, and most people have a fairly simple, mono-ethnic, monocultural, mono-linguistic heart language, one that they learned in their youth, whether that was in Mexico or Tennessee. Geddes Hanson, in Making Room at the Table, a book on multi-cultural worship, writes: …the concept of “multi-cultural worship” is oxymoronic. Worship is specific to a particular religious collective’s determination to act out its experience with the transcendent in ways that reflect its essential cultural commitments. Mixing elements of worship from different cultures in the same experience compromises it. The mix might result in something esthetically pleasing, but it raises questions about its authenticity as worship.9 Prior to the 2005 worship service split, I would have disagreed with Hanson because I was seeing multi-cultural worship every week. However, as soon as the Hispanic congregation’s service moved to 1:00 pm and the Hispanic leadership no longer


needed to cater to both Hispanic and Anglo culture, the heart of the service evolved from multi-ethnic in Spanish to truly Hispanic. And when that happened, the worship became deeper and more centered on God. It became more authentically worshipful, with hearts opened fully to God. At first I thought that this was just because there were fewer distractions. But as time went on, I realized that what I was seeing in the Hispanic worship service was more of an authentic experience of (and with) the transcendent than a struggle to worship in a doubled context, as the worship had been when we had large numbers of Anglos and Hispanics together for a service that was not defined as “Hispanic” but rather as “Spanish language.” Even the beauty of the 2005 Christmas Eve service, with its Pentecost spirit, with its wonderful mixture of elements, was a reminder that this was not the kind of service that people could connect with every week. Translating between languages is difficult; translating cultural elements is nearly impossible, translating “heart language” is impossible. The simple truth is that when a worship service is truly multi-cultural, it will be less fulfilling to the heart of the average worshipper because it will fail, at least part of the time, to speak in their heart language. There is a great and growing exception to this. When persons themselves are multi-cultural, especially when they have been raised between cultures, their worship will be naturally be multi-cultural. This is because their heart language has plural elements. Thus if worship is mono-cultural, it will fail to speak their heart-language because cultural diversity will be missing. As our society becomes more and more diverse and children and youth experience greater diversity in the classroom, in media, and in life, as adults work, play and live in more diverse settings, it seems likely that worship styles will trend toward multi-culturalism not as an unnatural blending of worship elements, but as a


way of worshipping God in an authentic manner in a more diverse culture. Worship has to feel right. Increasingly, mono-cultural worship feels wrong, like a party with too few guests, because our general culture is more diverse. However creating multi-ethnic worship for the purpose of having multi-ethnic worship is a limited good (if not a dead end) over the long term. Occasional multi-ethnic services are great, powerful and full of abundant blessings. Experienced every week, except where diversity is the entrenched cultural norm, such worship services leave the worshipper longing for words spoken in their own heart language. Multi-ethnic worship must instead be designed with the experience of the transcendent as the goal, 10 with authentic blending and openness to the other that flows not from a worship planning committee but from the hearts of the worshipping congregation.

The term “Hispanic worship” is as overly general as “Anglo worship.” However, it also seems to be true that there is a sense in which Hispanic worship is typically more celebratory, more impromptu, more passionate, more lay-driven, in short, more “fiesta” than Anglo worship, especially in a Protestant context.11 While I certainly cannot claim to be in any way an expert on Hispanic worship, I can outline how the Hispanic worship service developed at Chapel Hill. There was, unless I missed another secret meeting, never a meeting or a plan for developing a worship service at Chapel Hill. Instead, over about 6 months, the Bible study, which began in the dining area of the church evolved. First it got a new leader, Pastor Bienvenido. Then the time in the study devoted to prayers grew from beginning and ending prayers into a more extensive prayer time. A few weeks later, Pastor


