Expanding Ministries to Spanish-Speaking Communities

By The Rev. David M Dubay, Canon for Hispanic Ministry, Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, Rector, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Charleston

For the last 25 years the Spanish-speaking migrant population has been steadily growing in our diocese, especially along the coast and near farmland and golf courses. Until 2018 most new Spanish-speaking communities were in rural areas due to the abundance of work and a strong network of family, friends, and neighbors from their countries of origin. Since 2020 the flow of Spanish-speaking migrants has increased greatly and the mostly Mexican population of migrant people (the majority young and from farming communities) has been joined by a large influx of Central and South American people, many with professional certifications and college degrees. This newer group of people seem to be finding homes and jobs in our cities due to the recent shortage of native restaurant and hotel workers. In Charleston the Spanish-speaking migrant population has nearly tripled in the last few years.

So, what is the reaction of the church?

The Roman Catholic church on Johns Island has services in Spanish every weekend. There are a few smaller Pentecostal churches pastored by bi-vocational pastors on Johns Island, and now a Spanish-speaking Baptist church has been planted on Hwy 61 by an American pastor. That church is right across the road from our own Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church. Our Diocesan response to the need for ministry through the language barrier has been small but more than that of other denominations in the area.

In the 1980s, St. John’s Episcopal Church opened their doors to the Spanish Migrant population as La Iglesia San Juan. While that church was a noted presence on the Island, they did little in the way of outreach and as the population of the area grew, that congregation did not. In 2010, when the Diocese disassociated from the Episcopal Church, we discovered that there was a very large population of people in over five work camps on Johns Island. We shut down the church, purchased a trailer and some chairs, and began setting up “The Church on the Move.” That ministry has travelled to one of two formerly migrant work camps nearly every Saturday since then. Our aim is to provide pastoral care, worship, and prayer opportunities for the camp inhabitants. The ministry has been run mostly by me and my assistant Rodrigo Haddad de Sousa. We have had some wonderful assistance from the Church of Our Saviour on Johns Island, Christ Church Anglican in Mount Pleasant, and a few others, as well as monetary help from Saint James and St. Philip’s (both in Charleston).

Recently we have realized that our time in the work camps, while a blessing, is reaching a very small number of the Spanish-speaking people of our area with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the last year I have purposely been engaging restaurant and hotel employees in conversation and I have found that a Spanish worship service at an hour that works for them would be greatly appreciated and well attended. We believe it is now essential to begin worship services in urban locations where the population has grown. 

The Anglican church has a wealth of excellent theological resources and wonderful music and a liturgical tradition that is familiar to many of the Spanish-speaking people in our area. There is a large group of unchurched Spanish-speaking people in our cities and towns. And the majority of the folks coming into our midst most recently are under 26 years old. We have a cross-cultural evangelistic challenge right here in our own backyards.

The plan is to begin a Spanish Eucharist that will eventually lead to a Spanish congregation housed in our Cathedral in downtown Charleston, which is close to the restaurants and hotels. There is opportunity right now if churches choose to minister directly to Spanish-speaking people in every city in our diocese.

Recently our own Fr. Roger Griffin sent me a copy of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer translated into Spanish and I have put together a bilingual, side-by-side version for our parishes. Currently we only have one Eucharist service available, but I am working to add baptism, confirmation, marriage, morning prayer, and evening prayer very soon. If you would like a copy of it to reproduce electronically, just let me know. The bilingual ESV Bible is available now so we don’t have to publish our own. The Alpha Course in Spanish has been extremely popular with those to whom we minister.

Recently, using this new side-by-side resource, the Rev. Jason Varnadore, Rector of St. David’s, Cheraw, baptized the child of a Spanish-speaking family. So the ministry is spreading.

Finally, the question you may be asking is why do we need to do this? Why don’t they just learn English?

I would start by saying that our Lord Jesus probably spoke at least three languages. And at Pentecost the good news was preached in many, many languages without leaving town. I believe there are enough resources and Spanish-speaking people within our own churches to minister to these marginalized and unreached people as well as those who have traveled to our state with an intact and strong faith in our Lord and Savior and who just want a church. 

We don’t need to do political battle over the immigration struggle because that is a losing battle our government cannot seem to do anything about right now. The truth is these people are in our midst. They are in our backyards, they are here, they need Jesus, and they need the love of a Christian Church as do we all. 

If you would like to learn more about how to bring this ministry to your church, or if you would be willing to serve on the Hispanic Ministries board, help with the service at the Cathedral, or accompany us out to the work camp on some Saturday morning to make breakfast and engage in prayerful fellowship with some wonderful people, please let me know. You can reach me at (843) 801-5856 or Fr.dubay@gmail.com.

Que Dios se bendiga.