Thursday, June 19, 2008

Episcopal Diocese Welcomes New Flock

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS A 150-member Hispanic congregation merges with St. Luke's Episcopal Church, becoming one.

By Jeff Brumley, The Times-Union

The Rev. Miguel Rosada read the gospel in both English and Spanish to about 350 worshipers during an unusual service Wednesday night at St. John's Cathedral in Jacksonville.

The bilingual reading from Luke, in which Jesus commands his disciples to cast their nets wide and deep, marked a new reality for Rosada, his congregation and the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. "You've cast your nets down and taken us up," Bishop John Howard said to Rosada in welcoming him and his Spanish-speaking flock into the diocese.

The new reality for Rosada is he and his 150-member congregation, Ministerio Hispano El Mesias, have formally merged with the 80-member St. Luke's Episcopal Church to become St. Luke's/Iglesia Episcopal San Lucas.

In leaving behind their previous denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church, Rosada's congregation also creates a new, unique tool for the Jacksonville-based diocese to more effectively reach out to North Florida's Hispanic community, Howard said Tuesday.

Howard said it is the first time an existing congregation has left another denomination to join his diocese. An Episcopal Church official said it may also be the first time a Hispanic parish has left another organization for the denomination.

Rosada is now the rector for the merged parish. St. Luke's, located on University Boulevard near Jacksonville University, has recently been without a full-time priest. The move gives his ongoing ministry to Latinos more resources and scope, Rosada said."This is a much wider community in which to share our faith," he told the Times-Union on Tuesday.

The Hispanic group began worshiping at St. Luke's as renters two years ago. But a worship and ministry relationship developed that made it clear the diocese was the right spiritual home for Rosada and his parishioners, he said.

The Charismatic Episcopal Church, with fewer than 100 congregations in the U.S., emphasizes both charismatic and liturgical worship. Rosada said his group's "livelier" worship style will be welcomed in Howard's diocese. "It's a very natural, very organic transition."

The merger comes at a time when the Episcopal Church is striving to reach out to minority groups. Last fall, the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, declared a special focus on reaching out to the nation's growing Hispanic and Asian populations, according to its Web site.

Currently, there are 250 Spanish-speaking or bilingual Episcopal congregations in the United States and another 380 in Latin America, said the Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen, the Los Angeles-based staff officer for the denomination's Latino/Hispanic Ministries. There are about 25 such congregations, missions or ministries in central and southwestern Florida, the denomination's Web site reported. None are listed in North Florida.

Gaining an already-formed Hispanic congregation -which will offer services in English and Spanish - will jump-start outreach efforts that have previously come and gone in the 25-county diocese, Howard said.

The development also comes as the diocese emerges from almost five years of turmoil surrounding the issue of homosexual ordination in the Episcopal Church. Approximately 200 Anglican congregations - including about 20 in North Florida and South Georgia - have been formed since 2003. Most were created by Episcopalians who left the denomination when an actively gay priest was elected bishop of New Hampshire.

Rosada said neither he nor his congregation are concerned about that issue because it pales compared with the social, spiritual and material needs of Hispanics in the region.

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