Puerto Rican professor stresses Latino church influence

Not only are Latino immigrant churches changing the culture, they are impacting the religious climate of America, said a theology professor from Puerto Rico on Tuesday night.”The world of Latino immigrant congregations is diverse, challenging and changing,” said Luis Rivera, director of the Center for the Study of Latino/a Theology and Ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. “They have changed the face and faith in this country.”

Rivera spoke at the Dee J. Kelly Alumni Center for the crossing borders lecture series organized by the Brite Divinity School’s Borderlands Center for Latino/a Church Studies.

This was Rivera’s third presentation of the day. Earlier, he gave a sermon on Moses and a lunch presentation on the distribution of Hispanic communities in the country, said Luis Bernard, director of the borderlands center.

Rivera said there are many challenges not only in Latino churches, but also in all immigrant church groups. He said the main issues are gender roles and female leadership in churches, language and the gap between the first and second generations.

“The second generation feel estranged,” Rivera said. “They are more bicultural and bilingual. They don’t feel at home in the congregation.”

Rivera said the future of Latino churches is also an issue because some will continue, others will adapt to the dominant culture or simply disappear altogether. He said it is important to understand the struggles of the Hispanic immigrants and how they have adapted to the dominant Anglo culture.

“I found it interesting because it was a different take on immigration,” said Desmond Ellington, a junior communications and theater major. “It was one of the best lectures we had this semester. It was very eye-opening.”

Bernard said the center wanted to branch out and inform everyone about Latino immigrant churches and not just Spanish-speaking audiences.

“In the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, we thought we wanted to engage these sort of topics because they are relevant,” Bernard said. “We want to address Hispanic issues because there is a boom in new immigrant Hispanic churches.”

Bernard said he was one of Rivera’s students at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico right after Rivera graduated from Harvard University. This was their first reunion in 20 years.

Staff reporter Amanda Shimko contributed to this report.