By Rick Wolcott*
“In Ohio, all but six counties will have 1,000 Hispanic persons in them within the next five years,” said the Rev. Steve Court, East Ohio Conference director of Connectional Ministries.
United Methodist leadership from across the state came together in Mansfield on January 8 for a two-day summit – the next step in developing a plan for reaching out to, and ministering with, the growing Hispanic/Latino population.
“What we want to be able to do is come away with the beginning of a real strategy that helps us be able to focus our ministry to find what are those right and best ways to build relationships with youth and young adult Hispanic/Latino communities,” said the Rev. Dee Stickley-Miner, director of Connectional Ministries in the West Ohio Conference.
“This is a joint venture with East and West Ohio sharing resources,” said the Rev. Kelly Brown, East Ohio Conference director of Congregational Vitality. “We are also working with the General Board of Global Ministries, and the National Hispanic Plan.”
“The work we are doing this weekend is part of the process – to develop a new strategy for meeting the needs of the 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanic/Latinos in this part of the country,” said the Rev. Francisco Cañas, the national coordinator for Hispanic/Latino Ministry at the General Board of Global Ministries.
Letty Damian of First United Methodist Church in Willard was encouraged by the meeting.
“It’s a good way to sit down with each other to figure out what is the next step in the future of the church,” she said. “I would like to see not only more bilingual people but also more people from the younger generation in the church.”
“My goal is that we learn from the Hispanic community how to reach out and be the church that we are supposed to be,” Court said.
Cañas told the group that, “The church needs to respond to this generation with their own language, their own understandings and values. This meeting is a way to educate us – the leaders – in how to communicate with the new people that God is sending to us to proclaim the gospel.”
“Within our church we have a Spanish language service every Sunday, and Bible study,” said Don Peeler, chairperson of Outreach Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Willard. “We’re serving this population and we’re always looking at ways to expand it and improve it. We have a lot of young Hispanic leaders in our church and in our community, so we’re very much interested in developing them.”
The importance of the meeting could be encapsulated by this exchange between Cañas and Peeler, following a presentation about the Ohio communities with the largest percentage of Hispanic persons.
“The reality is much different than the story that is told. Your statistics are good but they don’t help us a lot. For instance, our community is 13% Hispanic year-round and 20% Hispanic five months out of the year. But we’re not listed in the Top 10 – even though we have a higher percentage than most of those locations.”
“That is why we need to develop a plan to reach people. Because if we want to be successful in ministry – and I’m not talking Hispanic/Latino, I’m talking in general – you need to know all those details of the community that you are serving as a pastor because your calling is to serve a city.”
The team will meet on January 30 to finalize the strategic plan.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.