Our current ministry for Spanish-speakers at Unity of Houston, Texas, has exceeded all of my expectations. This program started five years ago when one of my Hispanic congregants shared her story and her dream with me. Her name is Laura and earlier in her life she needed to leave an abusive husband. She had nowhere to go for shelter with her two children, and she had no job and no money.
Neither the women in her family nor her female friends would help her, because the philosophy in her culture was that the woman had to stay with her husband. For many years Laura held a dream of creating a community of women who wanted to support one another, in good times and bad, but she didn’t know how to make it happen. I told her I would help her. I took the idea to our spiritual community’s leadership and they agreed to support the formation of the group.
We reached out to Latinas in our congregation with the idea and found there was an interest. We met the first time with ten Latinas. Not only were these women of diverse cultural backgrounds, they also did not know one another. Since then, our ministry has grown to over 300 names on the roster and is representative of every Latin country in South America, Central America, Spain, Mexico and the Islands. Our group, the Latinas Unidas, is now a large group of women who support and encourage one another and who are committed to their own spiritual growth.
The initial group created the mission statement and took charge of the programming, the welcome table and the group emails. I also asked them to create the name, logo and agenda for the meetings. We meet the second Tuesday of every month with the following agenda: 6 p.m. potluck and socializing, 7 p.m. introductions of new women in attendance (including country of origin, reason(s) for move to the US, time living in US, and occupation). From 8-9 p.m., we have a speaker who presents a program that is of a spiritual nature, although occasionally the focus is on financial, legal or even mental health issues. Sometimes, I offer a presentation in English; however, the speakers are most often Spanish-speakers.
I cannot help but reflect upon our past attempts into reaching out to the Latino/Latinas community. In past years, we offered SEE (Spiritual Education and Enrichment) classes in Spanish, with little to no attendance. By contrast, this group came together not as a formal class or a church service, but rather as a fluid space where Latinas could gather, encourage and support one another. This group is a manifestation of our friendship and spiritual work together.
Addressing Cultural Differences
While forming the group, I also had to confront unforeseen obstacles. Early members of the group let me know that Latinas of different cultural backgrounds were not necessarily inclined to create bonds with one another and that there was the possibility of mistrust between differing cultural groups. In the past twenty years, the Latina population in Houston has grown by leaps and bounds and includes large populations from all Hispanic countries but the spiritual nature of the group has nurtured trust, love, and support for each other.
They quickly embraced the Truth that our likenesses are far greater than our differences and have truly grown to love one another. Not only do Latinas Unidas meet once a month for socializing and spiritual development, but they also come together to have baby and wedding showers, and to support those in crisis and in financial need. They came together as a group two years ago to send seven trunks of toys, books, games and handmade get-well cards to the children of Guatemala when I embarked on a medical mission to that country. They even had fundraisers to provide me with much of the money I needed for the trip.
They have come together every year with their families to celebrate Christmas with a party and dance. They create a large fiesta each year to celebrate the anniversary of the origin of the Latinas Unidas group. And, I must say they truly know how to have fun!
Each year the group participates with our spiritual community to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in a special Sunday service in September.
The “No Pressure” Approach
Another unforeseen obstacle was their hesitation to leave the Catholic Church, especially when they brought visitors. Many of the visitors were afraid they would be obligated to make Unity their church. I made it clear that they are welcome at our church and there was no need to abandon their affiliation with another church. Our “no pressure” approach has been the right decision because it has since drawn more and more of them into active membership in our congregation. They appreciated not feeling pressure to choose, especially because it is difficult for Latinas to leave Catholicism, a religion that is intertwined with cultural heritage. It is as if to leave Catholicism is to abandon strong cultural and familial bonds. Ultimately, the Latinas who have chosen to become members do so because they embrace the Unity philosophy.
Many women have taken leadership roles in our ministry. From this group, I have two women on the licensed Unity teacher path with a calling to become Unity ministers. I have three women in the group who have trained for the prayer ministry and serve Hispanic households in our congregation. Out of this group, we also started an English as a Second Language class every Monday and Thursday evening. A woman from the group donates her time to teach this course. We have grown from meeting in our Welcome Center to the Chapel then to our large meeting hall, and now to filling our Pyramid on special occasions. The women tease me and ask where I will put them when they outgrow the Pyramid. What a good problem to have!
I am deeply honored to be a part of this group as friend and support, and I am touched deeply by the love, enthusiasm and talent they bring. I wholeheartedly believe that this is a model of outreach that can work in any community and ministry with a Hispanic demographic.