Strengthening Hispanic Ministry Across Denominations: A Call to Action Summary | Pulpit and Pew
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Strengthening Hispanic Ministry Across Denominations:
A Call to Action

Written and Edited by Edwin I. Hernandez, Milagros Pena, Rev. Kenneth Davis, CSC, and Elizabeth Station

Currently numbering 38 million individuals, U.S. Latinos are the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group. Both as established residents and new immigrants, Latinos are making major contributions to the country's economy and society. Hispanic membership is increasing in Christian congregations throughout the United States, posing major opportunities and challenges for the churches that serve them. Overall, the Hispanic community remains disproportionately affected by poverty, low education levels, poor health, and discrimination. Churches that seek to minister to community members in need often do so with limited financial resources and inadequate leadership.

The leadership issue is particularly dramatic. Only a tiny number of Latinos who are called to ministry have both the academic credentials and economic means needed for a seminary education. Consequently, in a nation that is 13 percent Hispanic, only 2.5 percent of students in accredited theological schools are Latino or Latina. Moreover, ordained clergy who do finish seminary often find that formal education prepared them little for the day-to-day reality of ministry in the barrio. Pastors serving poor congregations are usually underpaid, and many must hold second jobs to earn a living. Because Latino pastors typically cannot serve full-time, they rarely reach the highest ranks within their congregations and denominations. Women only rarely rise to leadership positions, despite their notable numbers and contributions in both Catholic and Protestant settings.

Aware of this urgent need, a group of 33 Latino religious leaders gathered from October 1-3, 2003, to set an agenda for strengthening ministry to the growing U.S. Hispanic population. Duke University Divinity School hosted the leaders' three-day "summit" in collaboration with Pulpit & Pew and the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame.

Culminating months of preparation, the summit was the first multi-denominational meeting aimed at enhancing the quality of Hispanic pastoral leadership in parishes, churches, and other faith communities across the U.S. Participants included Latino clergy, directors of Hispanic ministry programs, leaders of faith-based community organizations, and scholars from around the country - representing 19 denominations from Catholic to Pentecostal to mainline Protestant.

Leaders at the historic gathering set aside doctrinal differences and called for broad new efforts to address issues common to all Hispanic churches. By identifying shared challenges and opportunities, they hoped to create a joint action agenda leading to policies and practices that can strengthen Hispanic ministry in the United States across denominations. The most pressing needs, the summit participants agreed, include:

  • Better opportunities for formal theological education,
  • Training for laity to assume leadership responsibilities,
  • Increased cultivation of second- and third-generation Latino youth,
  • Initiatives that would help church leaders to advocate for the social needs of their communities,
  • Programs to provide lay leaders and clergy with practical administrative skills, and
  • A permanent national dialogue on Hispanic pastoral leadership.

At the summit's end, participants appointed a broadly representative "continuation committee" to develop a plan for advancing their recommendations. The nine-member committee met January 20-21, 2004, at the Louisville Institute, where they identified leadership development as the top strategic priority for strengthening Hispanic ministry across denominations.

This report aims to give readers a sense of both the spirit and content of the October 2003 summit and a look at the reality that Hispanic churches face in the U.S. today. Accordingly, Part One examines the context in which Hispanic ministers work and the common challenges they confront, regardless of location or denomination. Part Two begins with an assessment of the opportunities and resources that Latino churches can deploy to meet those challenges. It then outlines the six strategic priorities for strengthening Hispanic ministry that summit participants identified, with special attention to the top priority - leadership development. Because solid research must serve as the foundation for any future reform efforts, Part Three summarizes recent, key research on Hispanic ministry and church leadership. The report concludes with Part Four, which contains a series of personal reflections by participants on the meaning and potential impact of the summit.

Open the full report in Adobe Acrobat format (628 KB)

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