For years, non-Hispanic churches in the Washington area have been adding Spanishlanguage ministries in response to a growing number of newly arrived Hispanic immigrants. Now, in recent years, as the immigrant population has matured, churches such as Centro Cristiano have begun incorporating more English into their services. Many are also discarding conservative traditions brought from Latin America governing dress, gender roles and behavior.
The trend began in other areas of the country, areas with older and larger Hispanic populations, such as San Antonio and Los Angeles. In the Washington area, which is home to the nation’s 12th-largest Hispanic population, estimated at 800,000, the changes are being driven by the children and grandchildren of immigrants who settled here in the 1980s and ’90s, many from Central America.
The decision of Spanishlanguage churches to provide English translation “is really simple,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “They don’t want to lose the next generation. It is a matter of survival.”
Unlike their immigrant parents who strive to learn English, some younger English-speaking and bilingual Hispanics are so immersed in the American culture that they are choosing to join mainstream English-language churches. But many still enjoy strong ties to their families’ native countries and prefer houses of worship with a strong Latino heritage.
Some local pastors say they view the transition as inevitable at a time of a profound shift among Hispanics. Studies show that they are attending church at a lower rate today than they did 20 years ago, echoing the trend among all Americans. Younger generations of Latinos are
also not nearly as socially conservative as their parents.
“You realize that this community is changing, and you ask yourself, ‘How am I going to preach in English?’ ” said Javier Gomez, who has been pastor at CCI for 11 years. “You have a choice: to die out or embrace the change.”
In addition to translating Spanish into English through headphones, the church translates from English into Spanish when children speak before the 600-member congregation.
With the majority of the church’s 200 children born in the United States, efforts to carry out the children’s Sunday school in Spanish — partly to preserve the language and Hispanic culture — have slowly faded, said Gomez, 42. Ten years ago, most Sunday school teachers spoke almost exclusively in Spanish, but now all of them are bilingual.