New Mission Leader Learns on the Job

Posted: 5/6/2013

Julian Crespo, new pastoral coordinator of Glenmary's St. Joan of Arc mission in Plymouth, N.C.Reflecting on his time as the new pastoral coordinator at Glenmary's St. Joan of Arc mission in Plymouth, N.C., Julian Crespo says he has "learned more about pastoral ministry in seven months of leading a Glenmary mission than I did in five years at a university."

Julian started work at St. Joan in September 2012 after serving as pastoral associate for Hispanic ministry for four years at St. Ann Church in Clayton, N.C., also in the Diocese of Raleigh. Julian moved to Plymouth with his wife and daughter, and they recently welcomed a new baby to the family.

A native of Cali, Colombia, he was formerly a seminarian for the Raleigh diocese and in Colombia. And during these times, he gained some valuable experience in parish work. He also attended a Colombian Catholic university.

The challenges he has faced in Plymouth include being a first-time parish administrator and leading a very diverse congregation. But he says he felt called by God to this role, drawn by the mission's family atmosphere, and attracted to being part of Glenmary's missionary effort.

He is the only full-time pastoral person at the mission, succeeding the full-time team of Sister Arcadia Rivera Gutierrez and volunteer coworker Sister Martha Alvarado Moreno.

Glenmary Father Mike Kerin, pastor of the Windsor, N.C., mission in the next county, continues serving as sacramental minister for St. Joan—celebrating an English and a Spanish Mass each weekend and a bilingual Mass on Wednesday, administering the sacraments, and participating in mission activities whenever possible.

One of Julian's ongoing goals for himself and his family has been to visit the homes of mission members. As a result, he says he feels like he "knows the people and their needs better now, and they know us."

He believes the mission's greatest strength can be its cultural diversity. "We have Hispanics from different parts of Mexico and from Colombia, Peru and Honduras, as well as Anglos from the northern and southern United States. It's a strength if people share their gifts and become a unified community."

One wonderful example of this sharing—and Julian's encouragement—occurred this past December. Early that month, he says, while he was practicing and playing guitar with the mission's Anglo music group, he mentioned that Hispanic mission members were going to celebrate Las Posadas soon (a nine-day, pre-Christmas religious celebration that is an important tradition for Catholics from Mexico).

"I asked ‘Who wants to go with me?' Two Anglo families said they'd like to join in, and then each volunteered to host a posada night in their home. They and a third Anglo family also attended other posada nights at Hispanic parishioners' homes. This whole experience helped bring mission members closer together."

In a county where more than 25 percent of the population are living below poverty level, mission members and other county residents seek Julian's counseling and help to cope with financial struggles, too. "We try to direct individuals to appropriate social service agencies for assistance," he says. "Then the agencies give us a better idea of how we should use our limited resources to help."

Attendance at weekend Spanish Mass is 60-80, with standing-room-only crowds at special celebrations. And 16-18 people attend weekend English Mass. He points out that the thriving youth faith formation program also brings the mission community together. The simple reason: Older English-speaking parishioners are the catechists, teaching and guiding the bilingual Hispanic children and connecting with the parents. The catechists, he says, "are a bridge between the Anglo and Hispanic mission members."

Adult faith formation is a program Julian wants to keep strengthening. He's now leading weekly Bible study classes in the homes of four Hispanic families who invite relatives and friends. "These classes are a good way to evangelize or reevangelize Catholics so that they become stronger in their faith," he says, "and also begin or continue participating in Mass and the mission community."

In addition, he and his wife, a diocesan employee, plan to lead quarterly diocesan workshops at the mission for married and engaged couples.

St. Joan continues to have special religious celebrations in keeping with members' cultural practices and traditions. And monthly gatherings bring people together to socialize. Even people from outside the county come to the mission, Julian says. About nine Hispanic families travel 45-75 minutes, one way, to Plymouth each week "because they can attend Spanish Mass and feel at home here."

Since arriving, Julian has become an active member of the local ministerial association. And the mission continues reaching out to the larger community through ecumenical social service programs (such as a weekly meal program for the needy) and prayer services. He and mission members are also organizing an ecumenical concert for Christmas 2013.

"I am so thankful for God's guidance in this ministry," he says. And he's extremely grateful for the many mission members who volunteer their time and talents to help St. Joan run smoothly. For the future, Julian adds, the mission needs to continue working "to build up our group of committed lay leaders so we can keep growing as a strong faith community."

This article first appeared in the May 2013 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.