‘No limits to unity’: Holyoke St. Paul’s Episcopal Church celebrates Latino premier

Because Reverend Joel A. Martinez is Hispanic and Caribbean, there is a sense of inclusion in the faith community at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where he is rector.

“It shows that the church is progressing by opening its doors more and more to people from different parts of the world,” he said. “It is a clear message that in Christ we are one body. We also witness that language, skin color and culture are no limits to the unity of God’s people.

Martinez came to St. Paul in September and there will be a celebration of his new ministry today at 3 p.m. in the church.

For a long time the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts had a Latin American congregation at Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield, and in recent years has added Latin American congregations at St. Mark’s in Worcester and St. Paul’s in Holyoke. In addition, there are several diverse outdoor religious communities.

Martinez is the rector of all of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – both the Spanish-speaking congregation that worships on Saturday evenings and the English-speaking congregation that worships on Sunday mornings.

He is believed to be the first colored priest at St. Paul’s; there are several other colored priests serving in the diocese which has about 50 priests.

Rev. Joel A. Martinez, new rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Holyoke. He is the first Latino minister in the history of the church. (Don Treeger / The Republican)

“Tour. Joel is the first Latino pastor in the history of St. Paul’s Church, and we welcome and celebrate this coming journey with Christ,” said Gina Nelson, Senior Director of St. Paul’s Church.

According to the Most Reverend Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop of the Diocese, it is important to have priests in parishes where they identify ethnically with their parishioners: “It’s a question of language and culture. We want all people to feel welcome in our churches, and knowing the language and culture is an important part of that.

When the Reverend Dr. Richard M. Simpson, Canon Ordinary, arrived in the diocese 25 years ago, the diocese had more clergy but only five ordained women. “Now we’re roughly 50-50, with a slight advantage for the women,” he said. “When I arrived, there were only one or two LGBTIQ clergy, and quite discreetly. That number is now much higher.

The diocese also seeks greater racial diversity. “It’s something we’re very committed to and also one of the many reasons we’re excited about Joel and his new calling,” he said.

When girls see a woman at the altar and in the pulpit — when they sometimes see a pregnant woman at the altar and in the pulpit — it helps them imagine themselves in that role, Simpson said. It’s “something an earlier generation of women couldn’t say. In even earlier times, girls could not even serve on the altar. So we have come a long way.

Someone told him that it was more important than language skills to serve in a multicultural setting to engage with the culture and embrace the food, music, traditions, etc. ” I think it’s true. It is important that our clergy look like the people on the pews,” he said. “In addition to ethical and racial diversity, we also hope to support young priests like Joel.”

Rev.  Joel A. Martinez, new rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Holyoke.  He is the first Latino minister in the history of the church.

Rev. Joel A. Martinez, new rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Holyoke. He is the first Latino minister in the history of the church. (Don Treeger / The Republican) 10/20/2022

Martinez was born in the Dominican Republic and attended Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo to earn a degree in accounting. After a missionary trip to Spain, he enrolled in the seminary of the Dominican Episcopal Church for theological studies.

He was ordained to the Holy Order of Deacon in 2020 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 22, 2021. Both ordinations took place in Springfield. A former canon of Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield, he noted that the first time he heard the call to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church was when he was 15, during a retreat young people in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic.

His plan for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is to continue to be the people’s church, where all are welcome to worship, but also to be a welcoming place for all, no matter where they come from. .

“The intention is that this church can come out of its walls to tell the community of Holyoke and surrounding areas that the love of God has no limits and that we are all invited to live in this love”, a- he declared. “People are getting further and further away from God and in most cases they are very preoccupied with their daily affairs. Many find church to be something for the elderly or boring, and our approach is to prove otherwise We will make our congregation attractive to all, regardless of age.

This church has 200 members, including people from Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Like most churches during and after the pandemic, attendance there has dwindled, but there are still people involved in different ways, Martinez said, hoping many will return in person rather than praying online.

“Joel is one of the most talented priests I know, period. He has great instincts, a love for God and God’s people, a warm and engaging personality,” Simpson said. “He served a Spanish-speaking congregation at our cathedral and did an incredible job there, but he was more than ready to take that next step and serve both an English- and Spanish-speaking congregation in Holyoke.”

He said the diocese is blessed by his ministry.

“Joel is a faithful and enthusiastic follower of Jesus. His sermons will inspire the people of God. St. Paul’s already has a lot of holy missions going on, and Joel is ready to step in and add to them,” Fisher said. “Joel will also reach beyond the walls of the church and invite new people into this vibrant and hopeful community of faith.”

In the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of John, the visionary looks and sees people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. “To prepare for this reality, we must practice here and now by building beloved communities that reflect this same divine reality,” Simpson said. “We are 100% for diversity and for developing leaders who help us claim this reality. We see diversity as a gift from God.

Martha J. Finley