MORRISTOWN, Tenn. – Twenty-three Hispanic church leaders were celebrated for completing a six-month theological course during a graduation ceremony held at Trinity United Methodist Church on Dec. 7.
The graduates received certificates for their studies through a program administered by Reinhardt University: Instituto de Formación para el Ministerio, or Institute for the Formation of the Ministry (INFORM).
Holston lay members and pastors traveled from as far away as Hillsville, Va., to participate in Saturday classes led by the Rev. Aquiles Martinez, professor of religion at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga., and the Rev. Francisco Cañas, executive director of the National Plan for Hispanic/ Latino Ministries, based in New York, N.Y.
Selected church leaders from Holston Conference’s 10 Hispanic congregations received culturally sensitive instruction on United Methodist tenets to prepare them for reaching out to their communities, according to Martinez and Cañas .
“The purpose was to help them understand, adopt, and insert into their hearts the doctrine and theology of the United Methodist Church,” said Cañas.
The Holston course was the second of its kind, Martinez said. The first was offered in the North Georgia Conference with low completion rates. The Holston class began with 27 students and ended with 23.
“This was a faithful, persistent group that was willing to follow the rules” and attend every class, Martinez said. He praised them for their willingness to embrace teachings and principles that may be different from those of their childhood faith.
Some of the graduates expressed appreciation to the instructors, Holston Conference, and to God for the scripture-based training. They spoke in Spanish while the Rev. Arturo Reyna, Holston’s Hispanic ministries coordinator, translated in English.
“I am thankful to the [Holston] Conference for going the extra mile for us, for motivating us to go forward to do more thinking and studying,” said Petrona Vicente from First United Methodist Church of Pulaski, Va.
Also graduating in the class was 13-year-old Vanessa Lopez, daughter of Pastor Wilmer Lopez and Pastor Susana Lopez of El Ministerio del Espiritu Santo (Ministry of the Holy Spirit) congregation at First United Methodist Church of Sevierville, Tenn.
The INFORM class is a first but critical step in reaching more of the growing Hispanic population within Holston Conference boundaries, Cañas said. The United Methodist Church has a “complex task” as it attempts to include more of the 53 million Hispanic Latinos in the United States, comprised of “28 cultures, 22 nations, and many ways to understand the Gospel.” *
Cañas addressed some of his comments to Holston Cabinet members, challenging them to continue to educate and equip rising Hispanic leaders.
“It’s obvious this is the first step toward an amazing, beautiful, powerful ministry in the Holston Conference, but it’s an incredible difference,” he said. “I’m willing to come back, but I’m not willing to come back without your commitment.”
Cabinet members attending the graduation included the Rev. Stella Roberts, director of connectional ministries; the Rev. Tom Ballard, Morristown District superintendent; the Rev. Charles Maynard, Maryville District superintendent; and the Rev. Meg Taylor, Wytheville District superintendent.
* The United Methodist Church membership is 91.1 percent Caucasian, 1.1 percent Hispanic, according to Cañas. The total U.S. population is 63.3 percent Caucasian, 16.7 percent Hispanic, according to Pew Research Center.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.