For People with bishop Rob Wright

Hispanic Ministries with The Rev. Mimi Guerra

For People
For People
Hispanic Ministries with The Rev. Mimi Guerra

About the episode

Hispanic ministry is a big part of The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. There are 11 Hispanic Congregations in the diocese. It is essential Bishop Wright has a Hispanic Missioner as a partner on his staff that can resource those congregations and serve as a bridge builder for our Anglo and Hispanic congregations.

In this episode, Bishop Wright has a conversation with The Rev. Mimi Guerra, Missioner for Hispanic Ministries in The Diocese of Atlanta. Mimi shares some of her personal story, the struggles of COVID with our Hispanic congregations, and the need for truly bi-lingual services weekly. Listen in for the full conversation.

El ministerio hispano es una gran parte de la Diócesis Episcopal de Atlanta. Tenemos 11 congregaciones hispanas en la diócesis. Es esencial que el obispo Wright tenga un misionero hispano como socio en su personal que pueda brindar recursos a esas congregaciones y servir como enlace y conexión entre nuestras comunidades anglosajonas e hispanas.

En este episodio, el obispo Wright tiene una conversación con la reverenda Mimi Guerra, misionera de Ministerios Hispanos en la Diócesis de Atlanta. Mimi comparte parte de su historia personal, las luchas de COVID con nuestras congregaciones hispanas y la necesidad de misas verdaderamente bilingües. Escuche la conversación completa.


Instead of having a Spanish service, let’s do it together. Don’t don’t have separation. Don’t be, okay, the English service at this hour and the Spanish service service is at this hour. For me, this is separation. You open the doors, yes, but you are not opening it to be together. You open it just to service somebody else in their own level, not in us. So, together will be the best, you know. It’s our goal, now.

Eaton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.

Rob: Hello, everyone, this is Bishop Rob Wright. And this is For People. We’ve got a special treat today that the Reverend Guerra is here. And she is the missionary to Hispanic people for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Welcome.

Reverend Guerra: Thank you for the invitation.

Rob: You’re not native to Atlanta, so tell us a little bit about where you’re from and how you got here?

Reverend Guerra: I’m from Mexico. And in 1989 I lost my father, and from that time, when I was kind of alone with my mom and my little brother, I was thinking to come into the American dream. So, passing the years, I was a Spanish teacher in Mexico. But I was earning $100 a month. So that was not enough for, you know, my mother, my brother, who was in high school, middle school, and all the schools he had to go. So, I decided after a while that I have to come, you know, to have a dream come true for a better life for all of us. We all come here. Before my father was passing, I was in a dream to be a nun. But for some reason, my father said, choose a different profession.

Rob: Wow.

Reverend Guerra: Yes, I decided to become a teacher.

Rob: Yeah. A wonderful teacher. A wonderful ministry as a teacher. But what was it about being a nun that caught your imagination?

Reverend Guerra: When I was seven, we were passing by to a convent, and I always saw the nuns, you know, in a bicycle or taking care of the plants, and sometimes they were coming to the city, or to the village. And you know, I was enjoying seeing them. And then, I asked one of them, you know, why they dressed like that? And she very respectful told me, you know, because we have our life for Jesus. And then I say, you know, I want to be one line that for Jesus. I said to my father, that’s my house every time we would pass by the convent, I said, that’s my house.

Rob: So, you always had this idea of an abiding relationship with Jesus?

Reverend Guerra: Yes.

Rob: You always had this thought?

Reverend Guerra: Always.

Rob: And then, into teaching. And you taught in the US as well?

Reverend Guerra: Correct.

Rob: What did you teach when you came to the US?

Reverend Guerra: Yes, I was a middle school teacher, Spanish teacher, yes.

Rob: Yeah, you need Jesus to teach middle schoolers, that’s for sure.

Reverend Guerra: Oh, man, yes. They were calling me, instead of Ms. Guerra, they were calling me Mama Guerra.

