This is the tenth in a series of reports on initiatives funded through the budget of The Episcopal Church in its grants to Mission Enterprise Zones. Acts 8 Moment also has a series of reports on those receiving Church Planting Grants.
Is evangelism something Episcopalians are known for? What kind of reaction do you think you will get when you tell someone you’re going to go door to door to get more people into your church? More recently, you would get a negative reaction. Evangelism is not what we typically do. In fact, it is definitely something we should do.
After chatting with Dennis McManis, Canon for Mission and Outreach in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, he explained that is exactly what they do. This diocese is working on developing a Latino Leadership Ministry. He explains, for a priest to be successful, “the priest needs to walk the streets, go door to door.” By word of mouth and personal invitations, they were able to gain interest in a couple of families and then things took off from there. McManis emphasizes it’s about risk taking, “don’t be afraid to take a chance.”
When reaching out to the hispanic community, an important question to ask is, “what can we do for you and your family?” Right now St. Mary’s in Palmetto has a Hispanic Service every Sunday at 1 p.m. In addition, by offering first communion classes, the parents that come with their children end up being confirmed as well. Last easter there were 45 confirmands and last month they had 40 confirmations and nine baptisms. The diocese had their first Spanish Cursillo last spring and it was extremely successful, they already have a waiting list for the next event.
After attending a conference on Latino ministry, McManis learned the key to a healthy congregation is lay leaders, and possibly a deacon to go out into the community. He also learned that you don’t necessarily need a Spanish speaking priest as Latinos know the sacramental part of the Mass. Thus, the grant is allowing this diocese to raise up Latino Ministry Leaders. McManis’ vision is to work with the diocese’s seven Latino worshipping communities which will identify five English speaking and five Spanish speaking potential leaders from each church. Through training and workshops, the plan is to discern the gifts and needs of each church. Then, through their diocesan School for Ministry Development, training will occur for these leaders in the church’s seven canonical areas for licensing lay people.
To date they have completed workshops for one church, underwrote the Cursillo, provided training in the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the training of Eucharistic Visitors. McManis noted that just a couple of years ago, the diocese had two Latino congregations and today they have seven and are foreseeing more growth in the future. It is his hope that they can develop Spanish courses for the formation of deacons in the future.
The concept arose from Richard Lambert’s doctoral thesis. The only setback McManis spoke of was when Lambert retired, the process was delayed. With this delay very little of the grant has been spent to date, but McManis feels they are well positioned to realize the full capacity of the grant this year. McManis noted how there were so many people interested in volunteering their time and resources that the grant money allows them to explore opportunities for creative programming.