Jul 15, 2022 | By John W. Coleman

‘Here is where God stirs their hearts.’

The word reuniones, Spanish for “gatherings,” evokes thoughts of la familia, which describes well the two most important gatherings sponsored annually by the Eastern PA Conference’s Latino Commission. Faith and family are both key to the group’s Latino Week Camp, held the first week of July, and the Holy Convocation that gathers members together during Pentecost weekend.

The commission celebrated its 43rd Latino Week Camp at Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center in Lebanon July 4-8 by first gathering campers, counselors and their families for games and activities, food and fellowship, prayer and worship. That launched more of the same for 61 children and youth, supervised by lay and clergy leaders, during five days of learning and laughter, friendship and faith formation that ended in nightly worship.

Gretna Glen has hosted and supported the recreational camp for most of its four-decade history, drawing participants from across the conference. It was the first Latino Camp in the UMC’s Northeastern Jurisdiction, according to Apryl Miller, Gretna Glen director.  This year vaccinations were required, and most activities—sports, table games, crafts, face-painting, swimming and more—were held outdoors for protection from Covid.  

“We had an amazing week, and the kids were wonderful!” reported the Rev. Alicia Juliá-Stanley, who helped care for the children, along with the Rev. Brunilda “Bruny” Martinez. Jezerel Guttierez, EPA’s Assistant Coordinator of Youth & Young Adult Ministries, was camp director.

‘Some kids came carrying heavy emotional burdens’

“Some kids came carrying heavy emotional burdens during a tough year,” said Juliá-Stanley. “Some saw relatives deported this year. One girl’s father had died the previous week, and she didn’t want to come. But her mother made her come; and she was glad she did.  

The Rev. Lisa DePaz, new Latino Ministries Coordinator, speaks as the Rev. Manfredo Martinez (left), Latino Commission Co-Chairs, and the Rev. Bruny Martinez listen.

“I told her to find at least one piece of joy in her life every day, a reason to laugh, even if you end up crying,” said the veteran pastor, who is well-acquainted with losing family members.

“So, this camp is like heaven for them. It’s their holy playground. They have their needs met; and we tell them, ‘Don’t worry about anything. Just play and be a kid.’”

She called the camp “the highlight of our year” for Latino members of EPA. “It produces leaders for many of our churches, because here is where God stirs their hearts.”

Holy Convocation celebrated June 4, at Pentecost

Hearts were also stirred a month earlier when Latino Commission members and their families held their traditional Santo Convocación, Holy Convocation, June 4, at Lehman Memorial UMC in Hatboro. “Do You Love Me?” was their theme, invoking Jesus’ question to Peter in John 21:15-17.

As always, there were prayers and worship during the bilingual service, plus Holy Communion and an uplifting sermon that moved and delighted children and adults, preached by the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, EPA Connectional Ministries Director.

There were also two climactic moments. Commission members said a heart-stirring farewell to two of their longtime, active leaders and retiring pastors: the Rev. Irving Cotto, the commission’s outgoing chair; and the Rev. Luky Cotto, who just retired as EPA’s Latino Ministries Coordinator. Members reminisced, presented gifts to the cherished couple and prayed over them, as they prepared to leave EPA.

Praying over the Revs. Luky and Irving Cotto (center) are (from left) the Revs. Manfredo Martinez, Evodia Vivallva, Evelyn Kent Clark, Dawn Taylor-Storm, Lisa DePaz (hidden) and also Yamila Rivera.

The Cottos relocated to San Marcos, Texas, this month, after attending Latino Week Camp for their last time as commission members.

12 new Latino Ministry Lay Missioners honored

Bryan Serrano reads Scripture at the Holy Convocation

The other Convocation climax came as 12 new Latino Ministry Lay Missioners* were honored for having completed their training courses.

“It’s such an honor for me because I grew up being active in our church with my family,” said Bryan Serrano, 25, a lifelong member of Cristo Rey UMC in West Grove. He received his certificate along with three other family members. Serrano, who often provides English and Spanish translation during Latino Commission events, read and interpreted Scripture during the service. He has expressed his desire to become a pastor.

As proud church and family members quietly watched, the dozen new Lay Missioners received certificates and words of encouragement from EPA Cabinet members and from the Rev. Lydia Muñoz. Muñoz became Executive Director of the UMC’s National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries July 1, the agency that sponsors the Lay Missioners Program. To learn more, see “Who Are the Lay Missioners?”

Nine of EPA’s 12 new Lay Missioners with their certificates .

The Rev. Manfredo Martinez and Yamila Rivera are Co-Chairs of the Latino Commission (Comisión Latina) for 2022-2023. And the Rev. Maria Quesada “Lisa” DePaz, former commission secretary, became EPA’s new Coordinator of Latino Ministries July 1.

*New Latino Ministry Lay Missioners (Misionero Laico): Bryan Serrano, Daniel Serrano, Maritza Serrano, Elia Serrano, Benito Rosas, Mayra Rodriguez, José Albarran, Ludvina Hernández, Angelina Tux Bo, Sujeidy Pérez, Javier Canales, and Vianca G. Corazón Vicenty.

All photos by John Coleman