Rob: All right. And you were working as a teacher and all of that and having life, and all of that, when this thought occur to you about being ordained? About being a priest? When did that happen?

Reverend Guerra: Always my dream, inspire me. So, I was invited to Episcopal service of First Communion. And, you know, from that time, I remember it was in 2004. And I say, this is what I need. This is all I need. And then, you know, the time that I was there at the end of service, you know, I was so moved when the priests, you know, was there to greet to all of us and say goodbye and to give us you know, a blessing. And, you know, one of the things that I always remember he says, I love the way that you read. Because I was invited to read that day. And I would say, this is what I have been looking for, to be involved in a church. To be somebody in the church. So, I came back the following Sunday, following Sunday, and involved in, I think, everything.

Rob: Sure, sure. Well, and you are among the first in the Diocese of Atlanta, in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, who came through a program that we began called setelah, which is Christian education to Latinos, right? And we started that program, because what we realized was, is that we had so many Hispanic people in middle and North Georgia, but we didn’t really have an efficient or effective way to get clergy leadership to them. And so, we were usually waiting around until men, exclusively men, who had been Catholic priests had decided to go another direction and become Episcopalians. And so, what we did was we took control of the supply chain, if you will, and decided that we could in our own midst, we could look for men and women, which was the radical part, look for men and women in our midst, who had the gifts and the calling to be priests in our midst. And you were among the first that we ordained.

Reverend Guerra: Amen, thankful to God.

Rob: So, that is so exciting. So, we know in the Hispanic church, by and large, there is a large section that are Catholic, right? So, there is some appeal from those folks to us because we are a liturgical church, there’s the standing, to sitting, to knelling, communion at the center, the priest and all of that. But they are all men. Even though the women of the Church really have a lot of power and get a lot of things done. The leadership, at least the leadership are men. So, what has it been like to be a woman, priest, in this context where people are only used to seeing men?

Reverend Guerra: Challenge. Because, you know, it’s a big challenge. When I came to the Church, first as a Deacon, one of the things that they were looking for was a men. And one, you know, one of those persons asked me when, Father so so come back. And I said, Father so so is not coming back. I’m going to be here. And he said, well, you are a woman? I say, okay.

Rob: Thanks for noticing, right?

Reverend Guerra: This is Episcopal Church. And he said, can you explain more about it. And I say, yes. Wonderful. Let’s talk about it. And now this is a person who is very involved in our Hispanic services.

Rob: So, you have to not only do the work of the priest but also be an ambassador. I would say be an ambassador for God and let people know that God calls men and women to leadership.

Reverend Guerra: Amen. Yes, absolutely.

Rob: I think without disparaging anybody else, or any other groups views. I think what is important, for me, at least, is to be a part of a church that can call women and men to leadership, who sees leadership gifts in men and women. That’s one of the reasons why I continue to be a proud Episcopalian and Anglican.

I mean, well, first of all, let’s say this. I can only imagine how wonderful a gift you are to young girls and women in the church who get to see you and see themselves in you? Just like you saw yourself, those nuns, and saw something there. Imagine what these young girls you interact with are thinking when they see you. They see opportunity, what do you think?

Reverend Guerra: Correct. One of those memories that I have, every time that I have quinceanera’s, for people that don’t always know, a Sweet 16. In Hispanic culture we have 15-years-old. We do celebrate. We have a service for them. Every time I approach them and tell them about the opportunity about women in the Episcopal Church. And I have two, who are calling and asking, how to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. It’s important.

Rob: I love it. I just love it. I love this opportunity that you and I get in our various capacities to be ambassadors for people. To let people know that there there are more possibilities, you know, out there. So you serve a congregation right now, where do you serve?

Reverend Guerra: I serve at Christ Church in both English and Spanish. But most of the time, it’s not in Spanish.

Rob: Yeah. So, Christ Church in Norcross, correct?

Reverend Guerra: Correct.

Rob: Close to the CDC, yeah.

