Black Megachurch Reaches For Latinos

AP, Feb. 20, 2007

Sprinkled among the black faces at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Hispanic worshippers listen intently to the congregation’s leader, Bishop Eddie Long.

It’s an unusual scene for a predominantly African-American church, but the area’s Hispanic population has grown from just 1 percent in 2000, to nearly 9 percent today. And New Birth is acknowledging its new neighbors in a way most historically black churches haven’t.

Long is trying to attract Latino members by hiring a Hispanic band, adding Spanish-language Sunday services, hiring a Hispanic pastor—even by learning Spanish.

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Long’s services are already translated into Spanish, among other languages, but Long wanted to do more for Hispanics at home.

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But Long says black churches have a special lesson for Hispanics. Like African-Americans before them, new Latino arrivals are struggling with poverty, finding work, getting a good education and getting a say in public policy.

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New Birth’s message of personal growth and prosperity can also appeal to Hispanic immigrants who came here to improve the lives of their families. The Atlanta suburb where New Birth is located—Lithonia—has one of the country’s highest rates of black affluence.

‘Nuestra casa es su casa’

The idea of attending a black church seemed strange at first to Julio Alberto Rodriguez, who had watched Long’s services on television from Florida. Still, when Rodriguez moved to the Atlanta area a few years ago, he visited New Birth.

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The Rev. Eddie Velez, a 13-year member of New Birth who was recently appointed pastor to lead Spanish-language worship, has been courting the new Hispanic residents, spreading the church’s new motto: “Nuestra casa es su casa,” or “Our house is your house.”

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