By the Rev. Kristin Dollar
“Do these people know each other?” I asked incredulously as boisterous, rapid Spanish ricocheted off every wall of the giant house where we were having our retreat.
“Barely. That’s just Latino culture,” replied my dear friend and mentor, José Luis.
Indeed, a fiesta erupted the minute we came together, the “we” being the newly formed South Eastern Jurisdiction Hispanic/Latino Caucus. As a fledgling gringa pastor, I at first felt overwhelmed and out of place, but the next thing I knew, I was pouring out my heart. The weight of hands descended upon me as the murmurs of collective prayer bubbled up together. “Comfórtala…Dios Padre…Protejela…llenala de tu Espiritu Santo…”
Prayer in Latino cultures is like a song with an infinite number of parts. Individual prayers harmonize into a single chorus as one voice guides while the others slip in and out. Latino worship is often equally as participatory. At the SEJ retreat, conversation would flow from talking to laughing to singing and back again as worship, fellowship and fiesta seeped into the early hours of the morning.
Oftentimes, in predominantly Anglo churches, we speak of the Spirit in a similar way to how we speak of atoms and molecules: We know they are there in theory, but they are just the distant background of our day-to-day realities. For us, the Spirit is a nice concept.
But across Latino cultures, the Holy Spirit seems to be more than just background information. The presence of el Espiritu Santo is imminent, real and an immediate aspect of daily life.
We tend to think of Hispanic ministry as a mission. “Feed the hungry, visit the sick and care for the stranger,” Jesus said (Matthew 25:31-46). We think that’s what we’re doing when we engage in Hispanic ministry: “serving the least of these.”
However, get involved in a Spanish-speaking church, attend MARCHA 2016 in Puerto Rico or live in community with Hispanic/Latino neighbors, and the stark designation regarding who is the servant and who is “the least of these,” will inevitably fade. Latino cultures have much to teach our churches about the nature of God and God’s relationship with humanity. In many respects, the Anglo majority is “the least of these,” needing—rather than providing—service, teaching and guidance.
The imminent reality of the Holy Spirit is just one example of the gifts that minority cultures might bring the church as a whole. But in the end, it is not about who needs who, because we all need each other.
Scripture is clear that the kingdom of God will only be revealed when all tribes, tongues and nations gather together to worship the Lamb (Rev 7). The question is: Do you want to be part of that gathering?
Dollar is associate pastor at St. John’s United Methodist Church, Aiken.