Bienvenido brought his guitar and added few songs to the mix. Then a time for testimonies was added, and finally the sermon. The service moved to the sanctuary for the first service with a sermon in March 2003. A separate Bible Study in Spanish was at that time begun prior to the worship service, again in the dining area. All this was initiated under the leadership of Vanessa Ortiz, helped along by Stephen Sanders and came to be under the general leadership of Pastor Bienvenido. Both Ortiz and Sanders turned over significant leadership roles to Bienvenido, who was not yet a member of the church, even as Herman Henry had turned over significant leadership to the constituents of the church in 1999. Movements attract and welcome new leaders based on skills and abilities, not credentials. Pastor Sanders, whose judgment I concur with, felt that the theological direction of the preaching and the service generally both in its leadership by Ortiz, who was a denominational official, and by Pastor Bienvenido, who was in no way official, was theologically skewed toward what often seemed to be a prosperity gospel or at least a transactional understanding of grace rooted in a works-righteousness. Bienvenido often seemed to preach: “The Bible promises that if you give yourself to Jesus, clean yourself up and live right, stay away from the bottle and prepare for the rapture, God will give you everything you need.” As I listened to Pastor Francisco preach for four years, it often seemed that grace was present, but that it was a subtext, and often quite subtle. However I joined with Sanders in biting my lip from time to time rather than trying to forcefully redirect the general theological conversation. This was because I agreed with Sanders that we needed to be quiet when we might otherwise have spoken because the context of the theological teaching was so vastly different from our own.


Pastor Francisco was far closer, in every way, to the people, generally semiskilled Hispanic day workers, than Sanders or I could ever hope to be. He could reach people with the Gospel in a way we never could. Additionally, early in my tenure at Chapel Hill and early in my relationship with Pastor Bienvenido, as I came to realize the central role he was playing in the life of the church, the two of us had several long conversations on Sunday nights about theology, doctrine, church history and the like. I came to see that while he and I did not see eye to eye on a number of theological points, his understanding of Christian theology generally was strong and clearly within the boundaries of orthodoxy as I understand it. Frankly, his wells of both wisdom and knowledge were far deeper than I expected. Indeed, for a man with a first grade education, the depth of his conversational knowledge about theology and especially church history is phenomenal. Perhaps just as importantly for the church, as Pastor Bienvenido and I talked, he came to understand my theology and that of Methodism generally. We talked of these things in give and take conversations around the table, in the car and standing outside after church. I did not interrogate or (consciously) judge Bienvenido. We just talked. And we were both changed in several ways. Two of those changes included Pastor Francisco becoming more open to Catholicism and myself becoming more passionate in my pulpit. From this, we can draw two lessons, first that while the church needs to uphold a certain core of doctrine, work in cross-cultural settings often challenges how theology is understood and applied. Secondly, when two cultures mix, such as they did there at the pulpit and at the dinner table at Chapel Hill, leadership personnel whom are part of the dominant culture, such as Sanders and I were, need to make every effort to be understanding and accommodating so that the nondominant culture can develop its own


voice. A single word, spoken too loudly and backed up by the dominant culture, could be devastating to the growth of something new between cultures. In short, dominant culture folks need to listen far more and talk far less to allow non-dominant voices to be heard in worship, planning and general conversation. Pastor Sanders moved to Texas in June of 2003, three months after the first official “worship service” (with a sermon) in March. From that time until the fall of 2005, the service continued as a part of the Sunday evening ministry that included fellowship, Bible Study, Spanish classes and dinner. The worship service was fully integrated and was translated into English. This service, as became clear in retrospect, was essentially an Anglo service that was lead by a Mexican pastor preaching, singing and praying in Spanish. Between June 2003 and the fall of 2005, when the service was moved forward to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday night prayer service became more regular. It had had began as an occasional service, but in the fall of 2005 became quite regular. Since it began in the evening and lasting often past midnight, I became used to having a sparse Hispanic crowd at 9:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of each month for the English service. Eventually, this prayer service would be held every Saturday night. Thankfully when this happened, there was no additionally decrease of Hispanic attendance at the English service and instead a small increase, the result of two Hispanic teenagers who had been sporadically attending the Spanish language service becoming quite regular attendees at the English service, bringing their mother and sister from time to time as well. When the Hispanic service moved to 1:00 p.m., which meant that majority of Anglos no longer came for worship and the Spanish classes were discontinued, the Bible


