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Many Lutheran church buildings feature cornerstones with dates and historic references chiseled in languages other than English.   In cities, towns and open country congregations across the United States, these heritage markers may well be in German, Danish, Swedish or Slovak.  They embrace a bilingual or multilingual legacy, while parishioners now worship and serve primarily in English.

Increasingly, in these ministry contexts, Spanish is heard on the streets, in shops and school yards.  Hispanic-Latino (“Latinx”) populations are rapidly growing.  The Great Commission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, speaks with power to such communities in the 21st Century.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

The nations have come to us, as evidenced by the presence of people from Latin America today.  They come, bearing the spiritual and cultural gifts of their Christian faith communities.  Some will be evangelized, drawn to Christ by the proclamation of His life, death and resurrection. Some will evangelize their new neighbors in the U.S.A., perhaps bringing renewal to wearied and diminishing Lutheran congregations.

Will the existing, long-established churches engage their changing, dynamic neighborhoods?   Many remain demographically static, functioning in ethnic or linguistic isolation.  These shrinking faith communities often gain little or no traction when it comes to engaging the diverse neighborhoods which now surround them.  Some categorically resist such engagement.

And yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, turning points and breakthroughs can and do occur:

  • “Bienvenido/a” is added to the outdoor “Welcome” sign board,
  • Spanish or bilingual Bible Story books are given to Vacation Bible School families,
  • Pre-printed English scripture bulletins are supplemented with Spanish text inserts,
  • Bilingual Facebook posts begin to raise awareness of the parish’s micro-pantry, availability for Quinceaneras and seasonal devotions such as “Las Posadas” or the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross),
  • English speaking bishops, pastors, deacons, and laity can learn at least rudimentary Spanish. Indigenous leaders are identified, trained, and sent forth.

Through the co-sponsorship of Lutheran CORE, the annual Inter-Lutheran “Encuentro” (Encounter) has served to initiate, encourage and fortify Lutheran bilingual ministries during the past decade.

Hosted by two ELCA / Lutheran CORE Chicagoland parishes, the Encuentro has gathered dozens of lay leaders, pastors, theologians, diaconal ministers and ecumenical partners for mutual encouragement, learning, worship and collaboration.  In an age characterized by denominational separation – a kind of Lutheran tribalism branded by abbreviations that are unintelligible to most of the immigrant community – the Encuentro provides common ground for clear focus on the nurture and development of bilingual outreach and pastoral ministry. Here, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod scholars have shared podiums with seminary professors and bishops of the ELCA, reflecting on such topics as the Holy Spirit’s shaping of disciples, Advent’s opportunities to reflect on Mary as the Mother of God – learning from the devotional accents of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Emmaus Road along which we encounter the Risen Lord Jesus.  Here, at the Encuentro, NALC, LCMC, LCMS, ELCA and Lutheran “micro-synod” members can learn from one another, and from Spanish speaking community members, about the Hispanic-Latino ministry context of our time.

COVID19 has forced the cancellation of an in-person gathering this fall.  “Encuentro 2020” will take an alternate pathway.  Lutheran CORE, in partnership with the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center (BMRC) of Joliet & Chicago will provide Bilingual ministry materials at no cost (while they last) to those requesting them (September through December 2020).

Curated and mailed by the BMRC and parish leaders from First & Santa Cruz, Joliet and St. Timothy, Hermosa – Chicago, the packets will include sample resources from a range of providers, including:

  • ALPB (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau) – publishers of bilingual Lutheran identity tracts,
  • EAL (Editorial Avance Luterano) – publishers of the Spanish language weekly text worship insert, “Plegaria y Palabra”,
  • Augsburg-Fortress – publishers of a Spanish / English edition of Luther’s Small Catechism (an endeavor inspired by the BMRC),
  • CPH (Concordia Publishing House) – providers of the iconic “Arch Book” children’s Bible story book series (with English, Spanish and Bilingual editions),
  • Various parish-based resources, such as the Faith-related “Questions Kids Ask” bilingual reader and coloring books, recently created and published by Peace Lutheran Church, New Lenox IL.

The pandemic prevents the in-person presence we so desire, and yet it does not keep us from fortifying the partnerships which enable lively outreach in Jesus’ name, true to His Great Commission.

To order an “Encuentro 2020” resource packet (one per parish, please) contact Pastor Keith Forni, Encuentro Convener at First and Santa Cruz Lutheran Church, 55 W. Benton Street, Joliet IL 60435-4094 or

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