Episcopal Hispanic Congregation Growth Sparks Innovation and Concerns

By Don Plummer

ATLANTA - Episcopal Bishop Robert C Wright on Thursday discussed the issues raised by the rapid growth of Episcopal Hispanic congregations in Georgia as a guest on the Georgia Public Broadcasting network morning radio program On Second Thought, hosted by Celeste Headlee.

Wright, whose diocese incorporates middle and north Georgia, said Hispanic congregations are the fastest-growing ministries among the 114 worshiping communities of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. From 10 in 2012, Hispanic congregations now total 14 with the addition this year of congregations in Athens and Rome, Wright said. 

To meet the needs of Hispanic worshiping communities Wright in 2014, founded Centro de Educación Teológica para Latinos (CETLA), the Theological Education Center for Latinos. The two-year course prepares Hispanic lay leaders for ministry. Two graduates of the first class are now well on their way to ordination as Episcopal priests, Wright said.

Along with the growth of congregations have come new pastoral concerns, Wright said. Most recently members of Hispanic parishes have expressed fear and uncertainty about whether they will be detained by immigration authorities. In response, Wright said he has instructed priests serving Hispanic congregations to contact their members and offer resources, including home communion for those afraid to drive to their church.

“Even those who are legal residents fear getting caught up in immigration raids,” Wright said. “We must be sources of comfort and support during these uncertain times.”

Wright addressed these same concerns Wednesday during a panel discussion at Berry College, in Rome, GA. During the event attended by some 150 students and local residents, Wright said he believes that immigration reform must be both effective and compassionate.

The panel discussion entitled Immigration: Facts, Fears and Faith also included Berry Government and International Studies Professor Kirsten Taylor, Atlanta immigration attorney Elisabeth Mienkwic of the Baldwin Law Firm and Selina Yilmaz a freshman student originally from Turkey. The event was moderated by Nicolette Correy a senior Sociology major and vice president of the Northwest Georgia Canterbury Club, which hosted the event.

Following their presentations, Wright and other panelists fielded questions from audience members. Questions ranged from concerns about the responsibilities of members of faith communities to respond to the human suffering caused by deportations to worries that our borders have become too porous, allowing terrorists to easily infiltrate and attack our communities.

“As a Navy veteran, I can assure you that no one is more concerned with the security of our nation, Wright said. “However, I believe we can have strong borders and still be compassionate to families who have been here for years.”

To learn more about the Diocese of Atlanta's Hispanic ministry click here.

Don Plummer is media and community relations coordinator for the Diocese of Atlanta.