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Jun 22, 2017 | Paulette E. Martin

"Juntos en Misión" Teaches Lay Leaders Important Lessons



Nearly 250 Episcopalians attended the Hispanic Lay Leadership Conference June 16-17 at Camp Allen, the Diocese of Texas’ camp and conference center north of Houston.

Juntos en Misión: Invitación, Bienvenidad y Conexión (Together in Mission: Invitation, Welcome and Connection) was the theme of the conference, based on the digital training series for Spanish-speaking congregations across the Episcopal Church developed by the Diocese of Texas. The videos, developed for the Latino culture from the popular Invite Welcome Connect newcomer ministry training, are available online at no charge.

Participants came from nearly a dozen Spanish-speaking congregations in Austin and Houston along with a delegation of clergy and lay leaders from the Diocese of Costa Rica.

The lay leadership conference, in it’s third year, is by invitation only and aims to raise up and train leaders within the Diocese’s Spanish-speaking congregations. This year, the conference also addressed the current anti-immigrant policies in the state of Texas. The Rev. Canon Simon Bautista, chair of the diocesan Commission on Hispanic Ministry, read a letter signed by the Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, condemning SB-4, an anti-immigrant bill passed recently in the state legislature.

“As your bishop, I signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on May 17, 2017, along with 200 other Texas religious leaders, condemning the law as ‘anti-immigrant’ and contrary to the biblical principles for which we stand as Christians. The law is contrary to the moral imperative that we love our neighbor, welcome the immigrant, and care for the most vulnerable among us. This law represents an anti-immigrant agenda that is born out of fear and promoted out of a sense of privilege, jeopardizing justice for everyone,” the letter read.

Additionally, the delegation from Costa Rica shared their latest campaign in the Church’s support of helping its nation become carbon neutral country by 2021.

“Live Your Faith Naturally” is their focus across the Diocese of Costa Rica. In June 2016, a United Thank Offering grant was awarded to a project of the Episcopal Church in Costa Rica to generate clean energy with solar panels. The Diocese of Costa Rica is also educating parishioners about the importance of taking care of the planet. Ecotourism is one of the most important industries in Costa Rica and the Church’s focus on green energy will benefit and educate many people beyond the Church there.

Jero Melendez, from the Diocese of Costa Rica, came to the conference in hopes of learning new ways to connect with people in the community and extending an invitation to their church.

“We are taking some valuable resources home with us,” he said after watching the videos of Juntos en Misión and engaging in the discussion. “We discussed and analyzed different ways in which we take our church beyond our four walls,” he said.

Cecilia Juarez, a member of Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, feels energized for the work that is ahead of her and her team.

“It is important to follow up with the lessons we learned and also figure out how to support, not just people in our church, but also other congregations in our Diocese,” Juarez said.

The common theme shared by most of the lay leaders was the importance of extending a personal invitation to strangers who do not know about the Episcopal Church. Francisco Gonzalez has been a member of St. Paul’s/San Pablo, Houston for more than a decade and still remembers why he chose to stay.

“I chose the Episcopal Church because of the way the received me,” he said simply, adding, “They made me feel like I was part of their community from the very beginning.”

A marketing study done in 2016 highlighted the lack of awareness of the Episcopal Church within the Hispanic community, but also showed how attractive it was to those Hispanics who learned about it. Hopefully, Juntos en Misión will give congregations the tools they need to become better known in their surrounding communities and to make newcomers feel a part of the Church.

The next conference will be held on June 15-16, 2018 at Camp Allen.