Study was moved to the Sanctuary and blended into the first part of worship. Worship began at 1:00 p.m. and ended about 5:00 p.m., but I was never quite sure when Bible study had ended and worship had begun. Just when I thought, “OK, now we are in worship, because two brothers and a sister (“brothers” and “sisters” being the normal nomenclature for everyone in the congregation that is not a pastor) have given a testimony and we have sung some,” another round of Bible verse recitation would begin. It was fairly non-linear, though there was a general flow and a hidden liturgy that took more than a few weeks to figure out. Generally, whatever happened, happened. And as time went on, the congregation became more and more expressive and vocal, more and more the brothers and sisters would freely share about their lives, sometimes quite painfully and bluntly, and the service settled into a comfort zone in terms of being a Hispanic church, perhaps a year or so after the switch to early afternoons in the fall of 2005. Due to the wisdom of Ortiz and Sanders, due to the continued support of the Anglo congregation, even when separated from worship with the Hispanic congregation, and due especially to the diligence of Bienvenido, whose main source of income remained day labor, the worship service continued to grow even with the departure of persons from time to time. Hispanic ministry has enormous turnover in terms of those ministered to because the population is incredibly mobile. For a great many, their roots are in Mexico and if the promise of a slightly better job arises a few hundred miles away, it is time to move. Brother Cocina would even move to Canada. If there is a conclusion that can be drawn from this little section on worship, it is that if an Anglo or African American church desires to pursue Hispanic ministry, it needs


to understand that worship is a distinct sub-category of ministry. Rather than pursuing worship specifically, Chapel Hill pursued ministry generally. Other churches that have developed congregations have done the same. Congregations take time to develop and cannot be forced. Further, it is exceptionally difficult for one members of one cultural group to develop or adapt worship for members of another group because all good worship is essentially indigenous. At times this means worship is multi-ethnic in order to be faithful its multi-ethnic parish. What a church of one culture can do, rather than creating worship oriented programs and structures for another cultural group, is to honestly and sincerely welcome others, including Hispanics, by creating service oriented programs and structures, such as ESL classes and food banks, while preparing itself to be changed by creating and taking advantage of classes in Hispanic culture and language while remaining open to God’s movement and being willing to walk through each door that God opens.

Continued Evolution 2006

January 2006 through June 2007, when I left the Hartsville/Chapel Hill charge and where this narrative ends, was a time of slow but steady growth in the Spanish language congregation. Toward the end of 2006, the English congregation, which had spent about a year getting over the murder of Crystal Hunt and the investigation of Jeff Trusty, began to rebound. Many of the events that had been a part of the life of the church continued as they had been over the past few years: the health fair was held both years,


blacks, white and brown kids came together for VBSs, and we sent integrated groups of kids from church and community to SpringHill Camp in Seymour Indiana . Beginning in very late 2005, the Hispanic congregation began to organize itself for ministry. While in the church's first couple of years, the Anglos had organized the ministry along with Pastor Francisco, when the Hispanic congregation moved its services to early in the afternoon and thus became less dependent on the Anglo church by default, the work began to be spread wider among the Hispanic congregants. At this point it became apparent that the Hispanic congregation needed to organize itself. This organization involved the creation of a formal structure to better order the life of church. Elders were elected by the church to serve primarily as aids to the pastor in providing for the pastoral needs of the church and also to serve as liturgists. Several men in the church had already been taken on this role informally, and the vote made these roles official. Additionally, a President of the congregation was elected, though his duties seem to be more representative than functional. Finally, four divisions of the congregation were created: Men’s, Women’s, Youth and Children. Each division elected its own President. The Women’s and Children’s divisions are formally in charge of the Saturday services and the women and children are to give evidence of their growth in the Spirit at that service. This largely consists of reciting a Bible verse in front of the president of their group. The Men’s and Youth divisions have the same relationship and responsibilities toward the Sunday Service. Groups that endure create sustaining structures. An incident in the spring of 2006 helped me to understand just how critical cultural understanding was to the development of a multi-ethnic ministry. One of the Hispanic families in the church was having financial problems and their utilities were


