By Megan K. Mertz
Despite the snow, ice and below-zero wind chill, about 150 people gathered at a middle school in Woodbridge, Va., for the Feb. 15 chartering service of Iglesia Luterana Nueva Vida.
Nueva Vida — which means “new life” — is the first Hispanic congregation to be chartered in the LCMS Southeastern District. At the service, the Rev. Pedro Lopez was installed as Nueva Vida’s founding pastor.
But this moment was years in the making. The Hispanic outreach that would eventually become Nueva Vida started in 2008 when three congregations in Circuit 9A in northern Virginia — St. John’s Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va.; Prince of Prince Lutheran Church, Springfield, Va.; and Grace Lutheran Church, Woodbridge, Va. — partnered to form a covenant in Hispanic ministry.
“We recognized the growing presence of Spanish-speaking people in our neighborhoods and communities, people who were being served at our early childhood education centers and ESL [English as a second language] classes,” said the Rev. John Meehan, pastor of St. John’s. “But we had no real response in terms of Gospel-centered ministry to reach out to them.”
Instead of working independently, the covenant congregations agreed to work together to support ministry wherever “the Holy Spirit would lead,” Meehan continued.
In late 2009, the covenant congregations called Lopez, a mission developer who had been working in Hispanic ministry in Wisconsin, to lead the effort in Virginia.
He established a bilingual Lutheran worshiping community in the area. The group met in a house before moving to a larger location at a public middle school. When funding for his position ran out, Lopez decided to stay as a bivocational pastor.
The chartering service marked a new stage in the life of Nueva Vida, which currently has an average attendance of 60. Among those who regularly attend the church are recent immigrants as well as second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans.
In addition to teaching the faith and growing the congregation, Lopez focuses on raising up new Latino leaders for both Nueva Vida and the church at-large.
The Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Church and Community Engagement, which includes the strategic development of Hispanic ministry, preached the sermon at the chartering service in both Spanish and English.
“The significance of being chartered is it establishes that this is not a community that’s going away. It’s here to stay,” said the Rev. Dr. John Denninger, president of the Southeastern District. “Hopefully, it will continue to get bigger and bigger.”
Getting chartered also “creates a two-way connection,” Hernandez said.
“The congregation can receive support and supervision from the district, and it can contribute to the district as well. It allows the pastor to belong to the circuit, participate on boards and vote at convention,” he continued.
At the chartering service, a member of Nueva Vida presented Lopez with a gift: a red stole. She got the idea from Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Esperanza Viva in Orlando, Fla., a Hispanic congregation that was chartered in February 2014.
“We are one of the few bilingual Hispanic congregations in the Synod, and we’re glad to have the privilege of being responsible for growing the kingdom of God,” Lopez said. “I hope to inspire non-chartered congregations to go through this as well.”
Megan K. Mertz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer and managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World for LCMS Communications.
Posted March 12, 2015