Celebrating an Anniversary

 

By Marie Smith

The day — April 21 — had arrived to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Latino congregation’s arrival at Trinity Parish. While driving downtown, I was wondering what it was like 25 years ago for the small Latino congregation to enter Trinity Church for the first time. Back then, this congregation had about 25 members from various countries in the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America. They had previously been worshiping at Calvary Episcopal Church for about two years. However, when Calvary closed, they had no place to go.

I’m sure that first day 25 years ago was a bit different. Besides the weather (It was February 7, 1993, and the temperature was only 18° outside), I can imagine that it must have taken a lot of courage to embrace yet another church with a congregation they did not know and clergy that was new to them as well. But that small group did come to Trinity, and from that day forward, Trinity Parish has become known as a parish worshiping together at four services held at two churches in two languages.

The silver anniversary service celebrated the Latino congregation’s move. From the moment I entered the church, I knew it would be a very special service. Just like the first service that welcomed them, this celebration was a bilingual service, with all liturgy and music in Spanish and English. The Rt. Rev. Kevin S. officiated, with the Rev. Patricia Downing, rector of Trinity Parish, and the Rev. Juan George, associate rector of Trinity Parish, assisting. The only difference was that this time, more than 100 people attended, including both English and Latino parishioners.

The Rev. Yamily Bass-Choate, Liaison for Global Mission for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, was the guest preacher. She said she was so excited to be asked to share this day with us, and she noted that Anglo churches sometimes have had a difficult time making the necessary cultural leap, so not many Anglo-Latino congregations can celebrate a 25-year anniversary. “It is an amazing honor to preach God’s gospel for a congregation that has gotten this far. And it is so important to celebrate achievements like this, or we forget the joys of this service. We must keep the beacon of light in front of us.”

Bass-Choate preached her sermon in Spanish, and then she added a brief message in English, closing with a quote from the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., XIIIth Bishop of New York, “You are messengers clothed in the beauty of God. Take hope, be strong, be brave, be free, be open, be loving, and hold up the vision of the Heavenly City. Remove the scales from your eyes, so that you can see the City so clearly that you will never cease until you have built Jerusalem in our land.”

Bishop Brown then invited everyone to join in receiving communion as he celebrated La Santa Comunión. As I watched each person raise his or her hands to receiving the body of Christ, I finally realized the true significance of this anniversary. I have attended many bilingual services during which we have had a few Spanish readings and songs, but almost always the sermons were in English. However, this service was different — only one reading was in English, and the sermon and most of the liturgy and prayers were in Spanish. Although I knew that it was the same Episcopal liturgy I had heard for 30 years, I struggled most of time to keep up. As I looked around, the Latino members of the congregation were relaxed; they looked contented, peaceful, and happy. I realized that they were hearing the word of God in the language of their hearts. And that is what we were celebrating…25 years of the love of God spoken in a language that enables them to connect with the Holy Spirit and receive the body of Christ without any language or cultural barriers.

Before the blessing and dismissal, Father Juan asked two of the Latino congregants to come forward: Natividad Febus and Juan Rodriguez who are still attending Trinity Parish 25 years later. With them as the symbols connecting the past with the future, he prayed a special anniversary prayer:

Dios misericordioso, celebramos nuestro pasado y nos regocijamos en nuestro presente, nosotros también esperamos con ansias el futuro. Agradecemos por cada recuerdo que nuestra celebración revive, y por la cantidad de testigos que hicierin que el viente y cinco aniversario de nuestra congregación sea una celebración. Damos gracias por aquellos que establecieron esta congregación latina, hace años y por su fe y visión, por sus dones y habilidades. Oh Dios, te pedimos que continúes haciendo que tu amor se conozca entre nosotros. Danos celo por nuestra visión y misión. Ayúdanos a mirar más allá de nuestros muros a quienes nos rodean, y donos valor para proclamar a Cristo nuestro Señor, quien vive y reina contigo y el Espíritu Santo, un Dios, ahora y siempre. Amén. Gracious God, as we celebrate our past and rejoice in our present, we also look forward with eager eyes to the future. We thank you for every memory that our celebration revives, and for the number of witnesses who have made the 25th anniversary of our congregation an occasion for celebration. We give thanks for those who established this Latino congregation, years ago and for their faith and vision, for their gifts and abilities. O God we pray that you will continue to make your love known among us. Give us a zeal for vision and mission. Help us to look beyond our walls to those who do not know you and make this congregation a blessing to those around us, and embolden us to proclaim Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

I was curious how the Latino congregation had ended up coming to Trinity Parish, so I sought out after the service. Over a wonderful potluck dinner at the reception, I asked Juan about the move from Calvary to Trinity. Juan said that Father Luis León, the rector of Trinity, reached out to them when he heard that that they had no place to worship. He smiled and said, “It was easy. Father León talked with us, and we waited. Then we heard we could come here, so we came. I have been here every Sunday except for when it snows, and I will be here forever until I’m gone. I love it here.”

How It All Started…

In the late 1980’s, Wilmington’s Latino population was increasing, so Calvary Episcopal Church on Fourth Street began holding a service in Spanish. Although this population’s religious tradition was primarily Roman Catholic, they found the Episcopal Church to be very open, inclusive, and accepting of everyone, and a small, dedicated congregation grew. Unfortunately, Calvary Church was unable to sustain itself and eventually closed its doors in 1993, leaving the Latino congregation without a church.

