Parroquia Luterana San José, a joint ministry of the ELCA and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) in Beloit, Wis., is a place of worship that is “for and with Latino people,” says its pastor, Neddy Astudillo.
“It always had the idea in mind that it would do advocacy and education for Latino families and provide a place for worship,” she shares.
San José (or St. Joseph in English), is funded in part by a grant from ELCA churchwide ministries.
Beloit, Neddy says, is home to around 4,500 Latino people — and a great number of them, due to the current immigration system lack possibilities to legalizing their immigration status.
As is the tradition in many Spanish-speaking countries around the world, nine days before Christmas each year, San José hosts a Los Posadas celebration — a tradition in which revelers recreate Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn prior to Jesus’ birth by going from door to door asking for lodging in song.
“We remember the moment when Mary and Joseph were looking for shelter,” Neddy explains. “We reenact what Joseph and Mary went through until finally someone opens the door, and then we have a small worship and a meal together.”
The tradition of searching for hospitality in a land that is not originally their own is not so unlike the experiences of many in Neddy’s congregation.
“So much pain is caused by just not knowing where the resources are or not knowing the language or not having a driver’s license to get where the resources are, so we are becoming a bridge between the resources and the people in need,” Neddy says.
San José provides free Spanish-language counseling services — the only such services in the county. And they also help host the Mexican mobile consulate where people can get identification. Having identification is important when it comes to obtaining health care or banking services.
Neddy also works with local law enforcement officials to ensure that people can feel safe going to the police when a problem arises, without fear of deportation.
“I love this ministry because it cares so much about not just people’s spiritual lives but improving also their culture and their health and their well-being,” she shares. “It’s lots of hard work, but it’s very fulfilling. It helps a lot to improve people’s lives, and that’s the mission of our ministry: to help people in a holistic way.”