On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, a team of people active in Hispanic ministries from across the North Alabama Conference gathered for an initial consultation and to begin a strategic comprehensive planning process for Hispanic ministries in the Conference. The group met with Rev. Dionisio Salazar from the Office of Hispanic/Latino Ministries of the General Board of Global Ministries.
The purpose of the day-long meeting was threefold.
Rev. Salazar explained that his role with the General Board of Global Ministries and the National Plan was to provide “acompañamiento” (to accompany the Conference on this journey).
The day began with Biblical reflection. Rev. Salazar said one section of Scripture the group focused on was Acts 10 which tells the story of Peter and Cornelius. He noted the heart of that reflection was on verse 34-35. “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
The team then assessed current ministries in North Alabama. Rev. Salazar noted that the North Alabama Conference and local churches have developed “a lot of good stuff” in the area of Hispanic ministries and good ministry is happening. He explained the next step is to “put wheels on” more ideas and develop strategic teams to carry out a Conference-wide plan.
The next step for the team is a planning / visioning gathering in March, where they will begin to develop a 3 to 5 year plan and develop 3 or 4 key strategies. Also this year, the group will apply for a grant available from the National Plan for Hispanic / Latino Ministry. The three year grant of $50,000 is to be used for congregational development (new churches), leadership development, and justice ministries.
Rev. Salazar noted that the leadership portion of the National Plan focuses on developing laity from within the Conference who will serve as lay missioners in the Conference. He also noted that some other Annual Conference have been assigned a missionary from the General Board of Global Ministries to coordinate Hispanic ministry efforts and this may be an option the North Alabama team will explore.
Rev. Salazar said the day was encouraging. There was energy as people active in Hispanic ministries were able to connect and share their experiences. He also noted, the group took time to talk about challenges in Hispanic Ministry in the North Alabama Conference. One of the biggest challenges is Alabama's new immigration law. Salazar said the group had discussions exploring the question “How do we respond to this reality?” They discussed what the Alabama law and the atmosphere created by the law means to efforts to start new Hispanic congregations and other ministries.
Dr. Thomas Muhomba, Conference Director of Ethnic & Multicultural Ministries and pastor of Lakeside UMC in Huntsville, was part of the group. He added, “We are excited about this opportunity. We hope it will inspire our Hispanic churches to grow and to grow more disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Rev. Salazar noted that this discussion on Hispanic Ministries is important for the North Alabama Conference because demographics in the state are changing and bring “diversity and strength to communities.” He added, “This gift of Diversity – God is in the midst of that.”