An Interview with The Rev. Simón Bautista, Canon Missioner for Latino Ministries and Outreach at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, and Chaplain for the House of Bishops.
Episcopal Herald: Padre Simón, we are curious about the spirituality of the House of Bishops. Can you speak with us about your role as chaplain?
Simón: Sure, I think that the role of a chaplain, not only during General Convention but also during the regular meetings of the House of Bishops, is to be a pastoral presence, a prayerful presence, and a guiding presence in terms of spirituality. Our work is basically that of accompanying the bishops on the journey. It is to always have a prayer ready for whatever happens. Especially in the context of a special General Convention, like this one, in which we are electing a new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, our presence is a careful listening presence, paying attention, and knowing what is required in the moment. Another part of our work is to direct the daily devotions, accompanying the midday prayer with a short meditation and prayer in which we try to put into context the things going on in the House during the morning and the day before.
EH: How is the spirituality or the presence of the Holy Spirit made manifest when the conversations become difficult?
Simón: One of the things of which I have become completely convinced in these past 6 years of service to the House of Bishops is that the House of Bishops is truly a body that has a collective wisdom. And although everyone’s spirituality is distinctive, there is also a collective spirituality. Therefore, whenever the conversation gets difficult, something positive also happens. There is always someone, who, as a fruit of this collective wisdom and appointed by the Holy Spirit, stands up and speaks in the moment the words that are needed to decrease the tension of the conversation. In other words, it’s as if there is always someone inside the House, and it’s never the same person every time, to whom the Spirit in a given moment gives the right words. Saying that, I also have to say, there is also the reconciling, unifying work and the power in a given moment to bring balance to the conversation, belonging to our Presiding Bishop. She has this gift, this ability to not let herself become disquieted for anything, and she helps to ensure that the House maintains a positive tone.
EH: So, we have to think of this as being as an important role for a Presiding Bishop.
Simón: Yes, above all, thanks for the question. I think that the Presiding Bishop elect has to be an agent and a bridge-builder for reconciliation with an enormous ability to bring opposing narratives into dialogue – to bring opposing narratives into a conversation in which not all are in agreement, but in which everyone feels as though they have been heard.
EH: Speaking of the prayers we have for this General Convention, what is your hope or your prayer for the House of Bishops in the context of this Convention?
Simón: My hope and my prayer is first that the church can elect someone who has the capacity to look to the past and to look to the future, and to make them converge in the present: with a look to the past to see the accomplishments, the challenges and the difficulties, but also with a gaze fixed on the future to see where we would like to be and how we can use this marvelous present moment (that I would say synthesizes in the Convention). How can we use this marvelous present moment to put these two poles, the past and the future, into a harmonious dialogue, into a dialogue that results in action? That’s my greatest prayer. My other prayer is that, in some real way, in this General Convention, the church will allow itself to be guided by the Spirit, that really it will allow itself to be guided by the Spirit, and that there may be a moment when we can put aside, if possible, all the politics, and allow that the Spirit lead and guide us as it wishes.
EH: Speaking of the Spirit who guides us toward the future, what types of conversations is the Spirit provoking in this moment in the life of the church?
Simón: I think that one of the conversations that we have to have, and I say that we have to, because this is not just a conversation for the bishops, nor is it a conversation only for the deputies, nor is it a conversation just for the clergy, nor only for laity, it is a conversation for the church. I think it’s important to take a serious look at the last nine years in our church, and to look at this in terms of the question: Where were we nine years ago? How have we, in one way or another, made our way forward so that now, although we face challenges, at the same time we have opened some windows, such that we are starting to feel a new wind? We are able to breathe again. Remember that nine years ago, or a little more than nine years ago, the atmosphere in the Episcopal Church was fairly tense, because of conversations that we possibly needed to have and we weren’t having, because of decisions that we should have made a long time ago and hadn’t made, and because of issues like the status of same-sex couples within the church and sexuality. I think we have arrived at a moment when we are having more peaceful conversations, and not aggressive ones. Where there are disagreements, we are working with a spirit of building up. We are not using the disagreements to produce more disagreement or to divide us more. I think we are in a good moment.
