‘Empower Servant Leaders’

The fourth mark of Vital Congregations speaks to the importance of intercultural communication, creativity and collaboration

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Empowering Servant Leaders is the second of seven marks of Vital Congregations. (Photo by Stephanie Vasquez)

LOUISVILLE — Each Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, the office of Vital Congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hosts an online “vital conversation” via Zoom and Facebook Live. The current series is focusing on the Seven Marks of Vital Congregations, such as Wednesday’s conversation “All Voices on Deck,” which examined the role of the church’s translation services ministry in empowering servant leaders for the church.

Wednesday’s presentation featured Stephanie Vasquez, senior Spanish translator, Global Language Resources, a ministry in the PC(USA)’s Administrative Services Group, and the Rev. Rosa Blanca Miranda, associate for Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support serving Spanish and Portuguese language groups through the office of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. REWIM’s intercultural congregational support associates serve in collaboration with other offices and ministries as a cultural bridge to adapt the programs and initiatives throughout the denomination to make PC(USA) resources available for all constituencies:

In the timeline of church history, Vasquez said St. Jerome is remembered as the first person to translate the Scriptures into the Latin Bible, also called the Vulgate, the authoritative translation of the Bible for Catholics. He did this so that ordinary, faithful people could understand the Scriptures in their own language.

Likewise, during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther pushed St. Jerome’s translation aside, digging deep into the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic languages to come up with an accessible, understandable translation of the Scriptures for common folk whose heart language was German.

Ben Witherington III, author and professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote in Christianity Today, “In my view, the most dangerous thing Luther ever did was not [to] nail the 95 Theses to a door. It was translating the Bible into ordinary German and encouraging its widespread dissemination.”

Stephanie Vasquez

“Whenever I talk about my ministry within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” Vasquez said, “I think that what we do, at least in my point of view, is that we grab all the resources. But it is through my voice that we try to do it widespread — all the information that PC(USA) has for congregations that are not English speaking. In my case, it is Spanish speaking.” Global Language Resources also has Korean translators on staff and access to translation services in other languages as needed, she said.

According to the 2010 Census, there are about 350 languages spoken in the U.S, Vasquez said. “This brings up the question: ‘How do we bridge the gap between English-speaking and non-English-speaking congregations?’ Even though we are going through different situations as English-speaking congregations, we also have to understand the cultural aspects: ‘What does it mean to be an immigrant in the United States?’ ‘What does it mean to actually have to adapt and try to survive in an environment that’s completely different and completely new?’ And, on top of that, having to live our faith in the new context.”

She said she encourages PC(USA) leaders to reach out and develop relationships with leaders of non-English-speaking congregations to better understand the issues and challenges faced by non-English speakers.

“There are a lot of presbyteries that have new worshiping communities,” Vasquez said, “and, in general, throughout the country … at least more than 60% are non-English-speaking.

“We’re not just talking about one culture as a whole,” she explained. “We’re talking about churches that have multiple languages. In the secular world, in regular America, usually they tend to put all cultures together in one sack, even though people fail to understand that each culture has its own nuances and its own issues — and they sometimes do not intersect, and sometimes they do.”

Vasquez encouraged participants to reach out to multicultural congregations, or Spanish-speaking or Korean-speaking congregations to learn more about their struggles. “If they were struggling before, what does it mean to be a non-English-speaking congregation now after COVID-19?”

the Rev. Rosa Miranda

The Rev. Rosa Miranda, associate for Hispanic/Latino intercultural congregational support in Racial, Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, said the Hispanic/Latino community is very diverse. “We come from different backgrounds, different countries. It’s not just one Spanish, it’s several ways of speaking Spanish that we have, and also the theologies can be very diverse as well. So, we are very much intercultural among ourselves. Learning from each other’s contextual reading of the Bible brings new light into our understanding.”

Vasquez said within the PC(USA) the Synod of Puerto Rico and its three presbyteries speak Spanish, and there are three presbyteries located within the U.S. that are Korean speaking. Sometimes, however, congregations may be unaware of how to connect with intercultural congregations.

The Rev. Chip Hardwick, interim synod executive for the Synod of the Covenant, has made an intentional effort once a month to reach out to those congregations within the synod — made up of 11 presbyteries in Michigan and Ohio — that are non-English-speaking to make sure they are doing OK, said Vasquez. He does this because, if things were difficult before COVID-19, now situations can be worse.

“Sometimes it may be as simple as being able to share a Zoom account, so they can have a place and technology to worship on a Sunday morning,” Vasquez said. “Sometimes it can be, how can we create an internet hot spot or a space for them to use and have stable connectivity?” She believes the pandemic has provided the time and technological resources to be creative in overcoming specific challenges that perhaps may have been previously overlooked. For example, the Presbytery of San Francisco has made the commitment to have trilingual presbytery meetings, being intentional about using Zoom and providing interpreters so all the information is widely available in real time for members whose primary languages are English, Spanish and Korean.

The 223rd General Assembly (2018) approved and adopted a resolution declaring 2020–30 as a Decade of Intercultural Transformation, focusing on transformative priorities and initiatives across the PC(USA).

“I believe that as Christ is transforming the church in North American context, our neighborhoods are changing. Our nation is changing, and we ourselves are a denomination that is 91% Caucasian,” said the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, coordinator of Vital Congregations. “Like Rosa said, we are striving to be the body of Christ with all of its different members, so in order to do that and to perceive the ‘new thing’ that Christ is doing in the church — where everybody is included and all the parts of the body function together as a whole — we’ve got to be able to translate into languages where people understand. I visit presbyteries across this denomination where different ethnic groups and cultures feel like they are second class in presbyteries, where they are too afraid to join in. They have amazing gifts and insights and opportunities of things that they bring to the body of Christ, and so we have to do a better job of being intentional in our authentic relationships and have an outward incarnational focus of going out there forming these relationships and practicing caring relationships, where we’re not just doing things for toxic charity’s sake, but we’re actually reaching out to people who are our siblings in Christ — gleaning, learning and being transformed by them.”

Future vital conversations related to the fourth of the Seven Marks of Vital Congregations will take place in the next two Wednesdays, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, and at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

On Oct. 28, “(Em) Power to the People” will be presented by Jewel McRae, associate for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries. The conversation will cover how the PC(USA) is empowering leaders of color and cultivating more leaders during this time of COVID.

On Nov. 4, “Qualifying the Called,” will be led by the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.

Each conversation also will be recorded and available on the Vital Congregations Facebook page. These weekly conversations are facilitated by the office of Vital Congregations. If you have questions about previous or future conversations, contact Monique Rhodes, mission specialist, at monique.rhodes@pcusa.org.

 


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