Theologies Dreamed in Spanish, Articulated in English, and Lived in Spanglish

Published: July 31, 2013
HSP at Worship

HSP Worship Service

In her book, Theologizing en Espanglish:  Context, Community, and Ministry, Latina theologian Carmen Nanko-Fernandez describes the corpus of theological thought emanating from the growing numbers of Latino/a theologians in the U.S. as, “theologies dreamed in Spanish, articulated in English, and lived in Spanglish.” – an apt description of the “God talk” heard on the campus of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX where I attended the 24th edition of the Hispanic Summer Program (HSP) this summer.

Held each summer since 1989, the HSP is a two-week academic program that brings together primarily Latino students and faculty from divinity schools and seminaries across the U.S. for a chance to study and reflect on what it means to do theology latinamente, that is, from the perspective of a Latino/a living as a minority in North America.  Supported financially by its members institutions, fifty four divinity schools and seminaries throughout the U.S., HSP is a groundbreaking and important initiative which fosters and encourages Latino leadership in church ministry and academia at a time when Latino perspectives in both areas lag behind the growing number of Latino faces that are being seen – or can potentially be seen – in the body of the North American church.

Setting the tone for our two week sojourn, the Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado, Director of Academic Affairs at Union Theological Seminary in New York and current president of the HSP, called the 100 or so students gathered, “Architects of a New Future,” reminding us that like the ancient Israelites who were called to rebuild Jerusalem after years in exile, Latino students preparing for ministry today “are the change God has envisioned” for the future of the church in the U.S.  “The future is now,” said Dr. Machado, “and we are the architects of the future.”

Pastoral Care and Hispanic Families class. Francisco is in the second row, third from the right.

Pastoral Care and Hispanic Families class. Francisco is in the second row, third from the right.

The empowering impact of this vision cannot be understated for a div school student like me, currently the only Latino (as far as I’m aware) enrolled in my program, or for the others gathered in San Antonio who share my status as the only or one of the few Latinos enrolled in their respective programs.  Dr. Machado’s statement was an uplifting reminder that despite our minority status in our schools, on both sides of the classroom lectern, our context and experiences as Latinos which includes marginalization, oppression, and colonization, forms an important theological voice in the building of the future church in the U.S.

So what does a two-week HSP program look like?  First of all, it does not operate as an exclusive “Latino/as Only” club.  Its purpose is to build bridges between Hispanics and non-Hispanics to create awareness of the contributions that Latino/as are making – past, present, and future – to the life of the church in this country.  It currently admits students on a 9 to 1 Latino/a to non-Latino/a basis, but among the students, English is the dominant language with lots of Spanish mixed in.  One hears mostly Puerto Rican and Mexican accents, with fewer South American ones like my own, bearing testimony to the level of diversity within the Latino culture.  The diversity also includes non-Latinos who attend the HSP in order to be better prepared to work with Latino communities in their respective ministries.  Knowing Spanish helps, but it is not a necessity.  The two weeks go by rather quickly and are a blend of informal fellowship, worship, networking, and serious study.  The classes, which this year included such topics as, Pastoral Care and Latino Families, Mission, Immigration, and Reconciliation, and A Borderlands Reading of Deuteronomistic History, are taught by Latino faculty, were a first for many of us and helped us to reflect on and draw out the theological importance of our experiences.

This was my second year attending the HSP, thanks to the help of Wake Div which told me about the program and helped pay my expenses.  I encourage others to attend and sign on as a sponsoring institutions in recognition of the importance of attracting more Latino students to positions of leadership in ministry. While I’m grateful for the strong academic program offered by Wake Forest in preparing me for ministry, I also value the HSP for adding a Latino “twist” to better prepare me for work in ministry with the Latino community which given the current demographic trends in this country, many of us may find beneficial.

Francisco Rissorissf11
Third Year