EH: We all know that Latino ministries are growing rapidly in the Episcopal Church. From the perspective of your experience, can you name for us some of the obstacles to continued growth for Latino ministries?
Simón: First of all, I would like to say that in recent years Latino ministries have experienced growth, I would say strong growth, in the context of the Episcopal Church inside the United States and in the context of the Episcopal Church outside of the United States, especially in the dioceses of Province IX. And in a certain sense, no matter where it occurs, all growth presents us with certain obstacles. And in Latino ministries, growth presents one with some obstacles. Based on my experience in Washington, D.C. and in my experience participating in open conversations, the main obstacle for Latino ministries, not just in the U.S. but also in Province IX where you’ll find the largest numbers of Spanish-speaking Episcopalians, is the problem of money. It’s a problem of economic resources and how to provide growing ministries with a consistent clergy presence. One of the challenges is that we are experiencing growth. The dioceses are promoting the growth of Latino ministries, but at a given moment, the growth becomes the greatest enemy – the success turns into the enemy of continued growth. This often comes in the form: “We have already exhausted our funds. What do we do?” I think that one of the ways that dioceses can get out in front of this challenge is to really incorporate these questions into budget conversations, and not just in a passing way, like, “How are we going to find enough money to pay such and such priest?” But, how can we guarantee and locate in some part of the budget a line that in some sense can go a long way in terms of the economic support of Latino Ministry. For me this is the biggest obstacle.
Of course, there are still other obstacles that I would say all ministries face: challenges of language, challenges of culture, challenges of how to accommodate diversity and how to adapt.
EH: This year, the General Convention will consider various resolutions that call for an investment in church planting and church revitalization. And I am really pleased that there are various resolutions calling specifically for more investment in Latino ministries. Hopefully, we will take advantage of this opportunity to invest.
Simón: Yeah, I hope so. I am completely in agreement with what you have said. I think the revitalizing of Latino ministries and the attention to Latino ministries, as well as ministries to African Americans, should be considered a priority. And I know that many dioceses already consider it a priority, but that doesn’t always translate into funding, support, and planning. One thing that conversations about funds need to take into account is that it is extremely important to put funds into the creation of teaching material, formational material for latino leaders and congregations that are still dependent on translations. This is an extremely important thing.
Another important thing is, if we want to have a Latino ministry that is at the level of the expectations and the demands of a church like ours, we have to form people in the seminaries. Often there are people, who although they have the call, they feel called, but it is not only hard to be accepted in the discernment processes, it also becomes hard to consider seminary because they lack resources. So the formation of clergy for Latino ministries, clergy born here and clergy who come here as adults, is a high priority in order to have a revitalized Latino ministry.
The other thing, and I know there are lots of conversations along these lines – that’s why I am so glad that Nuevos Horizontes here in August in the Diocese of Texas is going to deal with this conversation – the other thing that is really important is to pay attention to and offer resources so that Latino ministries can incorporate its youth and young adults into multigenerational ministries to the second, third, fourth, and fifth generations. We need to think about how we invite these young men and young women into the process of spiritual development so that they feel at home in the church.
EH: Thank you, Simón, for your wisdom and for your time here with us. I hope that these types of conversations will continue. Will you bless us with a closing prayer?
Simón: Absolutely, why not. And one of my hopes in conversations like these, and hopefully many more are to come, is that this conversation involves us, the latinos, because really we are in a time when it’s part of our responsibility to talk about these things that in the long term and in the short term are going to affect our life and our world as a church. General Conventions affect our lives, as we are members of the church also.
Let us pray:
God of love, of truth, and of justice, God who is present, because you want to be with us and to walk with us: as we approach this General Convention, we want to ask you now more than ever for your presence. Accompany each one of the bishops that will be present. Accompany each of the diocesan deputies that will attend. And accompany each one of the people who will be supporting with their service, the volunteers and the helpers. Help us all to remain aware that everything is in your hands. Help us to do our part, and to pray and to hope, that you, O God, who created us and who makes us one, that you will do what you have promised, that your church will go out strengthened by this General Convention, and that we may see the future more clearly. This we ask in the name of your only Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.