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May 11, 2000 GC-062

Hispanics see church becoming more inclusive

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — Hispanic United Methodists see many reasons for celebrating the church’s growing inclusiveness, including the increase in intentional ministries to their communities.

"I think they (United Methodists) are trying to embrace and include us," said Nelida Morales, a lay delegate from the Florida Conference. "One reason I am here is because I am Hispanic, and they want to be inclusive."

José Palos, coordinator of the National Plan for Hispanic Ministries, said he is glad for the work being done in the United Methodist Church relating to Hispanics. The number of churches in ministry with Hispanics has grown over the past four years from 100 to 256, and an additional 100 have expressed interest, he said. The number of annual conferences involved in the National Plan for Hispanic Ministries has also grown from 38 to 61 in the past seven years.

The church has more than 40,000 Hispanic members, according to denomination statistics.

Delegates to General Conference have confronted several high-profile issues dealing with Hispanic people around the world. They have approved a petition for continuing the National Plan for Hispanic Ministries and another supporting the developing Methodist Church in Colombia is on the docket. Bishop Juan Vera Mendez, leader of the autonomous Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, addressed the conference about his May 4 arrest while protesting the U.S. Navy’s use of the island of Vieques.

"Vieques and Colombia speak to the need of our church to respond to issues Hispanic people are facing," Palos said. "This conference gave us the opportunity to respond to some of those."

Isaías Gutiérrez, episcopal leader of the Methodist Church of Colombia and president of the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL), and Ricardo Pereira, bishop of the Methodist Church in Cuba, are also attending General Conference.

The General Conference is the denomination’s top lawmaking body. The 992 delegates from around the world are meeting May 2-12 in Cleveland.

Twenty Hispanic delegates and eight alternates are attending the assembly, along with 40 observers from various Hispanic groups.

The number of Hispanic delegates is almost double what it was at the last General Conference in 1996, said the Rev. Aldo Martin, superintendent of the Florida Annual (regional) Conference’s Lakeland District. "We are also very proud that one alternate for Judicial Council is Hispanic," he said, referring to Daniel Ivey-Soto of the New Mexico Conference.

Martin said he hoped to see more intentional efforts to have Hispanics in positions of authority within the church "at general agencies, as district superintendents and bishops." Before that can happen, he said, "Hispanics need to move forward and participate."

Alwilda Nolla, president of Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans (MARCHA), said this is a time of change in the United Methodist Church and Hispanics are contributing to that change. "When you combine the financial and other resources from the church and the human resources from the Hispanic community, we can be a great church."

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-- Michael Wacht

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