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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Ministry prepares Hispanic leaders to cope in today’s difficult times

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Rosa Miranda

LOUISVILLE — Each year at this time Presbyterians and others celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans to this country.

Hispanic Heritage Month started as a week in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill making the week of September 15-21 a time to honor the contributions of the Hispanic and Latin American communities.

But it was President Reagan who in 1988 signed into law a bill turning that week into an entire month, September 15 through October 15, to celebrate Hispanic heritage.

And just as people of Hispanic and Latin descent have made significant contributions to this nation, they have done likewise to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

According to the Rev. Carmen M. Rosario Riviere, recently retired Presbyterian pastor and co-moderator of the Hispanic/Latinx National Caucus, after the Mexican American War and before the Civil War, there were several individual efforts to initiate a Presbyterian mission among the Mexican population of Texas.

That effort evolved into the long and deep Hispanic/Latino-a presence in the PC(USA), which continues to flourish within the denomination.

The Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support Office in the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Support (RE&WIM) continues the tradition of being that critical voice and ensuring representation of a community of color in a denomination that is 93% white.

The Rev. Rosa Miranda, Associate for the Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support Ministry, says that despite the devastation of COVID-19 on the Hispanic community, Latino and Latina pastoral leaders throughout the church did whatever was necessary to make the gospel available to a community among those most adversely impacted by the virus.

“When COVID started, the Hispanic Latino community was one of the ones that not only could not meet in person for worship or Bible studies, but lost their safe place in the church,” said Miranda.

And like it was for many churches, there was a learning process for Hispanic Presbyterian churches to use technology.

“One of the first responses of the Hispanic ministry in partnership with Latino and Latina pastors, community leaders and those familiar with technology was to develop 60 devotional videos that we shared via Facebook and WhatsApp,” said Miranda. Those videos were shared around the world. “They were shared by congregations and members in the U.S. with their families back in their countries. So, the videos were a bridge and a way to say,, ‘we can gather.’ They were sharing their faith and their hope, the strength of their faith in God. That was important.”

The ministry is also providing a space for pastoral leaders as well as all the elders who have had to step up and do the role of a pastor, an opportunity to gain skills to cope with the losses within their families here in the U.S. and abroad.

“We partnered with organizations that provided programs that gave us the tools to be able to talk about what we were going through, all the trauma as well as the suffering we, as leaders had,” Miranda said. “Leaders started building cohorts throughout the nation and Puerto Rico talking about the grief.”

The office of Hispanic Latina Intercultural Congregational Support provided grants and scholarships so that leaders could be trained to facilitate sessions to address trauma, mental health and suicide prevention. “Every pastoral leader went through the experience first as part of the healing process, before starting to facilitate with families in the congregations and even in their neighborhoods,” Miranda said. “It’s been year and a half since we started.”

“There are some pastors who have gone through all the training,” Miranda said, “and they have become master facilitators of this program so they can facilitate and train other leaders.”

Miranda noted that pastors were concerned about some members of their congregations that didn’t want to connect anymore through Zoom to the worship services. She says pastors realized the need to provide safe spaces for them to talk about their suffering and lament together as a faith community. “They needed to model that it was OK to lament,” she said.

“God is God,” said Miranda. “Acknowledging that God is open to our questions and carefully listens to our prayers expressing all these uncertainties brought hope in midst of loss, social distancing, and suffering. And that was huge, because sometimes in our culture we are taught that you don’t ask questions to God, just receive what God has to give.”

According to Miranda, more than 50 pastoral leaders came together for that first training. “We studied the book of Lamentations and we understood how God can bear a question and it is OK to cry before God and say, ‘I don’t like this, but my faith is in you,’” she said.

She says the pastors have been able to incorporate the learnings into their preaching, teaching, counseling, and pastoral care and are able to say, “I don’t have an answer, but we know that God’s care and love is with us, and that God is suffering with us.”

“If we have learned anything from COVID, it’s been that the church is not within the four walls of the temple,” said Miranda. “COVID has pushed us out. So, we’re gaining all these tools to go out into the neighborhoods, to follow God back into the community.”

“As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it is important to remember the important and significant contributions that the Hispanic community has made to this nation and to this denomination,” Miranda said. “It is my prayer that as a denomination we come to truly appreciate and honor all cultures and all people.”

Miranda was ordained in the PC(USA ) in April 2007 and has been engaged in ministry in partnership with her husband for many years.


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