Rev. Dr. Mark Welshimer with Dr. Socorro de Anda and first time visitors who attended for this special event.
Young people are among the innocent victims of the broken immigration system in America. Churches across the conference are redirecting efforts to address their changing communities, thanks to the perspective of Lydia Patterson President Dr. Socorro de Anda and other passionate leaders.
“The United Methodist Church is looking for people that are not yet at our spiritual table,” says Rev. Dr. Mark Welshimer, Chair of Religion and Race and pastor of Fulshear UMC, “and that was the focus of our sermon on September 15 – The Day of the Immigrant.”Fulshear UMC, a church of about 230, hosted Dr. Socorro de Anda, president of Lydia D. Patterson Institute in El Paso in all services and personally invited Hispanic members of the community to this event in hopes of beginning a new initiative for Hispanic ministry.
“We heard stories of some 400 students from Mexico traveling up to two hours a day to get to class there along the border,” he adds. “Having been president of Lydia Paterson Institute for 20 years, Dr. de Anda has seen families transformed and many students lead very purposeful lives as a result of our apportionment dollars at work – and she thanked our congregation and denomination for the faithfulness to help in this impactful way.”
This Hispanic Heritage themed event will launch Fulshear UMC into a new dimension of outreach. “Considering an outreach ministry to Hispanics in our fast-growing area is a whole new way of thinking for our congregation,” Mark adds, “but Dr. de Anda gave us several specific challenges that excited our members and visitors. She wants Fulshear UMC to take an adult mission trip to see firsthand the realities being addressed through Lydia Patterson, and she believes we should engage one of her students as an intern next summer to help us reach this new demographic.”
Across town in South Houston, is a congregation with a worship attendance of 20 and an average age of 75 that leveraged Hispanic Heritage Month and the Day of the Immigrant as an opportunity to focus outward. “Galena Park is an area that is 80% Latino, but we, as United Methodists, have often failed to adapt with our changing community,” says Susan Buchanan who serves Galena Park UMC and Perkins Houston-Galveston. “I'm starting with some small steps, like having a couple of church members help me announce our 40 Days of Prayer on our church sign in both English and Spanish. I've made bulletin inserts with the prayer for the week and have talked about immigrants in the Bible in relation to welcoming the stranger,” she says. Members shared their response to this new insight at lunch, saying, “That was so good. I never thought about the Bible being all about immigration." Susan is encouraged that members are beginning to see Galena Park as a new mission field. “This recent response means that at least four grandmothers are praying about immigration, and I think we know that grandmothers' prayers are powerful,” she adds. “Maybe our next step, is to take some of the bookmarks in English and Spanish over to the grocery store, and hand them out, and invite others in the community to join with us to pray about immigration.”
To commemorate Day of the Immigrant at First UMC, Conroe, Hispanic congregation pastor, Rev. William Llana, a Peruvian immigrant, preached in Spanish with English translation by one of the congregants. Rev. Scott Moore says, “The service centered on a celebration of the contribution of immigrants to our community and, specifically, to our church. Prior to this, we had a summer event featuring a panel discussion on immigration with Q&A from the audience during our primary Sunday school hour and invited all Sunday schools to attend in lieu of their normal morning classes.” Four panelists presented various aspects of immigration and the difficulties facing immigrants. The Hispanic Community Liaison from the City of Conroe (who is also the Executive Director of a non-profit that serves the immigrant community) spoke about immigration in the Conroe area and county, and the Community Outreach Director for the local school district addressed the difficulties faced by immigrant students (DREAMers). Additionally, a member of the First UMC Conroe Hispanic Congregation shared his personal story of battling the immigration system and how the church was a haven of blessing for him during his struggles. Adds Scott, “I closed with the specific things that our conference and denomination are doing to address immigration reform, citing Scripture, the Social Principles, Resolutions, and statements from the Council of Bishops and the United Methodist Women.”