Reverend Guerra: Yeah.

Rob: Very good. We know a lot about COVID, how it impacted sort of Anglos, African Americans, black and brown people of various s tripes. What has COVID been like for Hispanic congregations and Hispanic people in as much as you know?

Reverend Guerra: Well, you know, very devastating. We lost a lot of people. And they have no way to have funerals, because, you know, our churches were closed. And now, you know, after that, we’ve been doing this memorial services, as we can say, it’s a funeral, because it’s the first time that they have it. But you know, one of the things, the most important things were, they were losing their jobs. They were like construction and painting. And one of the things, they closed the companies. So, our Anglo family, we were able to help them with paying rent and having food for them. And actually invite them to come and be vaccinated. One of the worst things for the Hispanic, they were scared to get vaccinated. Very scared.

Rob: Say some more about that, what was the fear there?

Reverend Guerra: The fear was first, people were asking for papers. So, we start coming around our communities and ask them to come. And then we were there for them. One of the families, around 10 people, asked and said, we can come but we really want you to be there to feel secure and for you to pray for us. I said, sure. They came, we pray, and all of them get vaccinated the same day.

Rob: Wow. Yeah. So, there’s this trust piece.

Reverend Guerra: Correct, yes.

Rob: It grieves me to think that some people didn’t take the health precautions that were offered because of the fear of you know, papers, let’s say, documentation, etc. And so, that work I’m guessing is still ongoing. Are you still sort of encouraging people to take these vaccinations and and do these health pieces and you try and build confidence still?

Reverend Guerra: Absolutely

Rob: I wonder also– Well, hold on, you are going to have to edit that part out Easton.

And so, are things rebounding now in Hispanic community as best you can tell? I mean, we are not quite out of the woods with COVID, but things are better now. How is the Hispanic population that you’re in touch with? How are they doing?

Reverend Guerra: First of all, asking me desperately, when are you going to open the church? We want to come. We were excited, opened, and we had 50 people. I was like very surprised that they really wanted to come and when the diocese decided to just have 50 people, all 50, separated and some waiting in line to come and asking for all the celebration. I wanted to have confirmation, I wanted to have First Communion, all of that. They were very excited to come back.

Easton: Hi, friends. You are hearing Worship led by Jason McGee and Mass Choir at Imagine Worship NYC. Watch the premier, October 20th. Keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook, @BishopRobWright. And now, back to For People.

Rob: One of my great fantasies in Georgia is that if we could have an Hispanic week off and it would be the where all Hispanic people who do so much of the labor that keeps the state running, that they would take a week off, and help the state to know how much we depend on Hispanic people and their labor and their genius to make things run. When I think about our congregations and get the privilege to go out and visit them, I’m in so much aww, so often of the people that I meet because of the work ethic. And the hard work, the commitment to family. And then, I realize as I talk to them, some of them are sending up to 50% of the income they are able to make, back home.

Reverend Guerra: Yes.

Rob: So, they are supporting two family groups with their hard work and labor. And they come to church and just need to hear a word of encouragement, you know. And really, they are doing the labor that they are doing, and even suffering some of the indignities that they are suffering, so that the next generation, their children and grandchildren, really can embrace this dream that you talk about, is that your sense as well?

Reverend Guerra: Yes, it is. And, you know, we talk about them. My sermons, I always talk about how difficult it is for parents to have kids here and to have them have our culture. Some of them, they say, I don’t speak Spanish. I cannot read that. I say, excuse me, I do speak English. So, let’s do it in English.

And, you know, one of the things that I encourage always the parents, you know, speak the language in the house. Don’t let that, you know, language behind. Keep it. Bilingual people are very important these days.

Rob: Absolutely essential these days. Yeah.

Reverend Guerra: Yes.

