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Hispanic Latin Presbyterian Women come of age

Connecting, Growing, Serving: Group renews commitment to church

by Magdalena I. García | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Outgoing Coordinating Team enjoys a Western night, and celebrates 21 years of MHLP. (From left) Carmen Jeannette Torres, Marta Rodríguez, Yudyt Bermúdez, Dahlia Vega, Letty Heredia, Ruth Román-Meza, and Esther González. (Photo provided)

Outgoing Coordinating Team enjoys a Western night, and celebrates 21 years of MHLP. (From left) Carmen Jeannette Torres, Marta Rodríguez, Yudyt Bermúdez, Dahlia Vega, Letty Heredia, Ruth Román-Meza, and Esther González. (Photo provided)

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – In the midst of multiple tensions and ongoing polarization, both in church and society, Hispanic Latin Presbyterian Women (MHLP, Spanish acronym) came together under the theme “Connect…grow…serve,” based on Ephesians 4:14-16 for their triennial assembly. Almost 200 Spanish-speaking Presbyterian women from congregations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico gathered at Historic Hilton in the downtown district of Fort Worth, Texas, July 22-24, 2016, to celebrate Encuentro VIII.

“Now more than ever, as tensions and divisions in church and society seem to intensify, we are aware of the need to connect with our faith, with our calling as messengers of good news, with our sisters around the country and in Latin America, and to work together for the healing of relationships, families, communities and the world,” said Ruling Elder Ruth Román-Meza, newly elected moderator for MHLP, a native of the Dominican Republic who lives in Dallas.

Participants explored the theme in three plenary sessions, all led by the Rev. Ruth Santana, Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Philadelphia. “Jesus models for us a theology of the table, where everyone is welcomed, given voice, nurtured and valued, and this is a key metaphor that should inform our ministry,” she said during the Friday-evening opening keynote presentation. “The table is the place where we connect, grow and learn to serve one another, but we need to overcome multiple challenges in order to do so, and we must be willing to take risks.”

As in previous years, plenary worship was a highlight of the conference, with lively singing, visual arts and liturgical dance. For the second time the praise team at Encuentro was lead by two professional musicians: Ruth Silva Hernández, soloist and composer; and Dr. José Mariano Morales Matos, pianist, violinist, composer and arranger. They are natives of Puerto Rico who reside in Albuquerque and, among other professional commitments, lead the music ministry at Camino de Vida Church, an ecumenical and multicultural community focused on ministry among Hispanic/Latino immigrants and co-sponsored by three denominations: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the United Church of Christ.

Ministers of Word and Sacrament line up to process for worship. (From left) Ruth Santana-Grace, Nydia Fernández, Carmen J. Torres-Cordero, Carmen Rosario Riviere, Sebastiana Javier (Lay Leader and International Guest from the Association of evangelical women in the Dominican Republic), Amy Méndez, Reyna Mairena, Margarita Reyes, Magdalena García, Jeniffer Rodríguez-Michel, and Marissa Galván-Valle. (Photo provided)

Ministers of Word and Sacrament line up to process for worship. (From left) Ruth Santana-Grace, Nydia Fernández, Carmen J. Torres-Cordero, Carmen Rosario Riviere, Sebastiana Javier (Lay Leader and International Guest from the Association of evangelical women in the Dominican Republic), Amy Méndez, Reyna Mairena, Margarita Reyes, Magdalena García, Jeniffer Rodríguez-Michel, and Marissa Galván-Valle. (Photo provided)

Encuentro also included an array of workshops on topics such as Reformed faith, spirituality and self-care, family systems, leadership development and particular justice issues affecting women globally, such as multiple forms of violence and microaggressions. “We have come a long way in recognizing the ministries of women,” said Ruling Elder Florence Vargas, “but much work remains to be done to fully affirm women as equal partners—especially women of color—in church and society.”

This year’s conference also served as the platform to celebrate Encuentro’s coming of age. “We praise God for 21 years of continued growth and faithful service to God and to the Presbyterian Church,” said Ruling Elder Letty Heredia, the outgoing moderator, who was recognized for her dedicated service to MHLP during the Saturday evening Western-style fiesta. “I’m honored to have served among so many talented Hispanic women, and grateful that MHLP recognizes and empowers young Latina women for leadership.”

The first Encuentro was held in 1995 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with subsequent national conferences held every three years thereafter in various cities around the country, including San Antonio, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Irving, Texas; and Orlando, Florida. Regional Encuentros are held the year after the national conference in order to share the learnings and strengthen the MHLP networks.

Each Encuentro includes a business meeting with delegates from synods or presbyteries in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico where regional MHLP chapters are organized. The voting delegates at Encuentro VIII received reports, amended the bylaws, elected new officers, and approved several resolutions, including one calling on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “to seek and demonstrate the visible unity of the totality of the Body of Christ,” words that echo the calling of the Belhar Confession.

Installation of the newly elected Coordinating Team during the closing worship service. (From right) Ruth Román-Meza, Moderator; Iris González Cabán, Vice Moderator; Nydia Murphy-Leger, Treasurer; Danilie C.Hilerio Villanueva, Spiritual Coordinator; Keren Díaz-Orozco, Secretary; Elizabeth Torres, Hispanic Representative on Presbyterian Women's Churchwide Coordinating Team. (Photo provided)

Installation of the newly elected Coordinating Team during the closing worship service. (From right) Ruth Román-Meza, Moderator; Iris González Cabán, Vice Moderator; Nydia Murphy-Leger, Treasurer; Danilie C.Hilerio Villanueva, Spiritual Coordinator; Keren Díaz-Orozco, Secretary; Elizabeth Torres, Hispanic Representative on Presbyterian Women’s Churchwide Coordinating Team. (Photo provided)

The conference ended as it opened by challenging participants to “Connect with the triune God, Grow in unity, and Serve with love.” The closing worship service included communion and the installation of the new Coordinating Team for MHLP. Participants also renewed their commitment to expand the circle of leadership by dedicating the offering to Fondo Adelante: Idalisa Fernández and Yolanda S. Hernández, a scholarship fund for MHLP established in 2001 in honor of two recognized mentors. Several women have already benefited from this fund, which can be supported via checks (Account 1021200197) or electronic donations at: Presbyterian Foundation, 200 East Twelfth Street, Jeffersonville, IN 47130, 1-800-858-6127.

Echoing scenes and words from the Broadway musical Hamilton—“¡No paren, sigan, sigan!” (“Don’t stop, keep going!”)—and recalling the Biblical mandate “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God,” Santana sent participants out with the challenge to “not grow weary of working for the transformation of church and society, and to resist the temptation to flee during times of conflict.”

For more information about Encuentro or Hispanic Latin Presbyterian Women, visit www.mhlp.us or write to Moderator Ruth Román-Meza at ruthromanmeza@yahoo.com.


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