With the help of the Rev. Luis León, the rector at Trinity Parish at that time, and with the support of the vestry and parish, the small Latino congregation moved to Trinity Parish in February of 1993. “Trinity Parish has a long history of reaching out to people in need, especially to those who are in the margin of society. It was that spirit of generosity that brought the Latino members of Calvary Church to Trinity Parish in 1993,” explains the Rev. Juan George, the associate rector at Trinity.

The first service was a bilingual service held on February 7, 1993 at Trinity Church, during which the Latino congregation was warmly and officially welcomed into the parish.

Señor Revendo, te presentamos a estas personas que son miembros del Cuerpo de Cristo, y los recibimos en nuestra comunidad. Reverend Sir, we present to you these persons who are members of the Body of Christ, and we welcome them to our community.
CELEBRANTE: ¿Participarás regularmente con nosotros en el culto de Dios, para escuchar su palabra y para celebrar el misterio de la muerte y resurrección de Cristo?

RESPUESTA: Así, lo haré, con la ayuda de Dios.

CELEBRANT: Will you attend the worship of God regularly with us, to hear God’s word and to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising?

ANSWER: I will, with God’s help.

CELEBRANTE: ¿Te unirás a nosotros en nuestra vida de servicio a los pobres, marginados o desvalidos?

RESPUESTA: Así, lo haré, con la ayuda de Dios.

CELEBRANT: Will you join us in our life of service to those who are poor, outcast, or powerless?

ANSWER: I will, with God’s help.

CELEBRANTE: ¿Te esforzarás en reconocer los dones que Dios te ha dado y discernir cómo han de usarse ​​en la edificación del reino del Dios de paz y justicia?

RESPUESTA: Así, lo haré, con la ayuda de Dios.

CELEBRANT: Will you strive to recognize the gifts that God has given you and discern how they are to be used in the building up of God’s reign of peace and justice?

ANSWER: I will, with God’s help.

CELEBRANTE: Bendito seas tú, Dios nuestro, porque tú nos formas en tu imagen y nos restauras en Jesucristo. Renuévanos en tu Santo Espíritu, que podamos crecer como miembros de Cristo. Fortalece nuestra unión como iglesia. Te ofrecemos nuestra vida de oración y servicio; mediante nuestro Salvador Jesucristo, que vive y reina contigo y el Espíritu Santo, ahora y para siempre.

TODOS: Amén.

CELEBRANT: Blessed are you, our God for you form us in your image and restore us in Jesus Christ. Renew us with your Holy Spirit, that we may grow as members of Christ. Strengthen our union as a church. We offer you our life of praise and service; through our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

PEOPLE: Amen.

CELEBRANTE: Sírvanse recibir a los nuevos miembros de esta parroquia.

TODOS: Los reconocemos como miembros de la familia de Dios. Confiesen la fe de Cristo crucificado, proclamen su resurrección y participen con nosotros de su eterno sacerdocio.

CELEBRANT: Please welcome the new members of this parish.

PEOPLE: We recognize you as members of the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.

The following week, Father León held the first Spanish service in the chapel at Trinity Church. Terry Gaus-Woollen, Director of Music, recalls that they did not have many liturgical resources at the beginning to support this new congregation. “I relied on the members of the congregation to help with music,” he said. “First, I just translated some of the hymns I liked, and eventually I was able to gather enough music from various sources to create the first edition of the Cantos hymnal that we use today.”

The congregation continued to worship in the chapel at Trinity Church until it moved into the nave once they outgrew the chapel. With approximately 50 families, today’s congregation is quite diverse, tracing their roots to the many different cultures of Mexico, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Some of the members have lived in the Wilmington community for two or three generations, while others are new immigrants who still have strong ties to their homeland. The elder generations are primarily Spanish-speaking people who immigrated to the United States to find work, whereas their children are fully bilingual and have gone to American schools, graduating from high school and college.

Trinity’s current rector, the Rev. Patricia Downing, has always known Trinity as a parish with services in both English and Spanish. It was actually one of the aspects that drew her to the parish. During her first sabbatical, she spent one month in Mexico studying the language and culture, and during her second sabbatical, she spent three weeks in Costa Rica doing the same. “Having multiple cultures in our parish gives a richness to our worship life and fellowship,” she says. “It also makes us aware of issues in the community that we might not otherwise turn our energies toward.”

Father Juan agrees that the relationships among the various congregations enables them to do things together that they could not otherwise do. He adds, “As the Latino members are getting more familiar with Episcopal traditions, they are still worshiping in the language of their hearts; so we are growing spiritually while opening our eyes to other ways of life.”

As they plan for the 25th anniversary of the Hispanic-Latino congregation’s arrival at Trinity, the parish is looking toward the future. Trinity continues to draw on its diversity to broaden its liturgical life and translate its faith in new ways that adapt to the needs and traditions of different cultures. Downing summarizes this well, saying, “The secular climate we live in today is accentuating differences in cultures. Although we are a parish that worships in two churches and at least two languages, there is no distinction; it is who we are. We represent multiple cultures from around the world; however, the bonds of baptism bind us into one… Ubuntu – I am because we are.

Latino Clergy at Trinity

1993:  The first Holy Eucharist in Spanish was celebrated by the Rev. Luis León, February 7, 1993

1993 – 1995       The Rev. Catherine M. Campbell

1995 – 2000        The Rev. Elias Peñaloza

2000 – 2003        The Rev. Sylvia Vasquez

2003 – 2007        The Rev. Ruben Rodriguez-Yejo

2007 – Present The Rev. Juan V. George

 

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