My ethnicity, my culture, my first and second languages (Spanish/ English), and the place where I was born and raised and where I initially served as a Nazarene pastor (the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) makes me appreciative of what Phineas F. Bresee’s (1838–1915) biographers and others have called “his commitment to multicultural ministry.”
Of my 53 years in ministry, almost half has been spent serving in the USA/Canada Region, and that reinforces my appreciation for the multicultural element in Bresee’s ministry.
In one of Bresee’s early reports as general superintendent of the emerging Church of the Nazarene he is quoted as saying: “A Spanish mission has also been opened in this city . . . which is a very faithful and promising field.”1 He was referring to what Roberto Hodgson, in his own historical assessment of that mission, calls “la Primera Iglesia del Nazareno Mexicana” of Los Angeles, organized in 1906.² Interestingly enough, Bresee assigned as its “superintendent” an Anglo-American woman by the name of Maye McReynolds, a member of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene.³ Sometime before 1906, she had given up her job at the Santa Fe Railroad Company in order to “proclaim the good news among the Mexicans” in the city.⁴
But I suspect that sponsoring so enthusiastically the Los Angeles “Spanish mission” may not have come that easy for Bresee. He was entering a culturallyunknown ministerial territory.
Iowa Monocultural Ministry
During Bresee’s previous 26 years as a “frontier” Methodist preacher in Iowa (1857-83), his approach to ministry should have been rather mono-cultural. We do not know otherwise.
The state of Iowa, during Bresee’s tenure there:⁵
- was mostly rural, with an agricultural-based economy;
- had a population of immigrants and Americans of mostly northwestern European descent (English, Irish, German, and Norwegian);
- had English as the lingua franca;
- and was mainly Protestant; northern Methodism was the fastest growing religious movement in the area at the time.
Los Angeles Multicultural Ministry
But the booming city that awaited Bresee at the end of the 19th and early 20th century presented a different cultural setting altogether.⁶
- The dominant religion was Roman Catholicism, brought by Spaniards and Mexicans in the 1770s (the city’s full name was originally “Our Lady the Queen of the Angels”).
- Foreign and American western migration hadincreased the population from about 50,000 in 1890 to more than 100,000 by 1900.
- It had “the most diverse population of any state.”
- There were “no apartheid laws requiring racial segregation of public meetings.”
- However, “The majority of Anglo Americans in Southern California during this period were strongly biased and discriminatory against Indians, Mexicans, Asians and Roman Catholics.”
As challenging as this new multicultural setting may have been for Bresee, he evidently rose to the occasion and sponsored the "Spanish mission” of Los Angeles.
As the reader probably knows, that small Spanish work sponsored by Bresee more than 100 years ago would become in time the largest multicultural segment of the Church of the Nazarene in the United States and Canada.⁷ At the same time, the Spanish segment of our church would become one of the strongest globally. It would be this pan-ethnic Nazarene conglomerate which, in time, in God’s providence, would also give the church such denominational giants as the late H. T. Reza and the recently-elected General Superintendent Gustavo A. Crocker.
Yet, as I here reflect with gratitude on Bresee’s commitment to multicultural ministry, I have to acknowledge that another challenge is emerging for us as Latinos and Latinas in the United States and Canada—an in-built multicultural challenge, if you will.
It will be readily accepted that the political, economic, and cultural realities of the United States and Canada will most likely keep the doors open to more immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries in the foreseeable future. Therefore, immigrant, Spanish-speaking, mono-cultural Nazarene congregations, as Bresee originally perceived them, are here to stay.
However, I am thinking in terms of the bilingual, even the “English only,” first generation and beyond of American or Canadian Latinos and Latinas. I am thinking in terms of the racially- and culturally-mixed families that many of them are increasingly forming. I am thinking also of the increasingly racially- , ethnically- , and culturally-diverse North American society in which Latinos and Latinas now live.
In light of this, my question is: Should what Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts calls “The Integrated Church: Authentic Multicultural Ministry”8 become now as much a part of our Latinoministry focus as the mono-cultural one? In this new scenario, more and more of the Latino mono-cultural congregations would become in-built multicultural, and more and more of the ones started by Latinos and Latinas would be integrated from the beginning. In her book with the same title, Lewis- Giggetts presents the in-built multicultural challenge to other mono-cultural churches: White, Black, Asian, and so on, but also to Latino churches.
I submit that Bresee would have considered this new and more authentic multiculturalism in our day as much a “faithful and promising field” as he did the Los Angeles Spanish mission of his day.
JUAN VÁZQUEZ-PLA is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and is director of Synergy Ministries, a ministry dedicated to promote cooperation in the advancement of Christianity.
2. Roberto Hodgson, “Reseña General de la Historia de la Iglesia del Nazareno en Estados Unidos y Canadá,” Reflexiones Ministeriales.
3. Girvin, op cit.
4. Hodgson, op cit.
5. Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa, accessed October 18, 2013.
6. See “An Overview of Religion in Los Angeles from 1850 to 1930” and related links, compiled by Clifton L. Holland, http://www.prolades.com/glama/la5co07/overview_1850-1930.htm, accessed October 18, 2013.
7. Grace and Peace Magazine, Issue 9, Summer 2013, 73.
8. Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts, The Integrated Church: Authentic Multicultural Ministry (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2011),