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Language, Culture, and Congregations

The Huffington Post posted an article outlining the complications historically Spanish-speaking congregations have in adapting to new English-speaking generations. For many of these second- and third-generation immigrants, their religious lives were tied to their second language, which caused some difficulties. Vanessa Pardo, a 20-year-old from South Florida, reports,

It was never a faith of my own, it was ‘oh, my parents’ religion’ or ‘my family faith’ and I never saw the personal connection between me and God… I told them I wanted to go, but I told them I wanted to go in my own tongue and culture. Not theirs.”

Pardo attends English-language services at Sunset Church of Christ, which shares a building with her parents’ Spanish-language congregation, Iglesia de Cristo en Sunset. Traditionally Spanish-speaking congregations often face a new dilemma: how to maintain a connection with younger generations who have less and less comfort with Spanish language. Congregations must decide if they hold close to their language and culture, potentially risking long-standing members and traditions, or if they adapt to the needs of the younger potential members. If they don’t adapt, the ministers report that the youth are more likely to reach out for more English-friendly congregations.

How do the separate language and cultural niches of these two related but separate congregations affect their individual or joint future? In what ways would adapting to become more integrated or maintaining the communities’ traditions impact the ways these groups interact?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org