about to be cut off. This family contacted a few of the Anglo families in the church and asked for assistance. After a few phone calls to check on validity and need, the help was gladly given. However neither I nor Pastor Francisco nor any of the Elders were contacted about the matter. Pastora Francesca, Francisco's wife, was upset. She charged the family with trying to undermine the developing structure of the church. Everyone was very tense. That Sunday night there was a meeting after the Spanish service, just before dinner, of myself, Pastor and Pastora, the family and a few other church leaders. The family was taken to task. I was dumfounded. But the family took the tongue-lashing as if they knew it was coming and they deserved it. After the meeting, everyone went to the dining room and we ate and it was as if nothing had happened. I was unnerved. I tried to get Pastor Bienvenido to explain to me what had just happened, but he could not understand what I did not understand. Complicating the situation greatly was that Francesca had a long history of being annoyingly direct in her relationships with Anglos and especially the Hispanic women, which annoyed the English women. Not mean, but pushy. Not hateful, but bossy. In particular, there had been some conflicts with Paula Amor in the past that Francesca seemed to orchestrate and dominate. Pablo and Paula had pulled back from the church for a while as a result of hurt feelings toward Francesca. Several of the Anglo women were not in a mood to put up with Francesca "bullying" this other family. To make matters worse, when the Anglo families found out that Francesca was upset, they became further upset at Francesca. What right did she have to complain about their charity? What say did she have in what they did with their money? The next morning I called a pastor friend of mine from Mexico, told him the story, and asked him to help me understand the situation. He laughed and said "John,


Francesca is La Pastora!" He went on to explain that if I had done my homework better I would have known that "La Pastora" is traditionally an honored and important role in the Mexican church. La Pastora is typically the general organizer of the life of the church. El Pastor preaches, teaches, visits and evangelizes. La Pastora makes the phone calls, organizes committees, plans the special events, and, apparently, is the person who makes decisions about whose utilities the church will pay. La Pastora is far more important to the life of the church in the Hispanic tradition than an Anglo pastor's wife, even one who can play the organ and sing in the choir, is in the Anglo tradition. So I learned a little more about the Hispanic church. That week I went to Chapel Hill for an English Bible Study that ran concurrently with the ESL class and saw a number of the Anglo ladies in the church. I explained the whole "La Pastora" cultural difference to them and, to a woman, they all said something like, "Oh! It’s a Mexican thing! Well, I guess that explains a lot about Francesca." The level of energy around the specific issue and around Francesca's personality in general dissipated quickly. The church had long ago learned how to learn about and adjust for cultural differences. The Anglo’s attitude made a fascinating 180-degree turn, demonstrating that cross-cultural knowledge is essential for cross-cultural work. Interestingly, the importance of the role of La Pastora has made acceptance of women clergy a far easier task in many Hispanic congregations than in many Anglo congregations, a boon for United Methodism. In the summer of 2006, we faced one of our annual dilemmas: how to get the kids to and back from Spring Hill camp, which was about 400 miles away. However, this year a novel solution presented itself. A local man who was good friends with Benny Watson,


the man who had gotten the whole church camp thing going, and who had several other friends in the church, donated a used fifteen passenger van to the church, for which he had paid $5000. It was a very generous gift, motivated in some part by church members reaching out to him when his wife had passed away several earlier that year. However, there was a complication; the caveat that Hispanics not be allowed to drive the van. When I heard this, it seemed like pure racism to me, and when I conveyed that thought to others, I was assured that I was completely wrong. This had nothing to do with race, but instead with insurability. I was skeptical, but that a church could never insure a van for an illegal driver to drive was beyond doubt. Only one of the Hispanics over age of sixteen in the church at that time was legally in the country. Thus only he was a legal driver. Thus if any Hispanics but that one were driving the van and it were in a wreck, the church would face serious legal action. This insurance issue was both real and serious and any pastor would have been taking a startling risk to create a church policy that unlicensed drivers could drive a church vehicle. However, I seemed to be unable to greet the situation with as much joy as others in the church did, and I think that I hurt my relationship with Watson with my coolness to the caveat. Watson would leave the church a few months later, saying it was nothing personal, that he just needed a freer worship style than the Chapel Hill English service, which was consistent with his church background before he came to Chapel Hill, but I think that if I had seen the insurance implication more quickly and not jumped to the conclusion I did, things might have gone better all around. Issues of race and immigration status are complex. The immigration situation has been broken for years, and there is, apparently, no way to fix it that is fair to all people. The role of the church in this situation is also complex. We are called to be open and


