One of the best kept secrets is that Atlanta is home to one of the largest and fastest-growing Episcopal diocese worldwide.
The Diocese of Atlanta is climbing in its ranking among 110 Episcopal dioceses worldwide and its Hispanic congregations are one reason for its growth.
Hispanic missions are the fastest-growing ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, now numbering a dozen with the addition this month of two new congregations in Athens and Rome.
The Athens mission at Emmanuel Episcopal Church first met for worship on February 11, said Senior Hispanic Missioner Padre Isaías Rodríguez . “The location was chosen because we know that there is a large Hispanic population in that area,” Padre Rodríguez said.
In addition to Rodríguez, the mission will be served by Padres Fabio Sotelo, Samuel Porras and Antonio Brito. All four priests attended the initial service. Each will take a month-long rotation in order to bring more perspectives to the endeavor, Rodríguez said
He acknowledged that there will be a lot of work to do in getting the mission up and running.
“I am going to go to spread flyers everywhere,” Rodríguez said. “I am celebrating the Mass on Saturdays at 6 p.m. for the first month, then the others will rotate a month at a time until the congregation is grown. Then we will name a permanent priest.”
“The current congregation, and Emmaunuel’s Rector Rev. Robert Salamone have been very receptive and wish for us a success,” Rodríguez said.
On February 26, a new Hispanic mission in Rome began worshiping at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Padre Ramon Betances will start this mission along with his wife, Gregoria Betances, who is expected to be ordained into the priesthood next year, Rodríguez said.
“If everything goes as planned, she will, in time, be in charge of that mission” Rodríguez said. Services for the Athens mission are on Sundays at 5:00 pm.
Rodríguez has been instrumental in the growth of vibrant Hispanic ministries throughout the Diocese and is excited to have another nascent congregation in an area with a large Latino community.
“Here also a lot of work has to be done, but in time also this mission will be successful, he said. Rodríguez said the Rev. John Foster Herring, rector of St. Peter´s and the church community have been very supportive.
Diocesan Bishop, the Right Reverend Robert C. Wright, is an enthusiastic supporter of Hispanic congregations. After being named bishop, Wright took an immersion Spanish class. Wright now uses his Spanish language skills while celebrating Mass, in his weekly devotional messages For Faith and in this welcoming message to Hispanic ministries.
The Athens and Rome ministries are among three started in the past year. In May, a new Hispanic ministry began at St. Gabriel’s in Oakwood, a small community near Gainesville. The story of St. Gabriel’s new Hispanic ministry was featured in the most recent Diocesan Pathways publication.
The Diocese has also established Hispanic congregations in Atlanta, Austell, East Point, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Smyrna and Tucker.
To support the demand for Hispanic congregations a center for theological education for lay leaders was established in the Diocese of Atlanta, led by Rodríguez and seven other Hispanic clerics.
Centro de Educación Teológica para Latinos (CETLA), the Theological Education Center for Latinos began in 2014 with more than 30 adult students. Instruction covers an array of topics from Anglicanism and the Book of Common Prayer to the Bible and systematic theology.
“This is for people from our Hispanic communities who want to deepen their faith as well as engage in ministry in the Episcopal Church,” said Rodríguez. Instruction supports lay readers, Eucharistic ministers, vestry members and ushers.
Several CETLA students have already begun studying for the priesthood, the beginnings of a pool of Hispanic clergy steeped in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition. Rodríguez said he expects CETLA graduates will play key roles in establishing future Hispanic missions.
“We encourage all Episcopalians to refer Latinos to our Hispanic missions, Rodríguez said. “We are aware that many Latinos are looking for religious services, some of them traveling long distances to find a welcoming church.”
Rodríguez had one other request.
“I am requesting all people to keep us and our efforts in their prayers, especially in these difficult times for our Hispanic brothers and sisters.