Grand Rapids: La Nueva Esperanza United Methodist Church grows in faith and fruitfulness.
REV. BILL HAGGARD
Grand Rapids District Superintendent
I began my work as Superintendent of the Grand Rapids District in 2012. There were, at the time, 69 churches on the District ranging from congregations with 2000 in worship to congregations with 25. Among them, were four ethnic congregations including La Nueva Esperanza. La Nueva Esperanza was chartered in 1985 as a mission congregation. It has served the community during those years in four different locations and it has seen its share of ups and downs and faced its share of challenges during those 30-plus years it has been in existence.
In 2013 the congregation was facing a particularly significant time of struggle. In the midst of the difficult departure of their pastor we engaged a Paragraph 213 evaluation with the congregation. A number of issues were identified in that assessment. Morale was low and the future uncertain.
The Bishop and Cabinet identified Rev. Nohemi Ramirez, who had been serving in the Minneapolis area, as the new pastor. When Rev Ramirez was appointed to La Nueva Esperanza the congregation, which had experienced in its history worship attendance as high as 135, was now down to about 25. Rev. Ramirez arrived and things began to change. Ministry was organized and a fresh excitement began to grow. The lay leaders who had hung on through the struggle began to step up as Rev. Ramirez called everyone to serve.
Pastor Nohemi focused on teaching love and helping the church experience the fullness of being United Methodist Christians. At first one of the challenges was the location of the congregation. The building they were in had some significant maintenance issues and it was being shared with a summer mission program which precluded their ability to have a VBS. We began to look for another location and ultimately the church moved into their own building in 2014.
Pastor Nohemi continued to lead the congregation well. Music improved as she, played piano and built a praise band with youth and young adults. Rev. Ramirez continued to challenge the congregation to use their gifts and ten lay persons drove to Detroit for several weekends in order to receive training as Lay Church Planters. Two of those persons went on the complete the Hispanic Ministry Program at Calvin College. The National HYLA event for Hispanic/Latino youth was held at Adrian College in Adrian Michigan and several youth from the growing youth group at La Nueva Esperanza attended. A number of those youth became leaders back in the congregation.
As opportunities to reach into their community have come along they have sought to engage those openings. From their long standing Zumba classes, to the latest plans to create a community garden/playground for the neighborhood on a piece of land that was just acquired within the last week located just across the street from the church building, the people of La Nueva Esperanza have sought to reach out with the love of Christ.
Worship attendance is now at 100+. Two weekly Bible Studies as well as a Wednesday evening Prayer Service are highlights for many. And there is a continuing conversation regarding the possibility of expanding the ministry of this congregation into other parts of the Grand Rapids community.
It has been a joy for me to watch and to support the growth of this church. I am grateful for the leadership of Rev. Ramirez and for the people of La Nueva Esperanza and I celebrate the way they have moved forward from those challenging days to the fruitful ministry that exists today.