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Aug 22, 2017 | The Rev. Cynthia Caruso

Bilingual Church Seems Effortless

“Bienvenidos a todos este domingo. Welcome to everyone this Sunday,” said the celebrant; and we were off. Spanish and English sentences said so quickly and fluently that at first I thought the Rev. Alex Montes-Vela was speaking entirely in English with an occasional Spanish phrase thrown in. 

After a few minutes my ears began to catch the Spanish words, and I realized that he was saying everything in both languages, a sentence or two at a time, so fluidly that everyone present felt they were hearing their first language only. 

I first learned about St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Manor when I was a second-year curate. Alex taught a workshop to new clergy about how it felt to be in charge of a congregation for the first time. 

He told us about starting St. Mary Magdalene near Austin in his home, and how it was a bilingual congregation, and how he did not know what he was doing. His humility, coupled with his love of God and the people he served, moved me. 

So when the church building was completed I attended the dedication. There was such energy that night, such excitement, as the video showed the progress from house church, to building, to dedication of the completed building. Because I am now a priest also, I never had another chance to worship at St. Mary Magdalene. 

But my daughter–in-law and granddaughter worship there and in August I attended my six-year old granddaughter, Nathalie Grace Caruso’s, baptism. I was quickly drawn in by the rapid English-Spanish, Spanish-English that left me understanding everything, and not feeling bored waiting for a translation. During the hymns, both English and Spanish were on the screen, and the band led in one language, then shifted to the other. It was so natural one would not know that it took a long time to work out this dual language worship.

The sermon was conversational in both languages. Alex asked questions and got answers. During the Eucharistic prayer, Alex moved from language to language, but this time completing a full paragraph before moving to the other language.

When the congregation said the Lord’s Prayer, everyone prayed in the preferred language, for a Pentecost experience—two languages being prayed at the same time.

There were prayers for birthdays, and a prayer for the associate priest who was leaving after three years. There were prayers for needs, personal prayers for each person and situation. The service lasted two hours, and no one was bored. Every person was engaged, including the children.

Muchas gracias, Padre Alex. Thank you so much, people of St. Mary Magdalene. 

Caruso is associate rector at All Saints, Austin