Viva La Episcopalian Church! – Hispanics find home in Oxford, NC

In the small town of Oxford, NC, just north of Durham, there is a small Episcopalian church where every Sunday the sermon is preached in both English and Spanish.  There’s an ever-growing Latino population here at St. Cyprian’s, who for some reason choose not to attend the nearby Catholic churches in Butner and Henderson.   These working-class families, mostly Mexican, found a welcoming home here in a church that was once mostly African-American.  There is a trend, which has been noted and reported on by a few major news outlets, on how the Episcopalian church is courting Hispanics and those who don’t agree with some of the stricter rules of the Catholic church.   The two times I have attended St. Cyprian’s, I noticed a mixed congregation made up of about half African-American and half Hispanic.  This Episcopalian church is a far cry from the dry, mostly upper-middle class white place I attended when I lived on Capitol Hill in D.C.  [NOTE – I am quasi-agnostic or maybe atheist or maybe not.  I will say I was raised in the church.  I mean, of course I was.  I was raised in a small town in the South.  We went Sunday morning, Sunday night, Monday night, Wednesday night and any other night the doors were open.]

No, this church, at least on baptism and confirmation nights, throws down.  The service felt more like a Baptist church but with the kneeling, ceremony, pomp, and standing up and down.  It’s an unusual mix of soulful singing, pure Episcopal ceremony, Spanish hymns alternated with English, lots of shouts of “Amen” and “Yes, Lord” and some good potato salad and coffee served at the end of service.

This church is special in that it doesn’t reach out to Hispanics as though they need charity or assistance.  This church has embraced the Mexican community around Oxford as part of their own.  When I attended the baptism on a Wednesday night back in September, the head of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, the Right Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, the 11th Bishop of our great state, was leading the service.  He is a fire-brand, speaking part inspiration and part intellectual appeal – calling on the congregation to love one another and using  Hendrix and Nina Simone quotes to back up his message.  I have to say, I liked his style.  For me personally, I’ve found it impossible to find both the emotional, charismatic appeal combined with a true intellectual approach to church.  And though I don’t know how I feel about the existence of God, I do need spiritual succor from time to time.

That combo of passion and intellect is rare in a church these days.  Either you get one or the other – a lot of singing and clapping but some run-of-the-mill heaven and hell stuff OR a very dry, stuffy, intellectual lesson with some stick-up-your-rear singing of “It is Well With My Soul.”  Never the twain do meet – except here in this church.

I enjoyed every second of the baptism service – though I don’t enjoy all that Episcopalian standing and sitting.  It’s too much exercise for this gal who was raised in the Church of God, where we mostly sit and fan ourselves and leave it to those who “got the Holy spirit” in ’em to run up and down the aisles speaking in tongues.  Then we mosey on over to the church dining hall and eat collard greens, biscuits, and pineapple coconut cake.

At St. Cyprian’s, I noticed that many of the older Mexicans in attendance did treat the service with the same ceremony and crossing that they do in Catholic church.  I think this Episcopal church offers the Hispanic community something familiar to them and it’s obvious they are welcomed here with open arms.

I realized during the baptism ceremony how important this baptism/confirmation event is for this little church.  The baptism tradition is the ceremony or rite by which a person is admitted and becomes a member of a particular church and community. The Mexican children this night were officially brought into St. Cyprian’s, probably having previously been baptized in a Catholic church somewhere else.   Though I am half-Mexican, I know very little about the ceremony so don’t quote me on my theories.  But here are some of the photos I took just to give you an idea of the brilliant things going on in Oxford.    NOTE:  The lighting in here was tricky and made it hard to get good photos – as an amateur, I was put to the test.

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