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[Episcopal News Service] When the coronavirus pandemic forced Nuevo Amanecer organizers to take the popular biennial Latino and Hispanic ministries conference online, they didn’t expect to attract global participation.
Historically, most of the conference’s attendees have come from the United States, as travel visa restrictions and costs prohibit wider participation from Latin America and beyond. But by quickly adapting the three-day in-person conference to an online format held one Saturday a month over six months, Nuevo Amanecer has nearly doubled its participation and expanded its audience.
Surprisingly, organizers found that 49% of participants joined the virtual conference by computers, smartphones and tablets from Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. About 700 people have registered for the 2020 virtual conference, up from 462 in-person participants in 2018.
“We’ve learned that we have a wider reach virtually,” said Luis Enrique Hernandez Rivas, co-coordinator of Nuevo Amanecer. “It’s amazing how the spirit works.”
Now in its eighth year, Nuevo Amanecer, which in Spanish means “new dawn,” celebrates and supports Latino/Hispanic ministries across The Episcopal Church by providing participants opportunities to network and grow together in discipleship. Previous conferences have taken place at Kanuga, a camp and conference center in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
The six-session conference is organized around the theme: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5), which calls for Episcopal Latinos and those involved in Latino ministry to think about how to build a new church in modern times. Each successive session focuses on a smaller theme.
“This virtual Nuevo Amanecer is really going in with the Revelation theme,” the Rev. Juan Sandoval, an archdeacon in the Diocese of Atlanta and deacon for Hispanic ministries and pastoral care at the Cathedral of St. Philip, told Episcopal News Service. “Who was to know that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to happen and we really did have to make all things new?”
The conference’s first session, held in May, focused on COVID-19, while June’s session focused on digital evangelization. The third session, scheduled for July 11 at 1 p.m. EDT, will center on women’s leadership in the church and feature the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, as the keynote speaker. Howell is the first Latina dean of a cathedral in The Episcopal Church.
The remaining three sessions’ themes will cover inclusion of Latinos in the church and a celebration of Latino/Hispanic ministries’ 50th anniversary, coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15–Oct. 15.
Nuevo Amanecer’s planning team had considered canceling or postponing the 2020 conference but decided to make it virtual so that registered participants and all others interested could engage in formation and fellowship.
“[The] coronavirus came to us fairly quickly this spring, and we had to decide how we were going to hold Nuevo Amanecer in a short amount of time,” said the Rev. Anthony Guillén, The Episcopal Church’s Latino/Hispanic ministries missioner and director of ethnic ministries. “Do we cancel it? Do we wait two more years, or do we do something virtually?”
The Episcopal Church’s Latino/Hispanic ministries provide guidance to strengthen and support Spanish-speaking communities in the Anglican tradition. Efforts include assisting with church planting, providing bilingual resources for individuals and congregations, and offering educational opportunities for church members to serve their local Latino communities.
Individual parish ministries vary. For example, efforts may include growing community gardens, giving money and detergent to help parishioners do laundry, serving meals to the hungry, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants and aiding farmworkers.
“Latino ministry is the church’s ministry,” Rivas said. “The conference certainly is focused on ministry among Latin people, but not only people from Latin America do Latino ministry. All are invited to and can feel empowered through this conference. … These opportunities benefit Latinos and non-Latinos alike.”
Nuevo Amanecer is not exclusive to Latinos and Spanish speakers. People of all races and ethnicities are welcome to participate. For those who cannot attend the live sessions, recordings are available on The Episcopal Church’s Latino/Hispanic ministries’ Facebook page and at latinosepiscopales.org.
“For me, Nuevo Amanecer means an opportunity to learn more about what other ministers and churches are doing, how they worship and perhaps new prayers, new services and new faces,” Sandoval said. “Networking is always my favorite part of Nuevo Amanecer, and each time I find I get to reunite with previous acquaintances and [make] new ones.”
This helps keep ministries and friendships fresh for Latinos and non-Latinos. Nuevo Amanecer also helps non-Latinos who serve Latino ministries understand their cultures better and learn how to adapt worship for different circumstances.
“One of the things that was foremost on our minds: How do we foster the sense of community and new relationships virtually and still provide plenaries, worship and workshops?” Guillén told Episcopal News Service. “Some people say that Nuevo Amanecer is like a big family reunion. It’s a time for people in the ministry to come together, to network, to make connections and to learn from each other.”
June’s virtual session, held on the 13th, started with welcome and worship, followed by a plenary, titled “Digital Evangelism and the Future of the Church,” which Guillén hosted. Participants then transitioned into four separate workshops of their choice: “Making ‘New Things’ in the Church,” “Technology at Your Fingertips,” “How to YouTube Evangelize” and “How to Livestream Events.” Half of the workshops were offered in Spanish and the other half in English.
During the workshop portion, attendees briefly split into breakout rooms to collaborate on listing solutions to issues their workshop leaders addressed. After another short transitional break, participants engaged in a virtual coffee hour to network and share what they have learned. The total monthly session lasted three hours. Future sessions will be similarly structured.
Nuevo Amanecer is also offering a playlist of traditional Sunday school activities for children before it starts so that they can be engaged while their parents are attending the conference.
Adialyn Milien, Nuevo Amanecer’s communications and social media team leader, said she’s most looking forward to the final session in October because the keynote speaker will be Ana Victoria Lantigua Zaya, a woman from the Dominican Republic in her early 20s who served on the Episcopal Youth Planning Team in 2019.
“She will be ending the series because we want people to understand that there’s room for everybody in The Episcopal Church; everyone is welcome and can play a role in the church,” Milien said. “We mostly have old white men in positions of power, and so we are telling people that the future of the church is in our hands, especially in the Latino community.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Nuevo Amanecer conferences will return to Kanuga, but a virtual component will also be available for those who cannot attend in person.
“Someday we will return to the church buildings, and many will want to, but I don’t think it will be the same,” Rivas said. “We have opened the church doors to many new people around the world, and now they are a part of our family.”
– Shireen Korkzan is a Midwest-based freelance reporter who primarily writes about religion, race, ethnicity and social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @smkrm5.