inviting to all, and a church like Chapel Hill has found ways to do that. But this can create seemingly intractable difficulties, especially in the development of leaders from within the church, even leaders at as relatively basic level as van drivers. If we cannot "credential" a van driver, how can we credential a pastor in like circumstance? Chapel Hill dealt with “credentialing” Pastor Bienvenido by taking the null option. He had and has no official status as a pastor. He serves completely at the discretion and under the sponsorship of the official pastor as the Spanish-language preacher. While this arrangement seems both tenuous and unfair, and probably is, it is forced upon the church by the broken reality of immigration law in the USA. Had Chapel Hill been able to help Pastor Bienvenido get a green card or become a citizen, they would have done so already. If the possibility presents itself in the future, they most certainly will. However, as a Mexican national who crossed into this country completely without legal documents, his path to legal status in the USA is currently blocked. He, and all other potential pastors who are in the USA without legal documentation, continue to be unappointable in the United Methodist Church. To appoint such a person would be in violation of the law. While the makeshift arrangement works well for Pastor Bienvenido and the Chapel Hill church, it is a relationship that is built on mutual trust and love, not credentials, and would be quite difficult to replicate systemically. While Methodism faces the special challenge of the appointment process, which entangles the bishop and thus the whole church in every appointment, thus making it imperative that no appointment be done outside the law, all churches face the same essential issue: How do you do culturally relevant ministry with a people whose pastors you often cannot legally support? The Hispanic culture as it is evolving in the south and mid-west is largely a culture whose


people come to the USA very poor and very uneducated. If a church brings in a pastor from Mexico, in order to meet visa requirements, that pastor has to have a seminary degree. Thus he or she will have to be from a far different social class than the typical immigrant working on a farm, stamping metal in a plant, bussing dishes in a restaurant or feeding chickens in a plant. Just speaking the same language or being from the same country hardly makes persons culturally similar. The difficulty of finding legal, appointable, and culturally relevant leadership for Hispanic ministries is not likely to abate, though it could vastly improve with new national immigration legislation. The other side of this issue is race and ethnicity. While our nation and our church is in many ways a far more open and inclusive place than it was twenty five or fifty years ago, the demon of racism has not by any stretch been fully exorcised. Blacks and whites still see each other the color line. For most white and blacks, Hispanics seem to be a third race. Most Hispanics can understand the logic of their presence in the USA as a third race, but at a heart level it has far less meaning. While blacks and whites share 400 years of bitterness and acrimony; Hispanics do not have these same cruel scars. Nonetheless, many blacks and whites project a third racial conscience onto Hispanics, some who accept it, and some who reject it. However I am hopeful that the introductions of a huge number of Americans into the racial debate that do not share a history as brutal as that between black and white will help mitigate the evil of racism. The meetings that led up to Charge Conference in 2006 brought about several very helpful corrections in the life of the congregations. One of those was that as the Anglo congregation began to consider where it was financially and in terms of attendance, things were obviously not where they needed to be mainly because our


apportionments had risen dramatically and our income had not. Further we had lost a few members and attendees during the difficult situation with the Trusty murder. There was a sense that we were drifting. This was compounded by the reality that the Hispanic congregation was hitting on all cylinders and making clear forward progress. It seemed to several members that the Anglo church was in danger of fading into oblivion. Chapel Hill had developed quite a reputation in the area as a welcoming place for Hispanics, and some persons in the community had even come to believe that Chapel Hill was now a Hispanic church. Thus the Anglo congregation decided it needed to refocus some of its energy on the development of the Anglo side of things. As pastor, I concurred and we decided to have a revival in the fall to hopefully breathe some new life into the congregation. I lined up several pastors to come and preach, one a greatly loved former pastor of the charge, and the Anglo folks did their part by inviting what seemed like the entire community. We had several nights of good preaching and Gospel singing and the Spirit was present with us. A new family, who had moved to the area recently but had never attended prior to the revival, joined the church as a result and another woman began to attend regularly. Additionally, two Hispanic youth began to attend the English service as well, along with their mother and sister occasionally, as mentioned earlier. The situation that led to the two youth attending was more complex than the revival, though the revival clearly opened the door. Their family lived near the church, but had long felt only marginally welcomed at the Spanish language services, even with the mother as an active member of the ESL community. I think this was because they were not willing to fully renounce their Catholicism, though they did not attend Mass. There may have been other underlying issue, but I think the big problem was religious;


