July 2015
Vision and Planning

Multilingual Leadership and Multicultural Churches

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

Silvestre Romero is the lead priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Salem, Massachusetts. He’s married, has two children, and is from Guatemala. In his 18-years as an Episcopal priest he has worked with many different ethnic and multilingual groups. He’s currently ending his term as a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

In this YouTube video Silvestre Romero shares thoughts on working with multicultural congregations. He also talks about Episcopal identity and some of the challenges he’s faced personally, as well as methods he’s developed to create successful bilingual congregations.

In the video, he shares some of his reflections on and experience of multicultural ministry:

1. The fact that someone has a burning passion to develop a multicultural ministry is not enough: One has to gain the support of the community at large to reach that goal. In other words, if the purposes of the priest and the community do not match, the most probable outcome will be failure.

2. The participation of the diocese is essential, not just for financial support, but for human resources as well. Multicultural ministry involves taking risks and challenging the congregation to grow in new ways; communicating regularly with the diocese and having their support is critical.

3. Another important element is to identify leaders within the community and to support them with necessary tools so that they can understand how to work within the structure of the Episcopal Church.

4. It is necessary to use existing community resources to reach goals. For example, members of the English speaking community may want help those who do not speak English to learn their language. That process can start a meaningful cultural exchange between communities, helping them to become one.

A true process of exchange is not limited to “I know something that you don´t know,” but instead “you also have something to offer to me.” These principles can help connect communities that would not have otherwise been in contact. The Church is a meaningful place to create a global sense of diversity within a familiar community.

On page 766 of the Book of Common Prayer, in the Articles of Religion, we find number XXIV which says: “It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understood by the people.” This is an indisputable part of who we are as The Episcopal Church; this focus on ‘the people’s language’ is part of our DNA.

The church must be a place where people feel included, and where they can participate and express themselves fully. We must be willing to not only to give people what we have, but also to listen to what they express to us. That exchange creates a welcoming space to all of those who are seeking a deep relationship with God, in which everyone has something to offer and something to receive.

In terms of leadership, each congregation has particular dynamics and realities. Nevertheless, in Latino ministry there are certain common traits: its members are willing to offer and to challenge themselves, this includes learning English to bridge cultural divides between traditional Latino and American cultures. It’s important for non-Latinos to have an open attitude toward Hispanic cultures as well. Speaking a common language is critical, but it’s also important to know each other’s cultures and to have a connection with the Universal Church. As leaders, part of our identity is to be inclusive, motivating and welcoming to everyone who crosses our paths.

Latino leaders have a dual challenge: On one side, we do not always understand with sufficient clarity the strengths of our own communities, on the other side, the Church also has real work to do in the areas of understanding the contributions of each and every one of its members. If we as Latinos want to expand our engagement with the Episcopal Church, we cannot always wait for others to reach out to us; we have to more actively participate and recognize that we too have seats at the decision-making table.

Sandra Montes is the Episcopal Church Foundation's Spanish Language Resource Consultant. Born in Peru, Sandra grew up in Guatemala and settled in Texas as soon as she could. Her passions are God, family (especially her son), music, education, and writing. She has been developing original bilingual resources for her church, school, and in other areas, for years. Sandra has been volunteering and working in the Episcopal Church since she was welcomed into it in 1986. She serves as a musician, translator, speaker, consultant, and writer. She is a full-time teacher and is a doctoral student.


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This article is part of the July 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Vision and Planning