We are welcoming a new era of Latino/a & Hispanic Ministries in EDSJ
Our demographics in the Central Valley and High Sierras reflects an ever-growing population of Latinos/Latinas, and yet our congregations do not reflect that shift. In order to respond to the changes in our neighborhoods and develop deeper relationships, EDSJ entered into a time of discernment with our sisters and brothers from Ethnic Ministries of The Episcopal Church. The results of that discernment was the decision to call a Latina/o Missioner. The Missioner will not only church plant a Spanish language congregation at the Cathedral in Fresno, but they will also be available to work with local faith communities to discern what Latino/a Ministry might look like in their context. In addition, ongoing formation is available through such offerings as Cuernavaca Language School, Spanish Language Immersion (hosted at ECCO), Latina/o Ministry Competency Courses and SJRAISE.
March 2, 2020
Welcoming Deacon Nelson to the Team
The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is pleased to announce that The Rev. Deacon Nelson Serrano Poveda will be joining the Diocesan staff as the Latino Missioner for the diocese beginning in March 2020. Deacon Nelson will be arriving in the diocese from Bogota, Colombia where he has served the Diocese of Colombia at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, The Divine Savior Episcopal Church, and St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. His ministries have included youth ministry, ministry with those who are vulnerable and marginalized, supporting new clergy and laity formation, teaching at the Theological Center of Studies in Bogota, and creating a Sunday Bulletin for use at various parishes in Colombia titled “Domingo”.
Deacon Nelson has also been part of the Latino/Hispanic Ministries team in the Ethnic Ministries office under the guidance of The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen. This ministry has included assisting with ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) training for predominately Spanish speaking communities, as well as participating in the planning of the Latin@ Ministry conference, Nuevo Amanacer. In 2019, Deacon Nelson was called to serve on the House of Deputies Committee on The State of the Church and has been part of the committee’s reporting to the House of Bishops.
Deacon Nelson first met Bp David Rice and Canon Anna Carmichael at the 79th General Convention in 2018. During that Convention, Deacon Nelson, Bp David and Canon Anna began to dream about ways in which Deacon Nelson might be called to serve in San Joaquin. Bp David and Canon Anna had been in conversations with The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen and The Rev. Samuel Borbon starting in 2017 about the need for Latin@ Ministry in the diocese, which is comprised of approximately 65% Latino/Hispanic communities, and yet the diocese does not reflect these demographics. With the assistance offered by Guillen and Borbon, through trainings such as New Camino and Clergy Conference, the decision was made to invite Deacon Nelson to partner with EDSJ in applying for a Religious Worker Visa, and to serve the diocese as the Latino Missioner.
Beginning in January 2019, Canon Anna reached out to an immigration attorney who had experience with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno in applying for the Religious Worker Visa. The application required not only basic demographic information, but also required photographs of buildings and office spaces that Deacon Nelson would work in, a job description for Deacon Nelson, proof of compensation (which for the first year is funded through a United Thank Offering grant and a Church Planting grant), proof of housing, copies of the Diocesan Canons and Constitution, as well as financial documents.
During the assemblage of these materials, the diocese embarked on the Pilgrimage of Hope, which was a 226 mile walk from Fresno to the state capital, Sacramento. The pilgrims arrived on May 20, 2019 for the California Day of the Immigrant, and among their numbers was Deacon Nelson, who served as the communications and social media liaison for the diocese. Following his departure, the package of paperwork was finalized by the immigration attorney and sent to the United States Customs and Immigration Services Office. At that time Bp David and Canon Anna were also informed that an unannounced inspection and interview would take place by an officer from USCIS at some point prior to approval of the application.
In 2019, approximately 140,000 individuals filed for five types of Worker Visa applications. Among these visa applications are: priority workers (those who have an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics), workers holding advanced degrees, skilled workers/professionals, special immigrants (religious workers) and those who have jobs created specifically for them in high unemployment areas. Of those types of applicants, those who are “special immigrants,” or in the case of Deacon Nelson, an applicant for a Religious Worker Visa, only 7.1% of applications are approved. “To be honest, we weren’t sure that we would actually be able to call Deacon Nelson given the statistics,” Bp David added.
Despite the odds, Canon Anna remained optimistic and was in regular contact with Deacon Nelson during the waiting period. In early October, following a staff meeting, Bp David and Canon Anna were informed that there was an officer waiting to speak with them in the lounge of the Diocesan Office in Fresno. It was an inspection officer for United States Customs and Immigration Services who interviewed both Bp David and Canon Anna; they also toured the Diocesan Office and Cathedral campus during her inspection. At the close of the inspection, the officer informed them that it would take another three to six months for a determination on the status of the Visa application. “That portion of the process is determined by an adjudicating officer from USCIS, and every day I checked the mail and my email for some kind of notice,” Carmichael shared.
On Christmas Eve morning, Canon Anna and Bp David both received a text from Deacon Nelson, who was sharing electronically his notification that his Visa application had been approved. “It was a Christmas miracle,” Bp David stated, “I know that all three of us took a sigh of relief.” Following the holidays, Deacon Nelson engaged his attorney to help him complete the process in Colombia, which included an interview with the Consulate’s office, photographs and fingerprinting. By mid-February, Deacon Nelson was pleased to share a photo of his newly approved Visa documents with the Bishop and Canon, and then made arrangements to arrive in the US.
“Thanks be to God that I will be with the people of San Joaquin. I truly feel called to serve with Bp David and Canon Anna, and to do this amazing work of Latino Ministry in the diocese. I am very happy,” Deacon Nelson stated.
Deacon Nelson will be picked up from the Los Angeles airport on the evening of March 5 by Canon Anna and move into his office the following week. His installation as the Latino Missioner is scheduled for April 7th at St James Cathedral in Fresno. Bishop David intends to receive Deacon Nelson into the diocese and have him ordained a priest, along with other candidates for ordination, on June 20th. In the meantime, Deacon Nelson has his work cut out for him; as Latino Missioner, he will not only church plant a Spanish language congregation at the Cathedral, but he will also work with congregations throughout the diocese on discerning what Latino Ministry might look like in various local contexts, as well as continuing his work with The Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen’s office.