Attending Instituto de Liderazgo classes this year sent a powerful message to Rosa Santana, a parishioner at All Saints Church in Pasadena, “that the diocese is really concerned about reaching out to those who speak Spanish in Los Angeles.”
Foundational courses in Scripture, church history and theology bolstered her lay ministries at the Pasadena church’s weekly Spanish language service. Other courses, like meditation, offered her practical life skills to help de-stress from a fast-paced public relations position, she said during a recent telephone interview.
“The Instituto fell in line with a lot of what I’m doing already with my church” as a lector, usher and altar guild member, said Santana, a public relations associate at Scripps College in Claremont. “It helped me network more effectively with others doing similar work throughout the diocese. It’s completely in Spanish. I get to read, write and think in Spanish. All day.”
She was among 45 students of the institute’s inaugural class recognized during the first day of the 116th annual meeting of diocesan convention Dec. 2-3 at the Riverside Convention Center. About 35 plan to return as “seminaristas” or seminarians, for a second year of more extensive studies eventually leading to ordination, according to the Rev. Tom Callard, rector of All Saints’ Church, Highland Park (Los Angeles), and an institute developer.
“All the classes will be open to people from the community, and the focus of the Instituto will continue to be developing lay leaders,” said Callard.
“The Instituto is a wonderful way to raise up lay leaders for the congregations,” agreed Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce, who taught a Nov. 19 institute class on stewardship at St. Mark’s Church, Van Nuys.
Bruce taught students “to tell their stories of God’s blessings in their lives so that they can become part of a Spanish ‘speaker’s bureau’ on stewardship for Spanish-speaking congregations in the diocese — their own and others,” she said.
“They are taught essentially an “Episcopal 101″ course which helps equip them for leadership,” added Bruce, who oversees diocesan multicultural ministries. “We are already seeing the fruits of this work by people going back to their congregations excited to share what they’ve learned and to exercise the skills they’ve acquired.”
Callard said “the quality of the classes has been amazing” at the institute, a unique collaborative effort of the diocesan Program Group on Hispanic Ministry (PGHM) and Bloy House (the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont) to train lay leaders for ministry in Spanish-speaking congregations.
Students attended eight-hour Saturday classes once monthly, offered for a minimal registration fee of about $50 through Bloy House. The classes began in January; students met at various churches around the diocese including the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, Los Angeles; St. Mark’s, Glendale; St. Luke’s, Long Beach; St. Martha’s, West Covina and St. Mark’s, Van Nuys. Instructors, mostly diocesan clergy, volunteered their time; curriculum topics ranged from pastoral care, Scripture, preaching and theology to church administration, outreach, and church history, Callard said.
The Very Rev. Dr. Sylvia Sweeney, Bloy House dean, said the groundbreaking program offers “a glimpse of the future of the church and not just in terms of Latino ministry, although that’s going to be vitally important to the future of the church.
“This is a wonderful model that serves the whole diocese well,” Sweeney said in a recent telephone interview from her Claremont office.
“It is absolutely imperative to the future of the church that we no longer simply train a handful of people to be ordained leaders and think we’ll create and maintain vital churches that way.”
She congratulated the PGHM and the diocese for taking outreach to the Latino community seriously and for beginning at a grassroots level. “I hope and pray that there are other places that are taking Latino ministry seriously enough to be figuring out how to get people formed to be leaders in their diocese and to keep building on that energy.”
The instructors “have given tremendously of their time, energy and resources, and we had a fabulous turnout as a result of their commitment,” she said. “It is inspiring to see the kind of energy around being a vital church that is taking place within that group.”
Bloy House offered administrative support to the program and awarded certificates to 45 students who completed coursework requirements.
“We’ve tried to offer a program to help prepare people to be empowered to engage the ministry God’s called them to in their congregations,” Sweeney said.
“The (PGHM) ministry group was so wise to understand that if they wanted to form Latino leaders for the diocese, you didn’t just start at the top to find people to be priests,” she added.
For some students completing the training will mean “leading Morning Prayer, or serving as a lay Eucharistic minister. For others it may mean feeling empowered to be senior wardens in their congregations. Others may feel empowered to teach religious education classes, to be catechists who prepare people for sacraments. All these are within the realm of possibilities opening up for people’s lives.”
The seminary was “absolutely delighted with the turnout” for the sessions, she said. “It has been so enriching to see how deeply committed to the church the students are. This is not about a fringe group. This is about a lot of the heart of the Episcopal Church right now and that’s what we saw really demonstrated with the kind of attendance and participation we’ve had in this group. They are fully ready to take on active leadership roles in the Diocese of Los Angeles.”
Sweeney hopes to collaborate on similar programs in additional languages. “Our role for them is support and administrative. We would love to see this going on within other groups within the church as well,” she said. “It’s very much a matter of those program groups organizing themselves in a way to commit those kind of resources to make this possible.”
Callard said that details for the second term are still being finalized but if that year proceeds as planned, it will “be open to people from the community, and the focus of the Instituto will continue to be developing lay leaders.
“However, now that ordination through the Instituto is a possibility, a few things will change. Students on the ordination track will have to serve as seminarians, as “seminaristas” in congregations, and they will be exposed to all the practical aspects of ministry,” he said.
They will also be required to enter discernment and spiritual formation, facilitated by the Rev. Tom Carey, vicar, and other monks at the Franciscan Friary at Epiphany Church, Los Angeles. Students would serve in local congregations during their training period.
“They will be out there doing the work on Sundays and will be involved in parishes and giving parishes the much-needed resource of having a couple other prepared leaders to serve the people,” Callard said.
“We are looking at facilitating, through the Instituto, a model of group discernment where people gather together with others who are also discerning, as well as people from their parish, to discuss and explore their calling.”
He added, “We want them to understand their calling in the context of the needs of the church and the wider community. And we want the question of discernment not to be ‘am I called to be a priest or deacon?’ But to be rather, ‘for what am I called, given my gifts and abilities?'”
He also hopes the program will help remove significant existing barriers to ordination for Spanish speakers. Callard estimated that of the approximately 70 people currently in the diocesan ordination process, only three are Latino. Nationally, the number is fewer than 10, he said.
“There really aren’t any options for people whose English is fairly limited and for people who work nights and weekends and who can’t really travel and who don’t have a lot of resources,” Callard said.
“The goal is that in four years we will train, in Spanish, students who are able to serve as priests and deacons,” he said. “What’s interesting to see is that these are people, by and large, who are all working, and in many cases they have families and kids, and when they’re eventually ordained, God willing, they’re not going to be looking for full-time positions in churches. They will be perfectly poised for someone looking for part-time, even quarter-time clergy to fill some of our great needs in some of our churches.”