Doing theology in and with Latino/a communities thanks to Hispanic Summer Program
Treda Collier ’13 M.Div. wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when she traveled to Puerto Rico in the summer of 2012 to participate in the Hispanic Summer Program (HSP), a two-week ecumenical study program.
“Your expected arrival is on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at Luis Muñoz Marín airport. Once you arrive, please look up for somebody with a big HSP sign in their hands. One or more of us will be waiting for you at the airport to take you to Sacred Heart University/Universidad del Sagrado Corazón located at the crossing of San Antonio Street & Rosales Street, in Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico.”
YDS Alumni Treda Collier '13 M.Div. and Aracelis Vázquez Haye '12 M.Div.
What she discovered was a unique opportunity to get hands-on experience in building a multicultural faith community.
Operating since 1989, HSP was created to support theological reflection and Christian ministry in and among the Latino/a community in the United States and represent the varieties of Latino/a experiences and cultures for its participants.
Treda, along with classmate Aracelis Vázquez Haye '12 M.Div., joined students from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to study theology and religion at Evangelical Seminary in San Juan. Her chosen course was The Renewal of Moral Theology, taught by Cuban priest Jose I. Lavastida, S.T.D., former president of Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans. The course was based on the encyclical of Pope John Paull II entitled Veritatis Splendor, and developed a discussion about morality through the life of Jesus.
For Collier, the heart of the program was in the cultural and community expectations of the program. In addition to the theological study, there were Spanish language courses and opportunities to practice Spanish. In their short time together, students participating in the program formed a community centered on worship in chapel, discernment, and prayer, as well as celebrating birthdays and sharing meals together.
Critical to the success of the program from her perspective, is the time away from everyday pressures of theological education to explore ideas with a diverse community. Collier explains, “At YDS, your schedule is so packed that a lot of times you don’t get to enjoy the experience. [At HSP] we really had a chance to enjoy our classes and discussions around topics, and really be in the moment and learn what it is like to live out your faith.”
The coursework left plenty of time for experiencing Puerto Rican culture. Afternoons and evenings were times to explore old San Juan, as well as trips to cultural sites and the rainforest.
Back at YDS, Treda shared her experiences with HSP and inspired current student Herron Gaston ’14 M.Div. to apply and participate, when HSP gathered at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. Last summer he enrolled in HSP’s Worship and Liturgy course, designed to promote collaboration among the participants and develop an appreciation of the liturgy of diverse worship styles.
Gaston focused his work on creating a prison-focused liturgy for the primarily brown and black men who are impacted, exploited, and swallowed up by the prison industrial complex.
Gaston too, experienced the program as a chance to study theology outside of his social location. He explains, “In a global and diverse economy we cannot afford to overlook or underestimate unrepresented groups and their endless contributions to…theological education. I learned that education is not linear, but rather unchained in its reach and scope. It has taught me to read widely and to engage the biblical text with a different set of lenses.”
The program helped expand his network of colleagues who are interested in addressing racial injustice in the U.S. penal system and has fueled his continued study of issues of mass incarceration with a reading course at YDS.
Both participants strongly encourage YDS students to apply. Gaston points to changing demographics in U.S. churches as one important reason for YDS students to participate in the program, “The Latino church is growing, and racial, cultural and ethnic diversity within church is increasing. As future pastors, ministers and counselors it is important to be committed to making the 21st century church open and hospitable to a wide palette of diversity issues.”
Likewise Collier says the experience has pushed her to intentionally seek multi-cultural environments in her life and ministry, “It is easy for us to do things in the communities where we are most comfortable, but it’s really important to put yourself in situations where you build a multicultural community.”
Read more about the Hispanic Summer Program at http://hispanicsummerprogram.org/