they had an old Ford Explorer with a big Virgin of Guadalupe on the spare tire cover. Whatever else was the case, there was a long history of domestic violence in the family, the mother being beaten up by the father. One night one of the sons had enough and resisted and everything came to a head. The fight ended with the family splitting up and moving out. The mother and children ended up in a mobile home on Herman Henry’s property and were strongly supported by the total church, both Anglo and Hispanic. The incident drew them closer to the church. However they simply felt more at home in the English than the Spanish language services. Churches that engage in Hispanic ministry need to understand that there is no one cultural pattern that all Hispanics fit into. Further, one and a half or second generation immigrants, like the boys in this family, are in a very complex place culturally. While an immigrant congregation may feel extremely comforting and homey to parents, their children very likely will have a totally different, multi-cultural, heart language and thus find the same environment embarrassing and lacking in meaning. A second course correction that resulted from the preparations for the 2006 Charge Conference, one that caused a few fireworks to go off, was related to the budget. At one of the planning meetings, Herman Henry was reading through the budget figures, which were not encouraging, and asked how much the Hispanic congregation was contributing to the upkeep of the building. There was a long pause. Finally the answer came that they were not contributing anything. Henry offered his thought that everyone should help support the church. Others thought that it would be wrong to ask the Hispanic congregation, most of which was made up of people with far fewer economic resources than the Anglos, to give. I, along with the majority of those present, could see both points


of view. The meeting ended without a consensus, though a plan was floated to have the English congregation pay half the utilities and the Hispanic congregation pay the other half. This was, in reality, a subsidy for the Hispanic church, since they used the building far more than the Anglos, but the symbolism was important. The bill itself was not large: the church is small and every measure is taken to conserve energy, including turning the water off at a cut off valve in the winter so that the heat can be left off and no pipes will freeze. As I drove home that night, I was nervous, wrestling with the realities of church conflict. As I drove, I had the thought that the church does not tell anyone what they have to give, so it hardly seemed fair to ask any the Hispanics to give a specific amount, but at the same time, it was not really fair for the English side of the church to foot all the bills. A plan was forming in my mind. The next morning, I called the treasurer, Linda McDonald, got the numbers on the utility bill, which averaged less than $100 a month, and talked with her and Henry about my plan. They were in agreement, so that next Sunday morning I explained to the English congregation and then that evening to the Hispanic congregation that the church does not expect specific members to give specific amounts, and that therefore it would be wrong for the English service to try to require the Spanish service to pay any specific amount or portion of the utility bill. But that at the same time, there was a utility bill to pay and that it would be wrong for all persons in the church not to have a part of supporting the church. Thus I had decided to present the total amount of the utility bill to the Hispanic congregation so that they would know how much it was and encourage them to pay a portion of the bill each month. When I presented the plan, the English folks agreed to it in the morning and in the evening the


Hispanic congregation immediately decided to pay the entire bill each month as a gesture of their love and appreciation for Chapel Hill, a practice which has continued past my tenure as pastor. And God showed a sense of humor that evening, as one of the lights in the church just happened to have burned out that day and Pastor Bienvenido pointed to the light and said: "You see, the Anglos need our help with the light bill!" The Hispanic congregation obviously wanted to help support the whole church and the Anglos had to allow, but not force, that to happen. There is a fine line here that many churches struggle with. Hispanic ministries tend to be shoestring operations (there are, of course, notable exceptions.) When young ministries (Hispanic or otherwise) are getting off the ground, many being hosted or otherwise supported by other congregations and/or by denominational funding, the question eventually must be asked: when will this ministry be self supporting? A ministry that never is able to contribute to the larger church it is supported by or to support itself is not viable over the long term. But the crucial question is: what is the long term? Is it three years? Five years? Ten years? When should a ministry be able to stand on its own two feet? When should accountability come into play and who makes the rules for the accounting? Will a lack of accountability cause ministries to fail to mature? These are hard questions without solid answers. What I can say is that at Chapel Hill, when the truth about the budget was laid in front of the Hispanic congregation, when there was not a demand but a suggested sharing of responsibility, the church came together to support itself. Would this have happened if the request had been made a year earlier? I doubt it, but perhaps it could.