Rob: Yeah. Well, you know, I, one of my funny stories about that is, is that– First of all, I wish I spoke Spanish as well, as you speak English. Thank God for you and your bilingual gift. When I go out to the Hispanic congregations, I do my very best in the liturgy, especially the liturgy, I always preach through a translator. And so, I’m thankful for those people who had those skills. And I remember I was doing a confirmation and that is when the bishop puts his or her hands on the head of someone and praise God’s prayer over them that their life may be fully committed to Christ, and to his kingdom. And I was struggling with the Spanish and the teenager looked up to me and said, look, it’s okay, just say it in English. But what that told me was, even amongst our Hispanic ministries, there is a shift happening. One generation wanted the mass and all the words in Spanish but the younger people, and keeping the younger people, we have to make a pivot. How do you do that? How are you advising people to do that?

Reverend Guerra: Yes. And we cannot leave that to the side, you know, it just something that the parents think about it. When they come and I say, let me ask you this, the services for who? For the quinceanera, okay? The kids are going to speak English. So, you guys wanted for her and the kids, you know the girls and accompanies, or for you? And one of the parents will say, go ahead and do it in English. Really, it’s for them. And I started doing it all in English. The girls would come and say at the end and wanted to really know how to be like you. I said, okay. Let’s start with it. And I keep calling her and asking her, let’s keep in touch. Her name is Leila. We stay in touch.

Rob: This is wonderful, isn’t it? I mean, there is that piece in the bible that sometimes we don’t remember and that is, God moves not only in our words, in our generosity and all that, but also in our explain. As you and I are trying to pursue a life with Jesus and allow Jesus to have his way in our lives, we become ambassadors. You never know who is looking. You never know who is watching, the Leila’s out there are paying attention. And who knows if that nuns didn’t know you were watching so carefully when they were doing their gardening.

I’ve just invited you to take up some new work. You’ve been very effective in the congregations, very effective amongst the folks. So, I’ve asked you to join my staff to be the missioner to Hispanic people. So, not only in the parish, but now to help us as a diocese and help our congregations to reach out to Hispanic folks in our midst. And let me just say, before COVID, as you know, things were going very well. We were inviting more and more folks to church as the Episcopal Church and Hispanic folks, and they were coming and that was the fastest growing segment of our diocese. But then COVID sort of stopped all that. And so, with your appointment, now we’re trying to reboot and trying to find our footing in the in the sort of post pandemic world. So, you and I had a conversation about this just the other day. Say a little bit about how you view the work? And sort of your next couple of steps?

Reverend Guerra: Okay, the very first one will be to, for people who already have two families, and I say it’s one community, two families, Hispanic family, and your family, or other family to serve bilingual service at least once a month. That will have unity of the families, one family.

Rob: This is for congregations that already have a Hispanic population worshipping in their mix, as well as an Anglo congregation as well?

Reverend Guerra: Correct.

Rob: This is for congregations that already have two kinds of congregations in one building, yes?

Reverend Guerra: Yes. And anybody there that is listening to us wants me to come and see how to deal with this, I am willing to come and help them. But one of the best things, that I know works, because it works in the Christ Church that I’ve been there since 2017, bringing our culture, our heritage to them, show them– One person asked me one day, why do they dress like that? Why do they have a service? We don’t have that. I said, I’m not going to answer right now. It’s something beautiful. But I’m going to create something for all of you. So, we bring the fashion show and that day, we explained all what it was. The Anglo was so inspired. And now, they want to know when there will be one and come and see it. Now, they know what it is. So, we first introduce ourselves to them. And at the same time, I tell, Hispanic, let’s bring their culture to us. Let’s be one. Not only us, for them, but them for us. All together.

Rob: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it really is– We are always translating, aren’t we? We are always being ambassadors, aren’t we? We are always sort of sharing who we are? The richness of our backgrounds with one another.

