July 2022
ECF Fellows: Innovating in The Episcopal Church

Alianza de Mujeres con Amor

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

In 2007, the Rev. Daniel Vélez Rivera became one of the first Transformational Ministry Fellows sponsored by the Episcopal Church Foundation. With that ECF funding, he created a pilot ministry designed and facilitated by Deacon Ema Rosero-Nordalm (Diocese of Massachusetts) called Abuelas, Madres y Más (Grandmothers, Mothers and More). It has been fifteen years since the first multigenerational spirituality, support and co-mentoring group for Latinas raising children was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and in September 2021, the most recent group was launched at St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel in Leesburg, Virginia, where Daniel serves as vicar. The women there follow the same principles as their predecessors, to help participants recognize and share the invaluable wisdom and spiritual resources that they have as mothers, grandmothers and caregivers raising children (their own or another mother´s child).

A ministry model for mothers, grandmothers and women raising children

Ema was a recently retired Spanish language professor at Boston University when she joined Daniel to help plant an Episcopal Latino ministry that was launched at Grace Episcopal Church and subsequently moved to St. Peter´s in Salem. Prior to serving as Episcopal clergy, they had volunteered as public health outreach workers for the Latino community during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Their community work inspired conversations that led Ema to create the first curriculum for Abuelas, Madres y Más – adopting the popular education methodology of Paulo Freire into her program.

With his new Social Work and Divinity training behind him, Daniel was eager for his nascent Latino ministry at St. Peter’s ~ San Pedro to become part of the fabric of the community. He and Ema found their first community connections with the mothers, grandmothers and women raising children. In addition to creating a network of mentors and companions there, Ema and Daniel hoped that Abuelas, Madres y Más would become a ministry model for the Church. They hoped and dreamt that a ministry founded on oral tradition, faith, child-rearing and companionship could be duplicated in congregations, especially those with Latino ministries. It was a way for women new to the Episcopal Church to feel part of and belong to a “comunidad.”

A new chapter begins at St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel

In 2020, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel received the first of many grants from private and government sources to provide emergency Covid rental assistance for undocumented and documented people in the County. Daniel realized that many of the most vulnerable applicants were single female-led households, and most of them undocumented Latinas. So, he asked Deacon Ema to partner with the St. Gabriel’s~San Gabriel Community Education Ministry director, Eva María Torres Herrera, to launch a new chapter of Abuelas, Madres y Más. Nine Latinas, five parishioners and four from the broader community, were trained in mentorship and in group facilitation; the largest group of Abuelas, Madres y mass facilitators that Ema has ever had. This group of women chose their own name: Alianza de Mujeres con Amor (Alliance of Women with Love).

After three months of virtual training during the pandemic, the “mentoras facilitadoras” offered the first series of “charlas” (dialogues) at two locations with sixteen participants. As with every group before this one, the first charlas are designed to build group cohesion and trust. And, like all of the other Abuelas, Madres y Más groups formed over the years, these women decided by consensus what topics they wished to explore as multigenerational madres, abuelas and more. The themes included the physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of their lives – life skills, including something as practical as communicating with the predominantly English-speaking children in their care. A constant from the mentor facilitator’s during these “charlas” is acknowledging the participants’ wisdom and their reliance on an ever-present and loving God who provides guidance, inspiration and the strength to succeed in raising and supporting their families.

A ministry of love, shared across the U.S. and beyond

Something new and different from other mentor facilitators formed by Ema in the past, was the desire of these women to launch new groups with other Latino ministries in the Diocese of Virginia. Eva María, who is also a vestry member of St. Gabriel´s ~ San Gabriel, says, “It’s a ministry of love and must be shared, this is how we are present to grow and love our community.” She says that what inspired her to help launch this ministry was Daniel’s willingness to trust and say yes to new opportunities for the well-being of people in the community. Saying yes to the Holy Spirit is how we are spiritual companions to one another and how we become part of the fabric of our community!

La Alianza continues to follow a well-proven evangelistic tool modeled by Christ: oral tradition. In dialogue, the participants understand that they matter, have agency, have wisdom and are valued. They no longer have to be so isolated as immigrants or as women raising children in a new country and context where their gifts, talents and dignity are often disregarded, as well as the truth that they are contributing members of God’s community. The participants continue discovering that the love of God shines through them, and with an acknowledgment of their spiritual wisdom they too are becoming mentors and spiritual companions to others.

Ema’s curriculum model has been shared in and out of the church across the United States (thanks to the network of congregations that have participated in Nuevo Amanecer, the Latino Hispanic Ministry gathering of the Episcopal Church), Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa (South Sudan) and now at St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Rev. Daniel Vélez-Rivera is passionate about establishing loving Christian communities with and for all people. His congregational ministry focus is planting and redeveloping existing Episcopal congregations, enabling them to invite in the Latino population in the neighborhoods around them and create sustainable, integrated, dual-language congregations where their communities worship God in two languages (English and Spanish). As vicar of Saint Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia, he is committed to nourishing and strengthening the community’s call to serve others as Christ’s ambassadors. When St. Gabriel’s launched its Hispanic Ministry in 2014, it became the first bilingual, multicultural and intentionally inclusive Episcopal congregation in Loudoun County.
Daniel is married to Parker Gallagher, his partner of twenty-seven years, who introduced him to the Episcopal Church in 1996. In his free time he enjoys being with family and friends, practicing Bikram Yoga, “attempting” to play golf, cooking (and eating), gardening, traveling, listening and seeing the world around him, and learning from others.


This article is part of the July 2022 Vestry Papers issue on ECF Fellows: Innovating in The Episcopal Church