Charge Conference in 2006 was a time of celebration. The District Superintendent scheduled Charge Conferences at the smaller churches of all the two point charges in the District, which placed ours at Chapel Hill. And he scheduled ours for early one Sunday afternoon. Thus I had to I ask Pastor Bienvenido to move the Spanish language service back an hour or two to accommodate the Charge Conference and he did so. He and I also decided to ask the whole Hispanic congregation to come to the Charge Conference. That evening we had a very large turnout from the Hispanic and Anglo congregations at Chapel Hill along with the stalwarts from Hartsville. By the time we were ready to begin the church was full! So we sang and we prayed and we got through the various reports and then I opened the floor for persons to praise God by sharing with the church and the District Superintendent what their church meant to them. Most everyone in the church, at least the adults, shared. Many of the Hispanics testified through tears and with heartfelt appreciation. I almost cried myself once or twice, knowing the full stories of what people were saying. It was a wonderful and religious experience in which hearts and souls were shared one with another in authentic conferencing. And something in my heart began to whisper on that very night: "your work here is done." It would take me a few months to fully realize that God was calling me to move the next summer, but it started at that charge conference.

Christmas Eve 2006 Prior to Christmas Eve in 2006, I had more or less decided that I was going to move. I was pretty sure that this would be my last Christmas Eve with the congregations Chapel Hill and so I was greatly anticipating the service. Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, 179

and we had been very full at the English service (at 9:00am) and I was worried that we would be completely packed out in the evening. But when the appointed time came, I was very disappointed because the congregation was almost exclusively Anglo. A few more Hispanic folks came in during the service, more towards the end than the beginning. As the service ended, with the Anglos hustling home to be with their families, the Hispanics began to really arrive, and I realized I had again apparently failed to communicate when the service was to start. We had planned for an English/Hispanic service, but obviously it was not to be. To make matters even worse, I had to leave quickly to go to my church in Hartsville. Pastor Bienvenido led the Hispanic service without me, which he was certainly capable of doing. I felt cheated by my own inability to communicate effectively to both congregations. It is simply harder to get even simple words out cross cultures and languages and must be attended to carefully. It should go without saying that cross-cultural communication is more difficult than inner-cultural communication, but this point simply cannot be emphasized enough, especially in the church. Communication in the church is always hard work. And since churches are cultural repositories, with immigrant churches being islands in a “new” country where the “old” country’s culture is respected, having an immigrant congregation in the same space as non-immigrant congregation creates interesting communication difficulties, even in churches where everyone speaks the same language. Additionally, communication in a church with two services is more complicated than single service churches. Communication in a church where different services speak different languages means an exponential level of difficulties. Communication in a multi-ethnic church is a


dramatic challenge. But it certainly can be done, though occasional failures are inevitable. I have come to believe that cultural differences, rather than language differences or having plural services or campuses or any other blockage, create the most obstacles to good communication in churches. The concept of time is a good example. Anglos really, really care about time. More than they realize. Time matters to Anglos at a heart level. It is possible to really hurt an Anglo’s feelings, to even challenge their sense of personhood, by being a few minutes late to an otherwise unimportant meeting. For Anglos, respecting a person’s time is equivalent to respecting them. For Hispanics, time is not such an important value. A Hispanic can really insult an Anglo by showing up late for lunch and, without any cultural training, not even realize they have do so, making things even worse. Though I knew that the story was more complicated on Christmas Eve 2006 at Chapel Hill, the assumption on the part of the Anglos was that the Hispanic congregation was simply running on “Hispanic time,” not unusual at all and hardly worth even worth noticing or grumbling about. In the same manner, Anglos can easily insult Hispanics by, once everyone has arrived at a meeting, whether on time or late, failing to engage in at least a few minutes of what Anglos would call “small talk” but what for Hispanics (speaking generally, of course) would be an essential part of the meeting: building and checking on relationships. Anglo meetings begin and end with a quick handshake. Hispanic meetings begin and end with conversation that goes well beyond business. Successfully negotiating these tricky waters is something that cross-cultural churches learn to do as a body.


