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“Build Yourselves Up in Your Most Holy Faith” Jude 20

“…Mantenganse en el amor de Dios, edificandose sobre la base de su santisima fe…”   Judas 20

On Holy Cross Day, Saturday September 14th over seventy lay leaders, pastors and neighbors gathered at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood for the inter-Lutheran “Encuentro” for Hispanic Latino Ministries, sponsored annually by Lutheran CORE.

Mariachi Tamazula Juvenil

Encuentro — “encounter”– is an apt name for this event. In coming together, participants convene in the name of the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and encounter one another through a full day of fellowship, prayer, learning, reflection and conversation. Some who attend have little or no experience in Spanish language or bilingual Parish Ministry but they come to encounter… to listen to and dialogue with those who have served in such contexts. All who participate meet one another in a hospitable atmosphere which provides for joyful exchange of culturally contextual, Christ-centered ministries and resources. Consider for example the spirited celebration of the Misa Panamericana, led by Mariachi Tamazula Juvenil, in a sanctuary built by Lutheran’s of Norwegian heritage.

Lutherans of various denominational bodies ELCA, LCMS, NALC and LCMC have taken part in the Encuentro over the years, defying a prevailing pattern of denominational separation. Lutheran cousins come together around the power of Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28). In Chicago, this pattern of inter-relational ministry in Hispanic Latino neighborhoods actually reflects the tone of cooperation shown by earlier Lutheran generations in the 1960s and 70s when the first Lutheran Latino Ministries were being planted in the city.

Dr. Maxwell Johnson

Dr. Maxwell Johnson, an ELCA pastor and professor at the University of Notre Dame, presented “Baptism: Walking Wet in the Via Crucis.” That topic coupled wonderfully with the rededication of a long out-of-use baptismal font, now placed in St Timothy’s sanctuary for sacramental use. 

Participating in that rededication was the Rev. Yehiel Curry, Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod ELCA, who expressed delight at being able to attend a portion of the gathering –even if it was at the end of a very busy day. “I represent the entire Synod,” he noted, adding that congregations should anticipate visitation by him and his staff on the Lord’s Day. “I will tell my staff that Sunday is a work day for us.”

“The Virgin of Guadalupe: Not Just for Roman Catholics Anymore” was Dr. Johnson’s afternoon address. At the heart of this Mexican apparition’s legacy is the story of “the God who cares for the lowly.” The Biblical touchstone for this tradition is the Magnificat: Mary’s song which exalts the Lord God and highlights His “casting down the mighty from their thrones and raising up those of low degree.”

This Encuentro, hosted by an ELCA / Lutheran CORE member parish in a neighborhood called “beautiful” (“Hermosa“) welcomes Lutheran believers by the power of the Holy Spirit to envision and experience church with an expanded embrace of racial diversity. This is a humbling privilege for those who are involved as it plays out against the trend of mainline churches like the ELCA which has shifted in membership from 92% white to 94% white in just three years from 2015 to 2018 according to the Rev. Chris Boerger, outgoing ELCA Secretary (see his 2019 Churchwide Assembly Report reference in “Living Lutheran,” September / October ’19).

Encuentros…. meetings… in culturally diverse neighborhood parishes can fortify the Church’s passion for her Lord’s Great Commission. Secretary Boerger has noted: “If there is to be a future for this denomination, we must pay attention to who is living in our neighborhood and our community.”

Just so, when encuentros with neighbors multiply and relationships within and beyond church walls grow, breakthrough moments can occur. 

At the conclusion of Dr. Johnson’s presentation, one such neighbor, Genoveva, stood up and, in her native Spanish and surrounded by her family, invited all at the Encuentro to come to her home (just around the corner from St. Timothy) on December 11th for Advent songs, prayers, traditional tamales and champurado (a hot beverage) on the eve of the commemoration day for the Virgin of Guadalupe.

That’s an encuentro that is eagerly anticipated!