Editor’s note: COVID-19 has uniquely impacted communities of color and their lives and ministries. In this series, we will feature ELCA Racial Justice reflections from each of the ELCA Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries associations, focusing on racism and racial disparities amid the coronavirus.
As the coronavirus crisis continues to sweep across our nation and the world, communities of color have been particularly affected. From racist and xenophobic attacks to the disproportionate number of deaths in these communities, it is clear we must continue to take care of all God’s children, especially those most in need.
The Latino Ministries Association of the ELCA (Asociación Ministerios Latinos, AML) is deeply concerned that the COVID-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on communities of color, specifically our Latinx siblings. In this time of fear and anxiety, the AML, among others in faith-based communities nationwide, is striving to be a beacon of hope and salvation and to provide aid through restorative efforts in struggling Latino communities.
Jennifer DeLeon, AML president, is providing Latino communities with resources to navigate the current COVID-19 crisis. Under her leadership, the AML has developed and offers online resources, seminars, important translated documents and other services to the Latino congregations she serves throughout the United States, despite the limited resources available. Hosting regular webinars has been instrumental in aiding both leaders and community members.
“The virus does not discriminate. We are the ones who, as a society, are discriminating.”
DeLeon also advocates for English-to-Spanish translations from the ELCA to ensure that Latino communities are properly informed. These vital translations were among several initiatives DeLeon led the chairs of the Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries to put into action as a way of genuinely tackling COVID-19’s ethnic-specific impact.
As a member of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, DeLeon has prioritized working with the synod’s Latinx strategy group to provide a broad range of resources that will help synod congregations navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Especially important was finding digital ways for congregations to stay connected with their members. A virtual memorial was designed to provide comfort to synod members who had lost loved ones in the pandemic and during shelter-in-place orders, which did not allow for gatherings to mourn.
Synods and pastors across the country have been responding to these shattered communities, guided by God’s grace. Maria Paiva, Latino ministry coordinator for the Southwest California Synod, has seen a great deal of sickness and death in her Latino parishes due to the coronavirus. She is proud of her congregations for continuing to provide groceries and hot meals to members in need, and of their pastors who continue to support their communities.
On a personal level, Paiva said, she overcame her fear of infection for the need to “be with my people.” She proceeded to visit congregants in the throes of overcoming the virus, as well as those in mourning, to provide them with a physical presence, meal cards and emotional care. “It is in these moments, in prayer together with my people, that the mission of God is so clear to me,” Paiva reflects.
An opportunity to fulfill our call
St. Peter Lutheran Church—which sits at the center of a bustling Manhattan intersection and attracts worshipers from all five New York City boroughs—has experienced a devastating loss of 60 COVID-19-related deaths. A pastor at St. Peter, Fabián Arias, said that the majority—nearly 90%—are Latino. And many, he says, are undocumented immigrants. “The virus installs itself more in the most vulnerable places, and so it infects the most vulnerable people,” explained Arias. “This is the problem. The virus does not discriminate. We are the ones who, as a society, are discriminating.”
In response, St. Peter organized a network that is feeding more than 500 families each week.
Paul Egensteiner, bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod (MNYS), and Christopher Vergara, president of St. Peter and chair of the MNYS advocacy task force, have been making notable efforts to provide much-needed resources to these vulnerable communities. Located in one of the U.S. regions hit hardest by COVID-19—specifically within the Latino population—the metropolitan New York congregations and communities have received significant support from their synod.
Throughout the pandemic, the MNYS advocacy task force has been providing essential workers with masks and other personalized protective gear. Egensteiner, alongside the task force, has been working intensely throughout the pandemic to distribute food to immigrant communities in need. During this crisis, the synod has also provided financial resources to help members who are suffering loss and even trying to recover the bodies of loved ones. The death toll brings with it sorrow, fear and unexpected costs.
“The fact that the consequences of this disease fall more heavily on certain predictable groups is a manifestation of the persistence of racism and white privilege in our society.”
Egensteiner wrote in a recent MNYS news article, “This disease is exposing deep and long-standing fault lines in our world and in the United States in particular that we, as followers of Christ, must find intolerable and contradictory to the kingdom Jesus announced and established in his life, death and resurrection. Or, to put it more plainly, the fact that the consequences of this disease fall more heavily on certain predictable groups are manifestations of the persistence of racism and white privilege in our society.”
Last year, the ELCA declared itself a sanctuary church body—the first North American denomination to take that step. As such, we have the opportunity to fulfill this call to accompany our immigrant communities and churches with resources and protection. We must continue to support all God’s children as we maintain our faith and our love for God and each other.
The endeavors being made across the nation, from New York to California, are inspiring and hopeful. So, let us not remain sedentary but maintain this beacon of hope and salvation and create real change in our society for those who need it most.
Just as Jesus did.