Hispanic Heritage Month a time to celebrate culture, diversity of United Methodist Church

Each year – from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 – people from all different backgrounds and nationalities come together to celebrate their Hispanic-Latino heritage during Hispanic Heritage Month.

According to HispanicHeritageMonth.gov, Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.”

Hispanic Heritage Month can trace its history all the way back to 1968 – a year that should be very familiar to those in the United Methodist Church – when President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that Sept. 15 would be the beginning date of Hispanic Heritage Week.

President Johnson – through the signing of Proclamation 3869 on Sept. 17, 1968 – brought attention to the many outstanding improvements that people of Hispanic descent have contributed to the United States national heritage, through areas such as our national culture, business, science, and military service.

Later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded Hispanic Heritage Week to encompass a 30-day period, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, inaugurating the official celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Sept. 15 is not an insignificant date for those of Hispanic descent – it is the anniversary of independence for many Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.

In the United Methodist Church, the contributions and importance of Hispanic church members also cannot be ignored.

In an article written for the Discipleship Ministries website, the Rev. Liana Perez-Felix of the Memphis Conference urges church members to avoid falling behind in Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, noting again the astounding contributions that they have made to this nation. She also lays out some ways that churches can participate in the month-long celebration, including:
• a formal dinner with traditional cuisine and music from Hispanic-Latino countries that are represented in your congregation
• special worship services where elements of Hispanic-Latino culture are included
• guest speakers who focus on issues that Hispanics/Latinos are facing
• independence celebrations for the various Hispanic and Latino countries represented in your congregation
• sermons and Sunday school classes with Hispanic Heritage Month themes
• coloring books for children that show Hispanic-Latino heritage

In addition to celebrating the varied cultures that are already found in church congregations, there are also ways to reach out and build new congregations of Spanish-speaking and Hispanic churchgoers.

Through groups like the various Conference Hispanic/Latino Ministries and The General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Churches are working to not only serve the needs of these communities, but to help grow vital and sustainable church homes for Spanish-speaking individuals as well.

Path 1 is one way that these groups are being reached within the UMC.

According to the Discipleship Ministries website, “Path 1 is a team of mission-driven, passionate and diverse leaders drawn from national, regional and local levels of the United Methodist Church, providing collaborative leadership to evangelize the United States through new congregations.”

In Arkansas, a Path 1 Hispanic Ministry Training course will be offered for those who wish to receive vital training that will help them to create new congregations of Spanish-speaking and Hispanic United Methodists.
The Rev. Jim Benfer, one of two clergy who will be leading training sessions at the Path 1 training courses this fall, sees a need in Arkansas for more churches to reach out to those Hispanic communities that have been forgotten in the past.

“Whether we realize it or not, here in Arkansas we have a large community of Spanish-speaking people, and they are often ignored when we talk about reaching new communities for the United Methodist Church,” Benfer said.

That’s the problem that Path 1 is hoping to fix. The training will take place at the Nueva Vida United Methodist Church in Dardanelle, Arkansas, and the curriculum will highlight key topics and tools that will help churches create more diverse, Spanish-speaking congregations.

The curriculum will include discussions on basic church planting information, basic structure and polity of the United Methodist Church, theology and spiritual disciplines that follow the Wesleyan tradition, creating action plans to reach communities, growing and multiplying ministries to build healthy church DNA, and more.

Training will take place in Spanish, with English translation also available.

The training dates for Path 1 are Sept. 15, 22 and 29; Oct. 27; Nov. 3 and 10; Dec. 1 and 8; and Jan. 5 and 12. All training dates are free of charge.

In addition to Rev. Benfer, the Rev. Vitalino Mendez will also be leading training sessions for these dates.

For more information on Path 1 training and how you can get involved in growing Hispanic and Spanish-speaking congregations in your community, contact Rev. Benfer at jim.benfer@arumc.org or call the Nueva Vida UMC office at (479) 229 – 3720.

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