In 2001, the Rev. Juarez Goncalves came to the U.S. from Brazil as a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). His goal was to plant churches in New England.
Over the past 17 years, he and his wife, the Rev. Clauri Goncalves, have planted six Portuguese-language churches in Massachusetts: Saugus, Weymouth, Lynn, Springfield, Worcester and Chelmsford.
Now Rev. Juarez Goncalves’ role has been expanded. On July 1, 2018, he became the Latino Ministry Coordinator for the Conference. This is a part-time position; Rev. Goncalves continues to serve as pastor of Family UMC in Saugus, one of the Brazilian churches he’s planted.
“It is a privilege to be the Latino Ministry Coordinator and to work in collaboration with the Cabinet on starting new Latino ministries and developing existing ones,” Rev. Goncalves said.
In his new role, Rev. Goncalves will be responsible for coordination of all Latino ministry sites and leader relationships. There are currently 10 such ministries in the New England Conference (four Spanish-language, six Portuguese-language).
He will also be responsible for the oversight of a three-year $300,000 grant for Latino ministry.
“This grant has been in the works since 2015, when the Conference Latino Ministries Committee began to dream about how to take the Latino ministry to the next level,” said the Rev. Rick McKinley, Conference Director of Congregational Development.
The grant – $150,000 from the Conference’s Hebrews 11 Fund (the fund uses money from the sale of closed churches and parsonages to seed new ministry) and $150,000 from the National Plan for Hispanic-Latino Ministries, a division of the General Board of Global Ministries – will support:
the position of Latino Ministry Coordinator
Latino new church starts
children, youth, young adult ministries
“Writing this kind of grant, with this level of complexity, takes a great deal of time,” Rev. McKinley said. “Finally, with the hard work and dedication of many people (the Hispanic-Latino Committee, Office of Congregational Development, Director of Connectional Ministries and GBGM), the grant was finalized this spring and approved by the National Plan for Hispanic-Latino Ministries.”
Rev. Goncalves said one of the first projects is the upcoming Family Camp in late August at Camp Aldersgate.
Families from the Conference’s Hispanic churches are invited to participate in programs for children, youth and adults. The children and youth programs are in English. The adult programs are bi-lingual in two groups: Portuguese and Spanish.
The first Family Camp, four years ago, was well attended, and Rev. Goncalves said he expects it to be popular again this year.
One of the reasons Family Camp is so appealing, Goncalves said, is that immigrant families often don’t get a lot of time for vacation. This ministry gives families the opportunity to spend some relaxing time together.
Next year, Rev. Goncalves said, he hopes to start local pastor training in Spanish. He has been in conversation with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary about starting a class in Spanish. Local pastor classes in Portuguese began in 2015.
The two languages and many more cultures covered by the umbrella of Hispanic-Latino ministry makes this work complex, Rev. Goncalves said.
“It’s a big challenge for me,” he said. “I’m very excited.”
The current immigration situation in the U.S. is another serious issue facing Latino churches. The separation of parents and children, the deportations make this “a very, very difficult moment right now,” Rev. Goncalves said.
Rev. Goncalves said he plans to visit churches so he can participate in worship and begin conversations about each church’s goals and needs. He would also like to offer an orientation about discipleship for churches.
Sharing what worked for him as a church planter is another goal, Rev. Goncalves said.
The churches he planted in Massachusetts all began using the same model, he said. They started as small-group Bible studies in someone’s home. As the ministries grew, he looked for churches in the area that were willing to share some space.
In a couple of instances, the Brazilian ministry took over the building from Anglo congregations that opted to close. That was the case for the Jesus Life Center in Worcester, where many members of the Anglo congregation decided to continue to worship at what had been the Aldersgate UMC.
Rev. Goncalves said the members all worship together – one week in Spanish, the next in Portuguese, and the next in English.
It’s good to see, Rev. Goncalves said, and bringing cultures together will be a big part of his work in this new role.
“The big challenge is to get everyone to work together,” he said. “Even though the congregations are from many cultures, we are one church, one body.”