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Historic NJ Church Confirms & Receives Dozens — in Spanish

St. John’s Episcopal in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is more than 300 years old, and began its life serving white, English-speaking people. The demographics of Elizabeth changed over the years, and now St. John’s worships in Spanish. In the 19th century, some of the white parishioners were the ancestors of the Rev. Charles Hoffacker, a frequent TLC contributor. His cover story in the January 2023 issue of the magazine described his visit to see family graves, and he traced the church’s “legacy of kindness” through the centuries. The legacy continues — gracias a Dios.

By the Diocese of New Jersey

On Sunday, October 17, the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey and the people of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Elizabeth came together to welcome nearly 50 new members from the Latinx community.

In a Spanish-language Eucharist service celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Sally French, bishop of New Jersey, the combination of young people and adults were confirmed or received in the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer says that confirmation is a sacramental rite in which the candidates “express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.” Those who were baptized at an early age and those baptized as adults without laying on of hands by a bishop are expected to make a mature public affirmation of their faith, recommit themselves to the responsibilities of their baptism, and receive laying on of hands by a bishop.

Those being received into the Episcopal Church have already made such a mature commitment to Christ in another faith tradition.

Many Latinx people were raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, but they constitute the fastest-growing segment of the Episcopal Church, which is one of the country’s largest mainline Christian denominations, with more than 1.5 million members, primarily in the United States, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. In a time when church attendance has been shrinking, having so many commit to the church in a single service is highly significant.

“I’m so pleased to be here today,” Bishop French told the confirmands in her sermon. “This is a beautiful church and you are beautiful people. . . . You are doing God’s work. Your ministry in this part of Elizabeth is important.”

Bishop French also noted that the day of the service was also the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. “It is a season to celebrate your culture and history and to give thanks for all of the good things you share as Latino people,” she said. “I give thanks for each of you and for the many gifts you give to this community and to our diocese. We are stronger because of you. Your culture and your traditions are beautiful. It is wonderful to see so many people for confirmation and reception. You bring your history and your traditions into the church in a new way today and I know that God will work through you, that you will do great things. I am grateful for each of you, for your commitment to Jesus Christ and for the ways you live out your faith here at St John’s Church.”

At least 13 congregations in the diocese regularly feature Spanish-language services, and many more are gearing up to begin doing so. The diocese employs a canon missioner for Hispanic ministries, the Rev. Canon Ramon Ubiera, who assists and trains clergy and lay people to help make their churches more welcoming and relevant to Latinx parishioners. In addition to Spanish and English, some congregations in the diocese offer services in Haitian Creole and Igbo.

The Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey includes more than 130 churches in the southern two-thirds of the state, including Elizabeth. The Episcopal Diocese of Newark includes churches in the northern third of the state.

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