New Hispanic ministry at Hapeville UMC
The Bible says that when a person returns to God, all the angels in heaven rejoice. In the same manner, when a new mission begins in a church, the whole conference should rejoice. This Easter, Hapeville Hispanic ministry launched a new mission at Hapeville United Methodist Church with 43 Hispanics and Anglos in attendance. Tommy Willingham, who is director of The Office of New Church Development, Dr. Coy Hinton with the Atlanta-College Park District, and the Reverend Paige Pritchard with Hapeville United Methodist Church worked and planned together to help start this new Hispanic Ministry.
The following is an interview between the Rev. Juan Quintanilla, Associate Director of New Church Development, and the Rev. Pritchard about the process of how this mission was born and will be a bridge for the community.
Rev. Quintanilla: Why do you want to reach the Hispanics in your church area?
Rev. Pritchard: Our church wants to fulfill the Great Commission and also to participate in ministries that will help revitalize the church. Demographics show that we are in the middle of a large population of Hispanic neighbors.
Rev. Quintanilla: How did this ministry begin?
Rev. Pritchard: Our District Board of Church Development approached us about starting a ministry, informing us that there is no United Methodist Hispanic congregation south of I-20.
Rev. Quintanilla: How did your church respond to this challenge?
Rev. Pritchard: We started working with Nora Martinez, then Associate Director of New Church Development, Hispanic Ministries, who showed us the statistics and demographics around Hapeville UMC. We then decided to begin by offering second language classes.
Rev. Quintanilla: What were some of the challenges that you and Hapeville UMC faced, and how did you overcome them?
Rev. Pritchard: First, we needed money to fund the program. We applied to the conference through the Committee on New Hispanic Church Development for a grant and received $5,000. We also had the opportunity to rent our facility to a local organization for summer day camp and chose to designate those funds for the Hispanic ministry.
The second challenge is that the Hispanic population around Hapeville is very suspicious of people. We are still working to win their trust. I personally try on my exercise times to walk where they congregate and greet them with a friendly, “Hola.” I am encouraging our pastor, Efrain Diaz, to be in the community. When we started offering the ESL classes, we also offered Spanish so that the ESL students could meet our people at Hapeville UMC and start building relationships.
Rev. Quintanilla: Has your church been enriched by doing this ministry?
Rev. Pritchard: We have enjoyed getting to know some of the people who are coming to take English, and some of our members have signed on and take the Conversational Spanish classes we offered.
Rev. Quintanilla: How has your church responded to having Efrain Diaz as part of your staff?
Rev. Pritchard: We really like having Efrain here. He has preached for me twice on Sundays when I’ve been away. He adds a lot to the 11:00 service as liturgist. I asked him to take that on in order to build relationships with our members and for him to become a better bridge between the Anglo and Hispanic congregations.
Rev. Quintanilla: What do you tell other churches that do not have a cross-cultural ministry about your experience in launching a new Hispanic ministry?
Rev. Pritchard: If the demographics would support the ministry, it would be something to look into. Also immigration issues are complicated, and often people get emotional about them without considering all the different facets of immigration. Try to do some in-depth study to help people better understand these issues and where the church should stand on ministering to those who are not here in the United States legally. There needs to be a consensus in the church.
Rev. Quintanilla: Is there anything that you want to add?
Rev. Pritchard: I am hoping we can grow this congregation so that eventually the Hispanic community will start participating in all church activities with members of our other congregations. I am trying to keep reminding people that this is not an “us” and “them” situation. We are all “us.”
Dr. Juan Quintanilla concluded by saying, “We are the body, and when we work as the body, there is fruit in the ministry. It takes passion and patience to do mission work. Much thanks is given to the North Georgia Conference and all of its local churches for their support in this important work in “making Disciples of Jesus Christ.”