The New Year is always a time for evaluating and setting new goals. But beware of comparing your Hispanic Ministry with another parish’s! Every parish and every Hispanic Ministry is in a different season.
For Everything there is a Season
In 2014 we decided to put on Christ Renews His Parish retreats in Spanish. We had seen how successful these retreats had been in other parishes in our Diocese and thought it could really serve our Hispanic community. A team from another parish who has been doing these retreats for years came to lead the retreat and they did an incredible job. The main problem was that we weren’t able to convince very many people to attend the retreat. The few who did attend these retreats had powerful encounters with Jesus, but the retreats just weren’t sustainable at our parish. The real life-change happens during the follow up sessions and then leading the retreat for the next group. Fr. Carmelo and I tried our best to lead weekly meetings with the men’s group and women’s group. But with so few members it was hard to keep up the interest. We were ill-equipped to lead these follow ups and train these groups to turn around and give the retreat. In the end it was a big drain on our budget and our time and was basically a flop. Looking back, we were trying something at St. Michael’s just because it had worked at another parish.
When we look at other parishes and their Hispanic Ministry programs we can fall into the comparison trap. We can start thinking that we’re not doing things right or we need to do what they’re doing. We can start making decisions based on what worked for them but not thinking through what will work for us during this season. The danger in this is each parish and even each ministry within each parish is in its own season. Like chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “For everything there is a season.” You might be comparing your season of plowing or planting to our season of harvesting or vice versa.
What Season are You in?
One resource for figuring out what season you are in is the practical guide written by a USCCB taskforce called Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They May All Be One. Part I describes six states of intercultural sensitivities that parishes go through when facing demographic changes: denial, defense, minimizing, acceptance, adaptation and integration. Part III of this guide describes stages of welcoming, belonging and ownership and the movements within each stage. Each parish is going through these stages at a different speed, and sometimes there are segments of the parish in different stages. If your parish is anything like St. Michael’s, there are new people coming in at all times, so there is a feeling of constantly going through these cycles with some groups ready to go to a deeper level and others only superficially.
Another thing to consider is the demographic reality of the parish. Are you in a rural or urban setting? What is the socioeconomic status and educational level of the area? These same factors need to be considered and studied in the Hispanic community along with immigration status and how recently immigrants have arrived. All of these factors will affect what season your parish and Hispanic Ministry is in.
If we look at St. Michael’s for example it is in a very small, rural town and so the area attracts people from small, rural towns in Latin America. All of our Hispanic parishioners are immigrants themselves and their children. We do not have third and fourth generation Hispanic immigrants. The educational level of the adult Hispanic immigrants in our area is low, most only having studied to the 3rd or 6th grade. Another aspect of our demographic is that the majority of Hispanics are of indigenous (Mayan) roots and their native tongues are ancient languages of Mixteco or Q’anjob’al. For many, Spanish is their second language and English is their third. Some speak very little Spanish or English and need interpreters into their native tongue.
If I fall into the comparison trap I can pressure our parish team and leadership to conform to what has worked in other parishes. For example, one goal we have is to eventually have a Parish Council that equally represents the cultures in our parish. But reading the description in the last paragraph it’s obvious that it’s going to take a while before we will have parishioners with the language, reading and leadership skills to effectively fulfill that role. So, in the season we are in right now we have a Hispanic committee that represents the diversity within our Hispanic community which is held in Spanish. This committee meets the week before Parish Council and Fr. Carmelo and I serve as liaisons bringing their concerns, plans and decisions to the Parish Council and vice-versa. Each Hispanic committee member has an invitation to participate in Parish Council at any time, although only a couple ever do so. That is just the season we are in.
You be You
My challenge for all of us in this New Year is to make decisions about our ministries based on an honest evaluation of our demographic reality and the season we are in. God will guide us to take the right steps that will help move us into the next season.
If you would like help working through the guide mentioned above with your parish leadership or need a fresh set of eyes to help you with your pastoral planning during this season, I’d love to be a resource for you! Just visit patticc.com/services to find out more!
Share in the comment section below what season is your parish or your Hispanic Ministry in? Have you ever fallen into the comparison trap?