Over 250 in church, and 44 confirmations — Sunday’s was a fairly typical visitation at Iglesia Episcopal San Bartolome in Pico Rivera, where the Rev. Juan Barragan has been the energetic vicar for 21 years. It was a lively, spirit-filled, easy-going bilingual service, with Cesar Franco and Maria Mercedes Carachure, both guitarists, leading the music. St. Bart’s usually worships in Spanish at 8 and 11 a.m.
Petra Barragan had prepared about a half-dozen children for their first communion. After Fr. Juan had given them a candle, and we shared in a blessing, a few came for their confirmation as well. All the candidates stood flanked by godparents, sometimes uncles and aunts or siblings, often holding Bibles and necklaces to be blessed.
Most were in junior high or high school and told me they preferred to have the confirmation prayer said in English. These were children and grandchildren of immigrants, all fluent in English, some in the midst of deciding on college and career and planning when to see “Barbie,” yet participating respectfully with their families in inherited religious ritual. Standing eye to eye with so many young people was inspiring and daunting. What can one say in such a moment to reassure them that even when the day is darker, when they’re feeling judged, overlooked, or beaten down, their God in Christ is with them?
Thanks to Fr. Juan’s ministry, so far, so good with my 16-year-old chaplain for the day, Ethan Martinez, about to enter his junior year at La Puente High School. Born into the parish, confirmed during my last visit five years ago (don’t worry; two other bishops besides me have visited since), he undertook his duties with grownup (if we’re lucky) sensitivity and kindness.
As the Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen advises, while Hispanic ministry doesn’t necessarily mean Spanish-language ministry, it always means culturally competent ministry. Since the candidates were the main event, counseled by Fr. Juan, I preached mostly in English. These nuances are the speciality of some of the church’s most adept priests. Another vicar in our diocese goes all-English at confirmation services to make it clear to the young people that it’s all for them, knowing that family members who don’t speak English will understand.
So we can all better understand this dimension of our evangelical edge, Anthony and his colleagues will soon offer the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles a two-day teaching retreat, called New Camino, on second- and third-generation Latino ministry, sponsored by the Rev. Carlos Ruvalcaba and the Program Group on Hispanic Ministry.
Before church, I walked the spacious St. Bart’s grounds with the bishop’s warden of many years’ standing, Leticia Santos, a forensic investigator for a bank, and people’s warden Roberto Mora. Theirs was one of the busiest churches in the diocese on Sunday. Our God in Christ needs us to provide for its abundant future, which may well include affordable housing.