October 27, 2016
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Episcopal Latinos Gathering Focuses On Unity

 PHOENIX, AZ - The Coalition of Episcopal Latinos -- la Coalición de Episcopales Latinos -- cast a vision of advocacy, formation, education, inclusion, activism and unity at its historic inaugural gathering this month near Phoenix, Arizona.

At least 70 participants -- lay and ordained of all ages, some from as far away as El Salvador -- attended plenary and workshop sessions focused on immigration, evangelism, congregational development, communications and social media, and organizational structure at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"Our vision is to bring together Latino people in the Episcopal Church," said the Rev. Floyd Naters "Butch" Gamarra, assisting priest at St. Mary's Church in Los Angeles and a CEL board member.

That vision includes reconciliation, unity, advocacy and evangelism, as well as serving as "catalysts for change" with issues of concern to Latinos, including immigration, leadership development and equity involving clergy deployment, benefits and salaries, he said.

A priority is to create local chapters and to send representatives to Nuevo Amanecer, the Nov. 14-17 biennial event designed to help start and to strengthen Latino ministries, co-sponsored by the Rev. Anthony Guillén, Episcopal Church missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministry.

Guillén called the Scottsdale gathering "a very positive one. There is some sort of ethnic gathering for all of the other groups and there has been relatively little for Latinos," he said. "We hunger to have opportunities to get together to learn from each other, to celebrate our gifts and to be a united voice."

He described CEL and his office as "two different components of the same ministry, which strives to incorporate fully Latinos into the life and leadership of the Episcopal Church."

While Guillén's role includes strengthening existing Latino Episcopal ministries and evangelizing and embracing new members, CEL is uniquely positioned to challenge the church.

"I see their role as one of networking, of being a voice for issues that relate to Latinos/Hispanics that the office may not be able to speak to or should not speak to," he said.

Judy Conley, a former president of the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the Rev. Albert Cutié of the Diocese of Southeast Florida were among featured speakers. Conley, with whom the organization had consulted when drafting bylaws, addressed the gathering about organizational issues and unity.

The group also hosted bishops of the Episcopal Church and their spouses and partners, who were meeting in Phoenix Sept. 16-21. About 250 people attended a festive buffet-style dinner and were entertained by a mariachi band that provides music for the Spanish language service at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix.

The Rev. Canon Carmen B. Guerrero, canon for peace and justice in the Diocese of Arizona, was elected as CEL representative to The Consultation, an umbrella group of organizations that collaborate on a common commitment to call the Episcopal Church to its witness in the name of Christ.

Guerrero was instrumental in organizing the historic gathering. She was also part of a group that addressed the House of Bishops Sept. 17 about local immigration issues.

As a controversial immigration law was due to take effect in Arizona July 29, a federal judge partially blocked sections that would have required immigrants to carry citizenship papers at all times and police officers to check immigration status during traffic stops, detentions and arrests. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton also halted a section barring undocumented workers from applying for or soliciting employment.

Episcopalians in the Diocese of Arizona, including Bishop Kirk Smith, have been at the forefront of protesting the law. An appellate court judge in San Francisco is scheduled to hear arguments in the matter the first week of November.

Similar laws have been proposed in other states amid protests and calls for immigration reform.

The Rev. Liz Muñoz, vicar of Trinity Church in Los Angeles, said that the Coalition for Episcopal Latinos is concerned with issues of interest to Latinos both outside and inside the church.

"This is a great opportunity for us to come together to advocate for justice and restoration of the Body of Christ where all are included," she said. "For a long time, Latinos have been second class citizens in the church. We're not only full citizens, but we're here to restore the integrity of the church."

Miguel Carmona, 20, a parishioner at St. Andrew's Church in Glendale, Arizona, said the meeting was important because "it's really important for Latinos to have a voice" including youth.

"We keep hearing that we are the future of the church, but that alienates youth because we're here now. We need to be served now."

The Rev. Carlos Garcia, vicar of Santa Rosa Desert Church and priest-in-charge of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Lemon Grove in the Diocese of San Diego compared the group to UBE.

"I hope this is going to be the right time" for the organization to continue to grow, he said.

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, a CEL board member, called the gathering "a moment of maturity" for Latino Episcopalians that can only facilitate "a more effective way of carrying our message to Latinos, both within and those still outside the Episcopal Church."

Frade, who preached Sept. 19 at Trinity Cathedral's Spanish language service, said CEL would help to usher in "new culture, enthusiasm and a change in the DNA of the Episcopal Church."

Bishop Martin Barahona of the Anglican Church of El Salvador, who also attended the gathering, said through an interpreter that CEL can be a unified voice representing all the diversity of Latinos.

"It has the potential to in the future impact, not only the church, but the world," he said.

CEL board member the Rev. Anna Lange-Soto said the organization's existence is crucial to evangelism. "In terms of youth vitality and future growth, the Latino community is where it's at," Lange-Soto said. "We have a huge opportunity."

Cutié, priest-in-charge of Church of the Resurrection in Southeast Florida, which grew in months from about 28 members to 250, agreed.

CEL can "bring a greater awareness to a richly diverse Latino community, that the Episcopal Church is here for them as a spiritual home and alternative to what they've grown up with," he said, adding that few were really aware of the Episcopal Church.

"At a grass roots level, it's a matter of getting people in the door. Then they'll see what we're about. We just have to get the word out."


-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.


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