For several months now, the S.S. Morris African Methodist Episcopal Church, a traditionally Black congregation on Madison’s east side, has been running services in Spanish every Sunday at 2 pm. For leaders of S.S. Morris, as well as members of the community who belong to the church, making sure they were serving as much of the community as possible has been the driving motivation for the move.
“It’s growing,” said AME Pastor Karla Garcia. “We have people from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico. The Hispanic culture in Madison is very diverse and includes many different cultures. So we’ve been doing it for about three or four months.”
The idea for a Spanish service came about through Pastor Jose Dominguez, who does ministry in the Dane County Jail, and had multiple members of the community asking about the possibility of doing Spanish sermons.
Garcia, who has been a pastor with the AME for four years and is from the Rockford area, said that Dominguez’ roots in the community around Madison is what made the move successful.
“We started it just by putting up a Facebook post about it and saying that we have it. And we just went from there,” Garcia told Madison365. “We’re collaborating with Pastor Jose Dominguez, who does services at the jail. By me living in Rockford, I’m not as acclimated with the community here but he is. And because he’s been a pastor in the community for years he’s more involved and able to tell people about it.”
The services on Sundays are not just in Spanish, but are bilingual. Every scripture, sermon and hymn is translated word for word in English as well, so everyone is welcome to attend.
“We’ve had as many as 30 people on Sundays,” Garcia told Madison365. “No matter how many people we have, we’ll do it every week at 2 pm. I think that’s a good time for people to come to church. Usually, most services are at 9 am and, depending on work or other things, some people might not be able to make that. So there are people who are not Spanish speakers who come to the 2 pm service but we translate everything in the service, so it doesn’t really matter if you don’t speak Spanish.”
That an AME church would be progressive enough to incorporate bilingual services is not a surprise. Garcia says that AME has a global presence and has been at the forefront of eliminating gender and racial stereotypes in terms of who leads congregations and what types of services are provided.
Garcia is living proof of AME’s view of inclusion. There are many denominations that do not have female pastors and clergy in positions of authority. But Garcia says that has not been her experience around Madison.
“In the AME Church, gender is not as much an issue as it is in other denominations,” Garcia said. “Our denomination is more embracing of women clergy. Some denominations are not allowing women to pastor. But that’s not the case in our denomination. Now, it can still be an issue of inclusiveness in the community with other churches who don’t want women to clergy. But that has not been my experience in Madison. I have not had that. They encourage that. We have more women seeking ordination than men right now. We have women elders, bishops, everything. So it’s not an issue with us. The AME Church is in all continents. We are a global church that believes in preaching the gospel to all people.”
The Sunday 2 pm services are bilingual and, Garcia says, at a convenient time for most people. The S.S. Morris Community AME Church is at 3511 Milwaukee Street on Madison’s east side and everyone in the community is welcomed at any service.