Behold! We are Doing a New Thing

September 11, 2013

The Rev. Alberto Cutié, parish priest, best-selling author, columnist and well-known international TV and radio host, turns down about 90 percent of invitations for speaking engagements. He agreed to be the keynoter at this year's diocesan convention because he could sense that, indeed, the Diocese of Chicago is doing a new thing.

"When they asked, I felt very privileged and honored," he said from his office at the Church of the Resurrection in Biscayne Park, Florida, where he serves as priest-in-charge. "There is a reunification taking place as the Diocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Quincy come together, and there is a lot of good energy. There also is an interest in the Diocese of Chicago in how we deal with people of all races; issues of racism, issues of who we are. Are we this white, privileged church or are we the church for everyone?"

Cutié (pronounced koo-tee-ay) was born in Puerto Rico of Cuban parents. ("I was conceived in Spain, born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States, but I consider myself a Cuban-American," he says with a laugh). Last year he was recognized by The Huffington Post as one of the top seven Latino-American religious leaders who are shaping the wider religious, spiritual and political landscape of the United States.

Internationally known as Padre Alberto, Cutié is comfortable asking and answering provocative questions. In addition to writing a syndicated newspaper advice column, he has hosted a variety of Spanish-language television talk-show programs that reached an estimated 24 million homes in 22 countries. He is the author of two books: Real Life, Real Love, which became a bestseller in Spanish; and New York Times bestseller Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love.

Cutié was originally ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Miami in 1995, was received as a member of the Episcopal Church in 2009 and received as an Episcopal priest in 2010 by Bishop Leo Frade in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. He attended the last two General Conventions, and in 2012, the Presiding Bishop invited Cutié to preach at the bi-lingual liturgy held during convention. He and his wife, Ruhama, have three children.

Part of his convention keynote address will explore how the Episcopal Church can become more welcoming to all.

"I want to talk about who is out there in America and what the Episcopal Church is saying to them. This is about bringing people together. It's a reflection on how the church can grow and how this diverse diocese—white, black, Latino, Asian—is one. How can the church speak to that diverse reality? I'm not sure that our liturgy, our parish programs, always effectively speak to those around us."

Between 2500 and 3000 members attend the Diocese of Chicago's Latino congregations, and the numbers are growing.

"It is no secret that more people watch Univision than the major networks," Cutié said of the growing Latino population in the United States. "Are we really making the transition to being the church that is embracing this exploding population?

"I have found that the clergy is often afraid because of language issues and is maybe afraid of not understanding the culture. But I think being a welcoming church is often more important than our ability to speak the language.

"I'll tell you something very simple. You look at our signs and they say 'All are welcome.' If you look at the last general convention and what the church is trying to do, we don't even say we're a national church anymore—we're an international church – we now refer to the Episcopal Church as 'church-wide'. We are in 17 countries. We realize that we are a broader church than we have been in the past. I think one of the issues is that in our church we speak a lot about diversity, but we leave out some of the specifics of that diversity. Maybe in addition to saying 'All are welcome,' our signs should say, 'Todos son Bienvenidos.' With this explosive Latino market, how many churches offer a regular Spanish activity, a regular Spanish service?

Cutié cites his own parish as one that is trying to build bridges between different cultures.

"My congregation is a pretty good expression of what southeast Florida is like. We have black, we have white, we have Latino people all coming together in one place. We have two services—one in English and one in Spanish— but one congregation. We have one fellowship hour between the two services. What I have found is that people like me, second generation Latinos, pick the service according to their schedule. That's a growing reality throughout the country. People may feel equally comfortable in either language. People will say they choose the language in which they learned to pray, which for me would be Spanish."

Cutié said the Episcopal Church is making progress on the diversity front, but there remains much to do.

"I find the church is making serious strides. I'm enrolled in a DMin program at Sewanee (The School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee), where I'm one of two Hispanics among 67 students. Being there with my colleagues, what I keep hearing from them is, 'We want to get a Latino congregation going. What do we do?'"

So there is a desire. But Cutié said that within the church hierarchy, there are few examples of Latino leadership.

"Leo Frade is the only active, ordinary* Latino bishop in the Episcopal Church. In places like LA, New York, Chicago, Texas, that's a challenge. When we don't have that type of leadership, that's telling people that the church is not as diverse as the Body of Christ. All the big companies have diversity officers that make sure there is diversity at every level, that everyone is represented.

"I think the church needs to take a serious look at itself in relationship to the nation and the world. Maybe religious institutions, in general, spend too much time navel gazing. Maybe we haven't paid attention to why people are attracted to come to church. It is when people in your community say, 'This is a place for me. This is a place I can grow spiritually. This is a place that speaks to me.'

Some of it may be that many people's perception of the Episcopal Church is stuck in the past.

"I would say that many people still look at us as a very stuffy church, the church for their grandparents," Cutié said. "I don't think people see the incredible, dynamic programs we have going on, the things we're doing in mission, the innovative things we're doing with media.

"In my keynote speech I'm going to spend some time with my media hat on and talk about very practical things churches can do to reach the people around them. I'm going to try to give the tools I know work to reach out to specific populations. Then I'm going to put on my Episcopal church hat and say, 'This is our job, this is key to spreading the Good News and to the future of our Church.'

"I'm really excited about going there and sharing what I can to motivate the lay and clergy leadership of the Diocese of Chicago."

* an ancient and now bemusing term used to refer to the diocesan bishop. (definition courtesy of The Episcopal Diocese of New York)

Category: Diocesan News