While the year 2006 ended with less growth in the Hispanic congregation than 2005, it also saw a deeper and stronger emphasis in discipleship. This was tied into the development of the four divisions in the congregation. The Anglo congregation grew in membership, with the addition of a couple who had begun attending during the revival. There was also some growth in attendance, with not only the Hispanic and Anglo families already mentioned but a few others becoming regular attenders. Early in the year 2007, one of the sisters in the Hispanic congregation had a financial emergency requiring about $1500. She called Pastor Bienvenido and explained the situation to him. He called the rest of the church, and they set up a banking club. That Sunday, everyone who could brought fifty dollars. In some families, both husband and wife gave. Some of the older youth joined in as well. All gave in increments of fifty dollars. The money was collected and everyone who had given was put on a list. The sister in need received the cash collected that night. Then, the next week the process was repeated with the person whose name was first on the list going home with the cash. The process was repeated with everyone on the list having a Sunday that they received the cash. Thus everyone was paid back with a lump sum equivalent to his or her total invested. A banking plan such as this exhibits a high degree of trust and camaraderie within the church. It is not the kind of thing you would expect to see in a new ministry but rather within an established congregation. Thus we can see that God had moved through the unfulfilled efforts of the Carthage First UMC to launch an Hispanic ministry, through the loving neighborliness of many of the Anglo members of the Chapel Hill UMC, through or despite the immigration policy of the US Government, through the seeming


randomness of missed connections, tractor accidents, and who “just happened” to be working beside whom in the tobacco fields, through built up bonds of trust and friendship across all racial lines, through pastoral skills honed in Germany, Mexico, Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee, through revival, planned and unplanned, through economic interdependence, and most off all through love, to build up the body of Christ without reference to race, language or nation of origin. The last real work that I did at Chapel Hill was to help Pastor Bienvenido’s son Felix make application to Martin Methodist College. Martin is related to the Tennessee Annual Conference. Felix is a very smart and deeply spiritual young man. He graduated from high school with above a 4.0 gpa and was a hard worker at church. He will make a great leader in the church one day. However, as a poor non-citizen, he had no way to go to college. All universities require students to fill out the FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) prior to matriculation. Without a valid social security number, this was impossible for Felix. He was stuck. I came to this realization one evening in January of 2007 as we sat around talking about his good grades and plans after graduating from high school that year. I (once again) put my foot in my mouth when I asked him how many schools had sent him letters inviting him to make application. He said “None.” I really thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. So I called a friend of mine on staff at Martin and we got the ball rolling. Martin processed his enrollment without a FASFA, we made a couple of campus visits and eventually he matriculated and we were able to cobble together enough funds for his first year (the 2007-2008 academic year.) Of all the work I did in the four years I was at Chapel Hill, this may end up being the most significant.


In June of 2007 my bishop appointed me to another parish. I found it very difficult to tell the churches that I was then serving that I was leaving. I loved all three of the congregations that I served. Each one was special and different and had beauties all its own. But I was surprised when I told the Hispanic church I was leaving. When I told the Hartsville church, they grieved. When I told the Chapel Hill English congregation, they grieved. But when I told the Chapel Hill Spanish congregation, there was no grief at all. No more than as if I had told them that I had a callous on my toe. I was taken aback and disappointed that this church, which I had poured so much time and energy into, didn’t seem to care that I was leaving. As I reflected on it, I realized that this was a congregation in a culture in which coming and going was normative: a church of sojourners, who were familiar with the road. But six months later, when my father died, who made the 4 hour trip to the funeral? No one from Hartsville, a few folks from the Chapel Hill English congregation and about half of the Chapel Hill Hispanic congregation. Predictably, they were a few minutes late. Thus ends my part of the story of Chapel Hill, the small rural church that developed a multiethnic, multicultural and multinational ministry. The story goes on, of course, and it continues to evolve on both the Anglo and the Hispanic side. I count the four years I spent at Hartsville/Chapel Hill as among the most precious and wonderful of all the gifts that God has given me.




Mexico has no official religion and there has been significant tension between Roman Catholicism and the civil government. Baptismal Covenant IV, United Methodist Hymnal, (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989). p 52.
3 2


There are, of course, a great many different Anglo cultures.

Stephen Sanders, “Hispanic/Latino Ministry in Smith County,” Tennessee Conference Edition of the United Methodist Review, April 11, 2002. p 3.


Stephen Sanders, “Hispanic/Latino Ministry in Smith County,” p 3.

This morphed from Survival Spanish Lesson to Spanish as a Second Language somewhere along the line. Aart M. van Beek, Cross-Cultural Counseling: Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). It is very, very unusual for an undocumented child to be able to attend college, though programs are beginning to open up. Felix is a very mature and intelligent young man and has been able to do so through the generosity of Martin Methodist College and various concerned donors, many at Chapel Hill. Brian Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, eds., Making Room At The Table (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 156.
10 9 8 7


Brian Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, 156. Justo L. Gonzales, Alabadle (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 6-8.


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