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Potomac Latino Youth Plant First English-Speaking Church
Story by Taashi Rowe; Photos by Tony Ventouris
Pastors Gamaliel Feliciano, Frederico Revollo, Orlando Armenta and Jacqueline Sanchez-Ventouris say a prayer for the success of Arise, the first Latin American church in the Potomac Conference.
It’s a Sabbath morning and the small chapel at 5203 Manchester Drive in Temple Hills, Md., is packed. This is the inaugural meeting of the Arise church, the first Hispanic American church in the Potomac Conference and people have come from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to see what it is all about.
During a prayer that morning, Pastor Gamaliel Feliciano makes the church’s purpose clear. “The church is not a building or a name. It’s us,” he prays. “We want to dedicate this project to You, Lord, because we cannot do this alone.”
Although officially pastored by José D. Esposito, Potomac’s Hispanic Ministries director, from the beginning the conference’s young Latinos have taken significant leadership roles in the project. And, for many of the leaders and attendees, a church like Arise has been an answer to prayer.
“We’ve been praying for a long time to find a way to reach second- and third-generation Hispanics,” says Orlando Armenta, an elder.
Sylvia Urrutia, the teen pastor, said as newlyweds, she and her husband, Fredy, searched for two years for a church where they could minister. “We didn’t want to just attend church; we were used to participating,” she said. “We didn’t even know they were planning this church. We just prayed about it. Then Pastor Esposito asked us what church we were attending. When we told him we didn’t have a church, he asked us to get involved.”
Jacqueline Sanchez-Ventouris, who serves as one of the elders and as Esposito’s assistant during the week, says Esposito was the one who pushed hardest for this church. “He saw that the younger generations were skipping out on church,” she said. “This was a call for us to set up a church and call back our brothers, sisters, family members and friends who have left the church. A lot of us who are leaders also wanted to create a place where people feel that they can worship God in a contemporary, American setting. We’re all Hispanic but American and can’t always relate to our parents’ church where there is a strong emphasis on the Spanish culture.”
In the August cover story of the Visitor magazine, the author explores the very issue of a growing number of American-born Latinos who speak English a majority of the time and how churches in the Columbia Union were meeting those needs. Many young people are leading English-language church and vespers services. Arise seems to be a natural progression of those earlier efforts—an independent church plant positioned to reach English-speaking Latinos. And the Potomac Conference, which is home to the largest number of Spanish-speakers in the Columbia Union, seems like a natural place to pioneer a plant like this.
While the conference’s Hispanic churches have several English-language services, Victor Martinez, the youth leader behind Awakening, a monthly English-language vespers service and a member of Arise, says, “Arise is more than just an English youth service. This is first and foremost a church where we can reach others like myself.”
Arise is also a place where people can push the envelope and embrace freely integrate technology into the worship service. “This is not your parents church,” says Hector Perla, the church’s communication leader. “In my home church a lot of youth felt left out because they would try to do some innovative things and were shut down. But, Jesus was an innovator, and here they can cultivate their talents. All ideas are welcome here, and through the Holy Spirit, they can be realized here.”
Perla, who is developing an interactive check-in process, points to the fact Arise churchgoers don’t get a traditional bulletin. Instead, when they enter the church, they can scan a QR code to get the bulletin on their smart phones. And when people look down on their phones during the service, leaders can rest assured that they are most likely following along with the Scripture reading on their Bible application.
‘Not About Music Style Method’
Still, “this church is not about music, style or method. It’s about saving this generation for the generation to come,” says Frederico Revollo, one of several pastors who preach at Arise.
“It’s not that I wanted to leave my home church,” says Joseph Amaya, head deacon and a musician. “I just wanted to be somewhere where I felt more connected. We wanted to make church a more comfortable place for people to come. We want this to be a fun but Holy place.”
The first sermon at Arise, titled “House Party,” plays into the idea that worship can be fun. And, while one may be forgiven for raising an eyebrow, the content reached deeper than the title. Based on Luke 15:11, Revollo spoke about the prodigal son and the party his father threw for him when he returned. While sharing a little of his own prodigal story, Revollo said, “What is the most precious gift that God gave us? Life. [The prodigal son] wasted the gift that his father gave him. It’s the same with us and God. The life you have is not really yours. It belongs to God. Live that life with him in ‘the house.’”
And that is Arise’s true mission, to reclaim the prodigals who mistook the world for their home when their real home is in Christ. “We really try to make people feel at home here,” Urrutia says. “We provide lunch every Sabbath and take time to get to know each other, not just as a visitor but as a new friend.”
Already a couple that had once left the church is prepping for baptism. Their families are thrilled that their children are back in church.
“The message we want to share with everyone who comes here is that ‘God loves you, and no matter what you’ve done, there is a place for you here,’” said Armenta.
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