Church Welcomes Growing Hispanic Community

Zoe Tillman, Gazette (Gaithersburg, Maryland), October 1, 2009

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Union Bethel [African Methodist Episcopal], which also has a location in Brandywine, hands its Temple Hills building over to Romero, who leads prayers and songs entirely in Spanish during a Sunday service. Romero said that there are Hispanic churches in the area, but Union Bethel is one of the only African-American churches in south county he knows of that is trying to integrate Hispanics–most of whom are immigrants–into its congregation.

The Rev. Anthony Young, a minister with Union Bethel, said the idea for Spanish language services sprang from changes he began noticing last year around the shopping center.

About a year ago, he said, a Jumbo Food International–which stocks products from around the world–opened several doors down from the church. When a sign appeared in another storefront advertising a peluqueria, Spanish for “barbershop,” Young said he and Union Bethel’s Rev. Harry L. Seawright decided to reach out to their new neighbors.

In addition to the Spanish language services, Hispanic congregants are invited to church events and can use church resources, from counseling to home buying workshops.

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The Hispanic immigrant population in Prince George’s County has grown steadily over the last five years. As of 2008, immigrants of all nationalities made up around 18.5 percent of the total population in the county, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2003, immigrants were less than 14 percent of the county.

Romero, who is also a chaplain with the county corrections department, said most of the Hispanic worshippers coming to Union Bethel are immigrants from a variety of Latin American countries, including El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama.

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The search for jobs and affordable housing is leading immigrants into the suburbs, said Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies immigration.

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Racial conflict can also be an issue when Hispanics move into a mostly African-American community like Temple Hills, Young said, but neither he nor Romero said they sensed tension.

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