Eliseo Morales, Jr., grew up in Southern California and felt the call to ministry at a young age. His father founded Esperanza Viva, a new worshipping community with congregational aspirations, in 2012 as a ministry to address the needs of Hispanic immigrant communities.
While Esperanza Viva now meets in Norwalk Presbyterian Church and draws worshippers from the four corners of the greater Los Angeles area, it began as a house church in Pico Rivera. After the community outgrew the home where they met, Viva Esperanza made a new home for worship in the hospital chapel of White Memorial Medical Center Boyle Heights. Part of the agreement with the hospital was that the community would minister to patients, being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Viva Esperanza is facing a challenge that many congregations face; a divide between generations. While the young adults of Viva Esperanza don’t feel a big theological difference from their parents, there is a gap in what meaningful worship looks like.
“You know, I think it is something that most congregations deal with, it just looks a little bit different for us, or maybe it is more apparent because it comes down to what language our hearts speak.” Eliseo explains. “I speak both Spanish and English, and I pray out loud in Spanish, but when I sing in Spanish, I can kinda just zone out. It doesn’t reach my heart the way singing in English does.”
The young adult group of Esperanza Viva find themselves in a position that perhaps many young adults find themselves in congregations across the country. They are committed to their faith, and somehow, they don’t quite resonate with the worship style of their parent’s generation. But instead of leaving, or creating a second worship service, they are leaning into the conversation and asking the question of how to worship in their heart language with their entire community, without anyone losing or giving up meaningful worship.
As they began to engage this question, Eliseo heard of a program grant from his seminary alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary, for congregations who were looking to be innovative in their community with youth ministry. The Esperanza Viva worshipping community was one of 12 communities across the country to be awarded a Log College grant.
As the youth led grant program delved into the work of reconciliation in worship, they also found a call to continue being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community where they now worship, just as they had when they worshipped in the hospital chapel.
Addressing leadership, organizational skills, decision making skills, conflict resolution, motivational therapy, and self awareness, development, and social awareness and responsibility the 180 Degrees Program works to enrich the community by taking a holistic approach to supporting and providing resources for students. While there are resources for all age groups, the young adult group from Viva Esperanza is planning to focus on the High School curriculum because the local high school is a three minute walk from the church where they worship.
Grace Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, where Eliseo works as Director of Youth and Young Adult Families, worked with the group to apply for a 180 Degrees grant that would allow for the training of facilitators and the implementation of the program in the neighborhood.
The group was awarded the grant for the 180 Degrees Program where the next step is to seek out the first four facilitators to be trained in Oregon. They will contact the local high school and find community businesses who will become a part of the support network.
Both the 180 Degree Program grant and the Log College grant work will continue simultaneously. And while there is a lot of work ahead on both fronts, Eliseo is confident, saying, “We believe in a God that can do the impossible.”