Seminaries Offer Theological Education to Hispanic Immigrants

( [email protected] ) Jun 22, 2004 08:12 PM EDT

The People’s Seminary is providing Hispanic immigrants with theological education in partner with Northwest Graduate School (NGS) in Seattle through Tierra Nueva (New Land) where new Hispanic immigrants in Seattle receives various social services such family support, English as a Second Language (ESL) class and even spiritual comfort as well.

The seven staff members and a host of volunteers, including a Princeton Theological Seminary intern, scurry about teaching English as a Second Language classes, shepherding uncertain-looking mothers, fathers and kids into the family support center, directing shabbily-dressed street people to the "emergency clothing" room downstairs, stopping to offer words of encouragement to the myriad local residents who just seem drawn to the place. Tierra Nueva is also home to a worshiping community — Road to Emmaus — that holds two services weekly, led by Presbyterians and Lutherans. gather to receive spiritual comfort.

According to Presbyterian News Service, Tierra Nueva is “an island of hope and promise to the largely Hispanic immigrant population.”

At this island of hope and promise, The People’s Seminary settled down to develop Hispanic lay church leaders in theological study and to help equip Anglo Christians who want to serve Hispanic communities.

"We provide perspectives informed by both the street and the sanctuary, the jail and the monastery, the fields and the academy, the marketplace and the migrant camp, the South and the North, the mainstream and the margins," director Bob Ekblad wrote in the seminary's catalog.

Luz Maria Cabrera, Tierra Nueva's director of training for the Spanish-speaking communities, expressed her conviction toward the importance of the school. She said:

"It's important, because it's the only program at this level of theological study that's in Spanish. Many churches want to start Hispanic ministries, but they don't have enough trained leaders. We want to help churches open their doors and hearts, which will really empower our community."

In 2003, 750 students participated in the two programs offered at The People's Seminary. The diploma program consists of four courses and is open to students of all ethnicities on top of Hispanics. The certificate program, which provides entry into Master of Divinity degree programs, is open only to Spanish-speakers.

Seattle executive presbyter Boyd Stockdale said the seminary is ideal for immigrant leaders "who are hungry for theological education and training, but who don't have the time, money or cultural inclination to attend our more formal theological institutions."

On the other hand, NGS, which has a very diverse student body with its 30 percent of students being international students, offers a Master of Theological Studies degree.

"We're trying to create a seamless road from The People's Seminary's certificate to all other degree programs, including ours and the M.Div," said John Sharpe, Dean of NGS.

"We are trying to reach the last, the least and the lost," said Sharpe, "The academy gets so far away from the people who need it most, and it winds up only being for the privileged few."