Mar 07, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Once a month for the past year, native Spanish-speaking immigrants, Spanish-speaking Americans and even Spanish language students in high school and college have been attending bilingual communion services at St. James Episcopal Church in Skaneateles.
St. James, one of only three churches in all of Central New York to offer such a bilingual communion service, has seen interest and attendance at the mass remain steady during the past year, and hopes to increase the trend throughout 2012.
“One of the main purposes of this was to reach out to folks not fully acclimated in the English language and make it comfortable for them to attend mass,” said Charles Stewart, St. James member and instigator of the bilingual mass idea.
St. James Rector Rev. Becky Coerper said there has been a lot of “interest” and “energy” in the bilingual communion service by people with varying degrees of Spanish language skills over the past year.
“The experience has been really extraordinary,” Coerper said. “There is a spirit and a joy in that service that is quite unique. It has become like a family.”
The service offers a Spanish liturgy, read by Coerper, various Bible readings in Spanish by church members, as well as traditional Spanish hymns and praise songs led by congregation members Pete Hawley, Pete Thomas and Kip Coerper.
The bilingual service idea was created in April 2011 in response to a sermon by Coerper about the church’s global outreach efforts to El Salvador through its partnership with the Mission of Miracles El Salvador ministry. Through that program, hundreds of members of St. James’ for the past 10 years have traveled to El Salvador to offer medical, dental, vision, mental health and veterinary services to support the ongoing mission of the Episcopal Companion Diocese of El Salvador health team.
“Many of our members have been exposed to Spanish through our El Salvador missions, some just like to hear the words and hymns in Spanish,” Stewart said. “They all really just want to continue the good feelings of their mission work in El Salvador.”
That is exactly why the O’Neill families of North Syracuse regularly attend the bilingual service at St. James’ Episcopal Church.
“It feels like family when we are there,” said David O’Neill.
David, his twin brother Jim and their wives, Mary and Helen, were introduced to the communion service in Spanish as members of the Episcopal Church’s Mission of Miracles medical mission in El Salvador. The O’Neills, in fact, do not know much Spanish; and David and Helen are not Episcopalians.
“It just feels good to hear those words and sing those hymns again,” O’Neill said.
Area resident Martha Ruiz regularly attends and brings her daughter to the St. James bilingual service. Ruiz was born in Peru and is fluent in English and Spanish, and often serves as a translator during the service. Her daughter attends to share in the family heritage and be exposed to the rich Spanish Eucharist.
Despite the steady interest and attendance of the bilingual service — an average of 20 attendees per month — the church is looking to expand its program and outreach more, and hopes to encourage more people to attend.
“We are aware that there is a community here for this [but] no strong congregation of native Spanish speakers has developed yet,” Coerper said. “This outreach project hasn’t developed quite as we expected, but I do believe the Holy Spirit is moving profoundly here.”
Only two other churches in the Central New York area also offer bilingual mass: St. Anthony of Padua in Syracuse offers a Roman Catholic mass in Spanish every Sunday at 11 a.m., as does St. Francis deSales Church in Geneva at noon every Sunday.
St. James’ has been holding its bilingual Eucharist (communion services) for the past year at 8 p.m. on the second Sunday of every month, preceded by a free community dinner at 7:30 p.m.
“We have many Roman Catholics and Episcopalians who attend, but all are welcome for the dinner and the service, people of any faith tradition,” Stewart said.
The next bilingual service at St. James will be on Sunday, March 11. In April, because of the Easter holiday, the bilingual service will be the third Sunday, on April 15.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.