Viva la Fe!
DILLON VALLEY – It is a Friday night, and Gaemme Taylor is singing nonstop with the band. She sways, a hand aloft and waving above her downturned head. She is in love.But this is not pop-music idolatry or a crush on the singer in a bar band. This is church.Taylor (first name pronounced jay-me) is an avid member of the congregation at Templo Bethel, a Pentecostal service conducted in Spanish each week at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church at the entrance to Dillon Valley. And she is in love with God.”It changed my life,” the Honduras native said. “Now I never miss a day of church.”Anglos might mistakenly assume that most Latin-Americans are Roman Catholic. But as Taylor explains, just as evangelism has swept the United States, Christ-centered piety is growing ever more popular south of the border – not to mention among the immigrants heading north.Taylor, who works at Wal-Mart in Frisco, came to Summit County in 1999 to join her mother, who emigrated before her. She was raised Catholic. But, she said, she never felt anything. Her mother is a believer but doesn’t go to church. Neither do her brothers.”I was just going to go,” she said.When she was in college in Honduras, a friend asked her to attend a church service – something all together different from Mass. “I felt it that first day,” Taylor said. “It was God’s time for me.”And for many others, Taylor said. From her experiences, she estimates that 10 years ago, Catholics made up 99 percent of her native country. Now, she says, the country is as much as 50 percent non-Catholic Christian. Taylor left Honduras, and like many other foreign transplants in Summit County, work and the English language conspired to keep her away from church. For two years, she had nowhere to turn. She prayed for direction but couldn’t find “her” church. She heard Christian music at work and asked around to find the owner of the tapes. Then she discovered Templo Bethel.
Pastor Abel Leal orchestrates the Spanish-language service. Leal, a Fort Lupton resident, commutes to Dillon Valley twice a week – Fridays for the service and Tuesdays for Bible study sessions.The service is heavy on music and feeling. The pastor, playing a 12-string guitar, accompanies a woman playing a six-string and a young man on bass, singing harmony. The congregation hardly sits, and the music never stops. The musicians extemporize, repeating a verse or a chorus as the “spirit” dictates. Everyone sings, some clap, and a woman shakes a fish-shaped tambourine in one hand while the other keeps time on her daughter’s shoulder. The music is mellifluous, with the bounce of ranchero.Dios manda lluvia, derrama tú espírituEnvia hoy tú fuego, sana mis heridasRestáurame, Señor”God sends rain, it spills from his spiritSend your fire today, clean my woundsRestore me, God.”Toward the end of the service, still singing, the pastor exhorts churchgoers to come forward if they feel stress, anger, pain or fear. He blesses them, laying on his hands.Taylor said she hopes more Latinos seek this kind of blessing. She worries, though, she said. For most, the main reason to come to Summit County is to make money. Religious traditions that used to be passed down from parents to children might fade away.”Some think they believe, but they have forgotten about God,” she said.
It is a Sunday night, “the last show in town” for tourists in search of a Mass, as Father John Kauffman puts it. After an early morning and a long day of services to oversee at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Breckenridge and Our Lady of Peace in Dillon Valley, Kauffman must switch gears, so to speak.Our Lady of Peace becomes Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Paz, the weekly Mass conducted in Spanish for Summit County’s Latino Catholics. It is the only service of its kind available, and more than 60 attendees regularly pack the pews, although two or three times that many can attend during important holidays and feasts. Anglos occasionally come, but slowly realize as they look around that Kauffman is not speaking in Latin, but one of its descendant tongues.”I studied some Spanish in high school, and when I was in seminary I studied in Italy and had to learn Italian,” said Kauffman, who alternates the weekly Mass with another priest from Mexico, Father Juan Razo, “So I understand everything. Speaking it is a little more difficult.”On this particular night, Kauffman has slowly made his way through the Gospel of John and a sermon urging churchgoers not to shy away from baptizing their children.Many immigrants in the county delay or forego the rite. Family and friends are too far away to attend such an important event for a child, or the parents worry they don’t have the money to throw an appropriate party for the sacrament. Kauffman stumbles occasionally on the longer Spanish words, mixing up gender endings, but the congregation doesn’t mind.”It’s very good that they have this,” said Juan Alfaro, who volunteered for a reading this night. “We could use more of the services.”
Alfaro, a 23-year-old El Salvadoran, found his faith in the Catholic parishes of his homeland, without the usual indoctrination of parents and other family. At the age of 10, he went to church because all his friends were going, he said. He became enamored with the experience, and he attends Mass regularly in Dillon Valley.More people would attend, Alfaro said, but work gets in the way. Latinos in the service industry typically work when the Sunday Spanish service is held. Many who have that evening free work construction jobs.Kauffman said ministering to a foreign culture has other challenges. Whereas most Anglos don’t hesitate to pick up a phone and ask their priest for advice, most Latinos seem to prefer a visit in person, at the church. Making sure a Spanish-speaking priest is available can be difficult.”People need to work, but they need other services, too,” Alfaro said.
As long as immigrants continue to come to Summit County, there will be a need for religious services in their native tongue, and churches will scramble to provide. But as those immigrants settle in the High Country, as they start families with children enrolled in local schools, the language barrier will recede.Pastor Leal, who has been commuting to Summit County to minister for five years, is a seventh-generation American and said his family tree’s roots stretch back to Texas before the territory became a state. Leal has had to learn Spanish to conduct church services and Bible studies.”With every generation, the people speak more and more English,” Leal said. “But until then, they will continue to look for services in their own language, and we will try to provide.”Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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