IN OUR parish, we do everything in two languages: English and Spanish. Even PCC members and churchwardens represent our bilingual identity.
St Matthew’s is located in Elephant and Castle, in south London. Spanish is the second language of the borough, after English; so, it really makes sense to have a bilingual parish here. In fact, we are very active in mission to the area, and our presence is well-known among the Spanish-speaking community.
As part of our mission, we understand that justice and dignity play a very important part in the way in which we do church in this part of the world.
When Covid-19 started, the Latin American community suffered the impact severely. Many of them have no qualifications and their jobs were precarious; some have no English at all, and some are in the country with an unclear legal status. This means that many have been going from one day to another with no job, no English to understand where to go or on what door to knock, and, because of their legal situation, afraid to seek help from councils.
MANY people have come to our doors asking for help and support. It has been difficult, if not impossible, to convince them to go to their councils. Some of them came to this country as refugees with horrible stories, and, for them, it is not easy to trust institutions.
The good thing is that they trust us. So, we gathered an initial group of 20 volunteers from our Spanish-speaking congregation, and we started a foodbank: the donations came only from the congregation. This was two months ago, and 50 families came to receive help. Now, we are helping 300 families weekly, and we have had to create a clothesbank as well. Most of our donations have come from the congregation and charities. We have plans to start offering English classes and legal advice, too.
Most of these families have children, and they are suffering especially from this situation; so, we decided to offer a summer camp for them in August, together with the Mayor’s Fund for London. The Fund is working with many organisations this summer to support children from London, but we will be the only non-English-speaking summer camp working in partnership with the Fund. We will have 30 children, mainly coming from families with no English at all, and with less than five months in the country (this means with very little network support).
OUR ministry is also focused on the Spanish-speaking vulnerable people who are staying at home in self-isolation in this country. We have developed an intense presence on the internet. We have a Facebook group that has more than 500 members. This group is for those who are looking for something spiritual, but who, perhaps, do not define themselves as Christians, either because they had bad experiences in the past with their church, or because they were not interested in institutional religion.
Here, we try to offer our own specific content, which looks at religion and spirituality from a fresh point of view. Also, we have our Facebook parish group in Spanish, which has more than 200 members and has specific content, too: Bible-study groups, theology groups, prayer groups, etc. We have also a Spanish-speaking WhatsApp group that has more than 700 members from all over the country, in which we offer a daily Bible reflection using the Gospel of the day.
We thank God every day for the leaders and volunteers of our church, because, without them, none of this would be possible. They are the really good news, of which I am only the messenger.
The Revd Dr Hugo Adán Fernández is the Rector of Holy Trinity with St Matthew, Southwark (known as St Matthew’s at the Elephant), in Southwark diocese, and Hispanic Diocesan Missioner.