People: Por la Unidad de la Iglesia

People: Por la Unidad de la Iglesia

By John Fiedler and the Rev. Deacon Kristina Burbank, St. James/Santiago, Lincoln City

In late July 2010 a dozen Spanish-speaking ESOL students came from Oceana Family Literacy Center to perform traditional Mexican drumming for diners at a St. James community meal. The standing-room only crowd was filled with the drummers’ families, friends and neighbors as energetic rhythms played with wooden sticks on five-gallon paint drums totally raised the roof.

That evening a Latino couple sat next to the Rev. Laura Truby, St. James’ interim priest, and expressed to her the Latino community’s need for understandable worship at a time they could attend, for spiritual guidance and anchoring, and for connection among themselves and with others on a meaningful human level. “The people are disoriented,” they said.

Fluent in Spanish and raised in Bolivia, Laura was the right person at the right time to initiate a response. A few years earlier, a demographics study had encouraged our parish to reach out to the growing Latino population in Lincoln City. But even though we had prayed, it took a little time for the reality to catch up with the vision.

As Laura reported, “It came about by a unanimous vote of our vestry, a very forward-looking and faith-filled response to an expressed need on the part of the Latino community. This was completely of God and of your answered prayers.” The first Misa en Español was celebrated on August 22, 2010.

From the day Latino Ministry literally drummed its way into the parish of St. James, education and literacy have shaped and strengthened it. And from the beginning the people of St. James/Santiago have been generous in their support.

During the next several months, multiple diaconal and lay ministries emerged in support of the new Latino Ministry. A free Strings Ensemble for children was started with thirteen borrowed violins, violas and cellos. Camp Magruder and Art and Music Camp were made available with financial support given to all campers. Bilingual books and art supplies were donated. Spanish/English language exchange classes were offered weekly. And with the help of church volunteers, Oceana Family Literacy Center, our partner in literacy, continued to teach adults, high school students and preschoolers language skills.

Today the Misa service continues every other Sunday evening to accommodate the demanding work schedule of the Latino population. Celebrations of La Virgen de Guadalupe in December pull in significant Anglo participation. An Ofrenda (altar with offerings of food and pictures of deceased friends and family) in the narthex for Dia de los Muertos in early November celebrates and commemorates loved ones (including pets) from both congregations.

A K-6 elementary school, begun in 2013, has grown and is beginning to attract a larger proportion of minority families than the local public schools. Recent baptisms of Latino children have been celebrated bilingually at Sunday morning services, where attendance soars. St. James Day picnics on or close to July 25 provide another opportunity for drawing all the people of the parish together.

Rector Chris Hertlein, who spent her work career in Spanish-speaking countries, arrived in 2014 to take up the reins for both groups. She says, “Before any congregation decides on a similar course of Latino ministry, it’s imperative that the English-speaking congregation be 100-percent on board.” Thankfully that was the case at St. James/Santiago.

Clergy turnover at the church in the years when the Latino ministry was just beginning led some in the minority congregation to wonder what the future held. Chris acknowledges that one of her challenges was getting her Spanish-speaking parishioners to trust in her longevity as their priest. That trust has slowly consolidated during the past four years. “I think we’re just about there,” she says.

The church’s public commitment to bicultural ministry starts with the list of service times on its sign fronting busy Highway 101 in Lincoln City. St. James/Santiago schoolchildren, holding hands as they walk the sidewalks from school to the ball fields or the public library, are another reminder to the larger community that faith comes in many hues and speaks many languages.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of In Conversation, the semi-annual magazine from the Diocese of Oregon. Click here to read more stories from In Conversation online.