Sunday, December 18, 2011

Surprises at St. Jude's

Today was my first Sunday visit to St. Jude’s the parish. I have visited St. Jude’s Ranch many times and have celebrated the Eucharist with gatherings of our deacons there in the Zabriske Chapel. St. Jude’s graciously hosts our deacon conferences at no charge. But this was my first Sunday visit, marking the actual return of St. Jude’s to the Episcopal fold. Bishop Katharine visited and Kay Rohde celebrated there, but the priest who served St. Jude’s was of a schismatic persuasion and was not willing to attend those services. So much of the congregation was not there either. Today, St. Jude’s is in some sense our oldest, in another sense our newest, Latino parish.

The first surprise of the day was the turnout. Attendance at St. Jude’s is often around 15 to 20. On a big Sunday it breaks 40. Today we had 80 people, which packed the Chapel. They were engaged, singing the Spanish hymns a capella, fully participating in the liturgy using a Spanish translation of the Book of Common Prayer. Some of the attendance was no doubt due to the three baptisms – one early elementary schoolboy and two teenage girls. When I baptize older children and teenagers of Latino families, I always know there is a story there. I don’t know what it is, but there is a story. We are doing something important.

After the service I did a little demographic research about where the congregants reside. Many of them are, in fact, from Boulder City. When we began work on restoring our ties to St. Jude’s, I was assured that there is only one Latino family living in Boulder City and they attend St. Christopher’s. It turns out there is an invisible Latino population in BC. I am not being ironic. It really is true. By patronizing different businesses, etc. it is quite possible for ethnic groups to inhabit the same space with minimal awareness of each other’s existence. But, as I expected, many of them lived in Henderson. Neither of our churches in Henderson has a Missa Espanol so the 20 minute drive to St. Jude’s works for them just for convenience. But a significant minority drive to St. Jude’s from Las Vegas. There are no more community churches. We are all destination churches. People drive to where they choose to worship.

The next surprise came when I asked the teenagers, Cheyenne and Mia, in Spanish “Do you desire to be baptized?” They looked at me blankly. I thought it was my pronunciation; but Fr. Leslie explained that they did not speak Spanish. Oh my! Flashback to the ordeal a few years ago when I agonized over preparing and delivering a French sermon in Haiti only to learn afterward that the congregation did not speak French. They spoke Creole. So I found myself fumblingly trying to translate the questions I was reading out of a Spanish Prayer Book back into English. There goes another stereotype.

After the congregation finished receiving the sacrament, they brought the children up for blessings. I have never done more blessings of children, not even at our largest Latino congregation in Las Vegas. There was a hunger for blessings.

After the service, Christina Vela, the Regional Program Director for St. Jude’s (that means she runs the Nevada campus – there are two campuses in Texas) came by to meet me. That is a very positive gesture. If I am correct that Nevada Episcopalians share a sense of call to help at-risk children, then restoring our historic commitment to supporting St. Jude’s is a top mission priority.

Relations have been being maintained by folks like Sherm Fredericks who serves on the St. Jude’s Board. Connection with the parish restarted in earnest through the work of Fr. Bernardo Iniesta-Avila and his wife Lolita. It has been carried on by Fr. Leslie Holdridge. I am enormously grateful to them for their work at times when it was not at all clear that anything would come of it. They walked by faith and not by light; but the light is dawning. No worship space in Nevada has a holier feel than St. Jude’s. I feel blessed to have been there today and am eager to return.

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