Reverend Guerra: Yes. The other thing is, you know, after this, just come around and see our community. Whoever has just an English service, their surroundings are Hispanic, to open a new mission. But what is that? It’s not like to open a new mission and have a Spanish service. But instead of having a Spanish service, let’s do it together. Don’t have separation. The English service at this hour and the Spanish service at this hour. For me, this is separation. You opened the doors, yes. But you are not open to be together. You open it just to serve someone else in their own level, not in us. Together will be the best, you know. It’s our goal now.

Rob: You know, I was so struck by your vision about all of this, because what you’re really talking about is partnership. You know, in America, in our history with race we had something called separate but equal. And sometimes our congregations unwittingly end up you know, working out sort of the updated model of separate but equal. They have Anglo hour, Hispanic hour, and sometimes that is really well intended because what we want people to do is to be comfortable in their own language and culture, etc. But I think you are right. I think it’s more rich to mix it up. And for us to get to know one another a little bit. And for us, to be one congregation in two languages. I think that is what the future looks like for us.

Reverend Guerra: Amen. That is why I love confirmation because it’s bilingual. And they are all together.

Rob: Yeah, yeah. And you know, there are millions of Hispanic people in middle and North Georgia. They’ve come for the American dream. They’ve come for work. They’ve come fleeing tyranny and the cartels, and all kinds of other tragedies. And folks are here. And so, some people wonder, you know, why isn’t the church sort of obsessed with documents and so on and so forth? Well, from my viewpoint, you know, that is not our place. Our place is to respect the dignity of every human being and welcome them into the household of God and support people as they make their journey towards whatever their national identities will be.

Reverend Guerra: Yes, yes.

Rob: It’s controversial for some. But I think this is where we have to remember as Christians, that our first citizenship is in heaven, right? I was reading the book of Revelation; it was a morning devotion I was doing. And I was so struck again, by the vision at the end, John who gives us his revelation. He shares with us at the end, when all the nation states fall away, all the boundaries fall away, all the governments fall away, we will be surrounding together the land and praising together. And we will be able to discern one another’s languages together. And the only language, apparently, from this text that we will have, is the language of praise. And so, anything we can do, to model that truth and that realities, now, I think, is holy and wonderful.

Reverend Guerra: Yes. And one of the best language that we have an Episcopal Church is love.

Rob: Yeah, they say a little bit about that. I mean, your love has many aspects. And of course, I, I think in terms of love as a soul force, a soul power, and not just a sentiment. So, when you’re talking about love, what are you talking about specifically?

Reverend Guerra: I’m talking about unity, about compassion, be there for them, support them, bring what they need. If they cannot be in the church, because anything happened, we be able to bring them to the house of the Lord. And that make them feel the love that isn’t from our heart, but it’s from God in our church, in our space. A sacred space.

Rob: Yeah, yeah. Jesus had a lot to say about the quality of our neighborliness, didn’t he? He had a lot to say about it. And, you know, I watched churches fussing and fighting about all kinds of things, you know, that Jesus said or didn’t quite say. But one thing he said for sure, again, and again and again, is that you and I ought to be neighbors to one another. You know, not warring factions, but neighbors.

I think one of the things that I give God thanks for when I think about our Hispanic congregations and Hispanic people in our midst, they have helped us to be less comfortable in being sort of a monolith. They have helped us to remember it’s not about people being our guests when they worship with us. But these are family members who have come among us to enjoy a table that is not our table but set in our midst. So, I’m so grateful. As scripture says, to the immigrant and stranger, that comes to our midst and gives us an opportunity to stretch and build our hospitality muscles.

I’m so glad that you took my invitation to be our missioner. And I’m so glad that you are the kind of person who knows it, who walks it, who talks it, and who talks it two languages. So, if you will just finish our time together by blessing God’s people, both in Spanish and English, I would appreciate that.

Reverend Guerra: [Spanish] Father, thank you for this moment together, for the Diocese of Atlanta, for Bishop Wright for this invitation, that not Bishop of the Diocese has nothing to do with that, but you God. You the one that direct us. You are the one to say what is next. And this is our next step, Father. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Rob: Amen.