Photo credit: Ileana Rosario

Latino Clergy Caucus holds successful lay ministry course

Article published: April 18, 2018

By Forrest White

On any given weekend at Trinity United Methodist Church in Amelia County, the Rev. Callie Walker, 49, said she feels her age.

So, how exactly does it feel? Well, it depends on the worship service.

“In the English speaking worship, I’m always the youngest,” she said, with a chuckle. “I’m always the oldest at the Spanish speaking worship.”

The Spanish service averages about 42 worshippers each week; the English service about 33.

“I am energized, I am invigorated, I am challenged by our Latino worshippers,” Walker said. “Whether they are parents who immigrated here or youth who grew up here, they are a blessing, a treat. I think they give the whole congregation energy.”


That word also describes the work of the Virginia Conference’s Latino Clergy caucus, formed in the spring of 2017, and preparing for its second annual retreat April 19-21 in Richmond. It consists both of Latino clergy and clergy who serve Latino congregations.

The retreat comes on the heels of a successful event for laity, organized and led by members of the caucus and held at Trinity UMC in Amelia.

Over the course of three Saturdays in March, Latino leaders from Floris UMC in Herndon; Ramsey Memorial UMC in Richmond; and the host church gathered for “Introduction to Lay Ministry: The BASIC Course,” taught in Spanish.

Twenty-one people began the study and 18 completed it, heartening numbers for organizers.

“Frankly, it went better than I anticipated,” the Rev. Dr. Victor Gómez, first president of the Latino Clergy Caucus, said. “Those who came were very eager to learn, very eager to serve.”

Among those completing the training were a handful who said they feel called to pastoral ministry, Gómez said. Others expressed a desire for continued lay ministry studies and certification.

Buoyed by excitement over the recently completed training, organizers will offer it in Spanish once again on May 5 at Basic UMC in Waynesboro, where the Rev. Chad Beck serves a multicultural congregation with both English and Spanish worship services. The training will be done in one day this time, rather than spread across three weeks.

“We are looking for new and creative ways to support Latino ministries and to reach unchurched Latinos in the conference,” said Beck, who became fluent in Spanish while living in Mexico for three years.

Basic UMC’s mission statement also describes his family – “We are a multicultural family sharing the redemptive love of Jesus Christ.” His wife is from Mexico. Together, they have two children, growing up in a bilingual home.

At the Amelia event, Beck led the portion of training focused on ministries of compassionate care and justice.

“Everybody shares similar human needs … Food, shelter, compassion, the need for Jesus,” he said. “But the daily lives of people are different, based on where they’re from, the language they speak, how they’re treated by society. We need to equip our churches for inclusion and hospitality for all people.”

Some churches within the conference have offered ministry to the Latino community for years. Walker tells the story passed down to her at Trinity of a monthly dinner held by the church for Latinos in community, which began about 15 years ago, she said. Out of that dinner leaders emerged. But those attending wanted more than food and fellowship.

“People began to say, ‘You’re feeding our bodies, but can you give us the Word?’” Walker said. “All along the way, the leaders were saying, ‘We need more training. We want to learn more about what United Methodists believe.’”

The time has come.

Those who complete “the BASIC course” and advanced lay servant courses will receive a diploma. Caucus leaders have applied for grant funding to expand this pilot project to equip more Latino leaders in the conference.

They said they see their work not simply as equipping Spanish-speaking congregations around the conference, but also as helping to shape the general church into a more diverse and inclusive body, celebrating the gifts of all.

Beck reminds folks that Basic UMC isn’t two churches – one for those who speak English, one for those who speak Spanish – but rather one congregation, with worship services in two languages.

“The conference is full of folks who have a wonderful sense of calling,” said Walker, who is eager to eliminate any language barriers that may hinder people from answering that call.

Beck envisions the Latino Clergy Caucus taking the lead in areas such as church planting and mentoring, guided by a fundamental element of our faith.

“Jesus said ‘Make disciples of all nations,’” Beck said.

Sometimes making disciples means traveling 10,000 miles.

Sometimes it means traveling across town.

“I’ve got 10-15 more people who want and need this training right here,” Walker said.

-Forrest White is a news associate with the Virginia Conference Communications office.


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