New congregation springs up to offer church services in Spanish

Pastor Edwin Alverado delivers a homily at a recent service. - Natalie Johnson/staff photo
Pastor Edwin Alverado delivers a homily at a recent service.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/staff photo

As the pastor’s wife moves to the front of the dimly lit sanctuary, a hush falls over the small congregation. After a few short announcements, the service commences. A church member reads a passage of scripture as young men controlling the sound system in the back of the room cue up music for the first worship song. As the music begins, believers close their eyes, raise their hands and sing.

At first glance it may seem like a scene from a Sunday morning at any church on the Island. However, there is one major difference: The song the church members sing, along with the entire service, is completely in Spanish.

Centro Familiar Cris-tiano, the first church on the Island to offer regular services in Spanish, began meeting in Bethel Church’s building last November.

A branch of the 2,000-member Centro Familiar Cristiano in White Center, the church began about a year and a half ago as a Bible study in a home on the Island.

In addition to meeting weekly to study the Bible together, the group of about 15 Spanish-speaking men, women and children also left the Island each Sunday to attend the White Center Centro Familiar Cristiano. However, after about a year of making weekly ferry rides, the Vashon members of Centro Familiar Cristiano began to wish there were somewhere closer to home where they could worship together. To make matters worse, their Bible study group was beginning to outgrow the home it was meeting in.

The congregation, which has grown to more than 30 members, is extremely grateful to Bethel Church for offering the use of its building, free of charge, said the Hispanic church’s new pastor, Edwin Alverado.

Alverado, who is part of the leadership team at White Center’s Centro Familiar Cristiano, was appointed by the church to lead the Bible study on Vashon, one of 17 similar home groups in the Seattle area, and subsequently became the pastor of Vashon’s Centro Familiar Cristiano when it was formed.

“They are very happy now that they have a church,” Alverado said. “They were taking the ferry; now they have one on the Island.”

It was actually a chance encounter in July of last year that brought the fledgling congregation to Bethel.

Like many clergy, Bob Gentzel, Bethel’s pastor, possesses a warm and outgoing attitude that impels him to talk and seek connections with those he comes into contact with. There was no exception when a group of subcontractors, who happened to be Hispanic, came to work on his new home last July.

“We got to talking, and I found out that a group of people was meeting in a home on the Island in a Bible study,” Gentzel said.

Realizing there was no church on Vashon that offered services in Spanish, Gentzel was immediately struck with a desire to make their dream of a Spanish-speaking church on Vashon a reality.

“I called the church in White Center and met with some of the leadership of that church and asked if they were interested in starting a church on the Island,” Gentzel said.

Several months later, the Vashon branch of Centro Familiar Cristiano held its first Saturday evening service in the sanctuary of Bethel Church.

Alverado, a native of Guatemala who has lived in the United States since 1995, has a bachelor’s in theology from the University of California. He and his wife live with their four young children in Burien, where Alverado owns a construction business.

“He’s a sweet guy,” Gentzel said. “He and his wife are very enjoyable.”

Alverado, who has already seen the young church grow since meeting at Bethel, hopes the new building will allow them to expand their ministry to even more Islanders. “We pray for more,” he said. “Some people say there are 300 Hispanics on the Island, some say 500. We don’t know.”

But reaching out to Vashon’s Hispanic community could be difficult, Alverado said. It is unknown where all of them live, and there is no easy way to contact them.

Gentzel agreed. “The most challenging thing is getting the word out that a new ministry started,” he said.

Alverado has dreams that the church will one day be large enough to own its own building, similar to its home church in White Center, which has become one of the largest Spanish-speaking churches in the state. “That’s how God works,” he said.

Gentzel is lending a hand in Alverado’s outreach efforts. He plans to hold a picnic for Vashon’s Hispanic community on the church grounds in September, complete with Hispanic food and music. He and Alverado both hope that such an event will draw more people to Centro Familiar Cristiano.

“Our church is very positive, we want to reach out and be of any assistance that we can,” Gentzel said. “We’re glad to make our facilities available to them. If the need is there, we want to meet it.”

St. John Vianney Catholic Church is also making efforts to reach out to the Spanish-speaking members of its congregation and the Vashon community. Aside from offering weekly bulletins in Spanish and English, the church holds special services in Spanish to celebrate two traditional religious holidays: The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which fills the church, and La Posadas. Both are followed by fiestas.

St. John Vianney volunteer Chris Jovanovich feels that the increase in Hispanics on the Island in the last 10 years has been obvious to many. Because of this growth, she said, the church recently hired a part-time staff person to assist Spanish-speaking families. In addition, a committee at the church has been tasked with determining how St. John Vianney can best serve its Hispanic members, which make up 15 to 20 percent of its total parish.

“We’re trying to honor their traditions and incorporate them into our community and worship as one,” Jovanovich said.

While St. John Vianney does not offer regular masses in Spanish at this time, Jovanovich said they hope to in the future.

“Because we’re small, we can’t get there yet, it all takes time,” she said, adding that many Hispanic Islanders attend Holy Family Catholic Church in White Center, where Spanish masses are offered.

While Gentzel acknowledges that some Hispanics on the Island would probably only attend a Catholic church, he hopes Centro Familiar Cristiano’s evangelical nature will appeal to followers of many backgrounds, especially as the Island’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

“Being a nondenominational church, maybe more people would be comfortable attending,” he said.

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