Churches forge ahead despite structural obstacles and COVID-19
by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on communities of color across the country. And while black and brown people are adversely affected in times of health and economic crisis because of decades of systemic racism and poverty, they remain resilient in their ability to forge ahead despite structural obstacles.
The Rev. Rosa Miranda, Associate for the Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support office of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, says around the first week of April she needed to hear how the Hispanic-Latina-o Presbyterian faith communities and leaders were doing and what impact the stay-at-home orders were having on Hispanic-Latino-a churches and communities.
Miranda received many responses. “Their responses went from, ‘We are in a desperate situation to provide for families that have lost jobs,’ ‘Parents are skipping meals so their children can be fed,’ to, ‘Our session has designated a few thousand dollars to support those who are hungry in our neighborhood’ and ‘Other nonprofit organizations and churches have made donations as they know about our ministry and our mission-oriented services throughout the years,’” said Miranda.
“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Hispanic/Latina faith communities are diverse in many ways,” she said. “However, they also have many things in common, such as a strong faith in God’s provision and unconditional loving care, and they know that they can do much with very little. They are building genuine relationships with people and organizations, and they don’t give it a second thought to come together solidarity with others in times of crisis, suffering and need.”
Miranda says all these components have played an important role in confronting this pandemic in ways that have benefited not only families of the PC(USA) faith communities, but their neighbors and friends too. “There are several examples of Hispanic/Latina congregations that have become a blessing in their neighborhoods serving people without distinctions,” said Miranda. “It is about how God multiplies the fish and bread and makes happen what seems impossible in the eyes of others. There are so many stories of resilience that are based on the foundation of their faith in God and following Jesus. These are people who know how it feels not to know when the next meal will be served at the table — and yet, God provides. It reminds me of the early church that made sure that everyone had a piece of bread at their table.”
Rev. Pedro Pablo Morataya, who is the pastor at Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana in Oakland, California, is doing a mighty work in his community. Morataya says the church has provided some very concrete assistance through deacons and other volunteers to those in need. For example, during the first week of the stay-at-home order, the church helped 17 families with $300 for each family. Morataya says these families continue to be without work or income. And, because they do not have access to government help due to their status, the church continues to monitor ways it can help them.
Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana is also helping students in its English language program classes with gifts of $100. He says most of the students arrived less than a year ago and that the church continues to provide support through its team of volunteers from the congregation and the community. Additionally, the church is orienting and helping people figure out if they can qualify for unemployment or other local assistance so that they can search for, fill out and send applications for that assistance.
Morataya says the church is providing not only financial support but much-needed emotional and spiritual support as well. There is also daily communication via WhatsApp and other digital platforms that is not limited to the congregation, but also with all families and individual contacts in the community — especially those most in need.
In order to provide constant pastoral support, the church’s membership roster is divided among nine governing elders and the deacons. Morataya says Bible studies and worship services aim to give support in this moment of crisis. They’re designed to awaken the conscience of those who could help a little more and still have not realized that this is the precise moment to convert their faith from theory to practice.
Morataya said, “Personally, I try to stay informed about the entirety of the outlook, good and bad, and the possibilities of assistance. I believe that our duty is to inform and present options. Our work is not limited only to our congregation but goes much further.”
The work of Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana has not be accomplished single-handedly. Morataya says this work has been done with generosity and partnership with the local church, individuals and other organizations.
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Categories: Congregational Vitality, Evangelism & Discipleship, Hunger & Poverty, Matthew 25, Racial Justice
Tags: congregational vitality, coronavirus, covid-19, discipleship, evangelism, hispanic latino-a intercultural congregational support, hunger & poverty, matthew 25 invitation, primera iglesia presbiteriana hispana, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, rev. pedro pablo morataya, the Rev. Rosa Miranda
Ministries: Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement, Evangelism, Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support