Room at the inn, courtesy of Hispanic church

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Key points

  • Seguin, Texas, has a long history of Methodism.
  • After First United Methodist Church of Seguin voted in February to disaffiliate, some members chose to remain with the denomination and have been meeting for worship.
  • La Trinidad United Methodist Church of Seguin has taken the lead in helping the new group, with other churches of the Rio Texas Conference providing support as well.

Usually, it’s a fledgling Hispanic church that’s scrounging for meeting space, and an established, predominantly Anglo church providing. But the roles have been reversed in this south Texas town.

For the past several months, La Trinidad United Methodist has given over its fellowship hall to a group that chose to stay United Methodist after First United Methodist Church of Seguin voted to disaffiliate.

That La Trinidad would take them in free of charge — would say, in effect, “Mi casa es tu casa” — has lifted the refugees’ spirits.

“I haven’t ever studied radical hospitality, but these people have shown it,” said Susan Casto, part of the remaining United Methodist group.

Abby Rodriguez, who leads La Trinidad’s council, sees blessings flowing both ways. She likes knowing that at the same time her congregation is having bilingual worship in the sanctuary, their guests are worshipping in English in the fellowship hall.

“We feel the holy spirit all around,” she said.

Seguin (rhymes with “blue jean”) has about 30,000 residents and is roughly 35 miles northeast of San Antonio. It was founded in 1838 as Walnut Springs, but was soon renamed for Colonel Juan Seguin, a mayor of San Antonio, leader in the Texas Revolution and the only Tejano senator of the Texas Republic.

Methodism took hold early in Seguin. Because Germans were prominent among the town’s settlers, Seguin for decades had both English- and German-speaking Methodist congregations.

La Trinidad United Methodist dates to 1907. While never large, it has produced distinguished clergy, notably retired Bishop Joel Martinez and the Rev. David Maldonado Jr., former president of Iliff School of Theology.

“La Trinidad was the center of our social life — especially since we were not part of the Anglo community and were shunned by the Mexican American community because we were Protestants,” Maldonado wrote of growing up in Seguin.

The children’s message concludes at La Trinidad United Methodist Church, on Nov. 19. La Trinidad has provided worship space to fellow Seguin, Texas, residents who decided to stay United Methodist after their church disaffiliated. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

The children’s message concludes at La Trinidad United Methodist Church, on Nov. 19. La Trinidad has provided worship space to fellow Seguin, Texas, residents who decided to stay United Methodist after their church disaffiliated. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

Discrimination would gradually lessen, and for years, First United Methodist Church of Seguin, La Trinidad United Methodist and Wesley-Harper United Methodist — a longtime, predominantly African American congregation — met together for Lenten services. The pandemic interrupted that, then came disaffiliation.

The denomination’s long conflict over LGBTQ inclusion and other matters has led hundreds of traditionalist Texas churches to vote to leave, and First United Methodist of Seguin took that step in early February, with 84% favoring disaffiliation.

The Rev. Ron Welborn, who retired as associate pastor of First United Methodist of Seguin in 2019, regretted the congregation’s decision and felt for those on the losing end. He quickly got permission from the Rio Texas Conference to gather any who wanted to remain United Methodist.

On Feb. 19, 13 people met in the living room of the Welborn home, with Ron giving prayers and a short message, and his wife, Darlene, playing piano.

It wasn’t just a worship service.

“They spent a lot of time sharing their grief,” Welborn said.

For five Sundays, the group met at the Welborn home. More people were coming. By late March, the group had moved to a historic women’s clubhouse. Twenty-seven people attended the first service there.

That space, too, would prove too small. Word of the need for a better situation reached the Rev. Nohemí V. Ramirez, pastor of La Trinidad.

Ramirez, a native of Mexico, has 27 years in Hispanic United Methodist ministry, including as a church planter.

“I saw myself in that struggle,” she said of Welborn and his flock. “As Hispanic ministries and congregations, sometimes we don’t have our own place to worship. We have to always be in an Anglo church or renting a space.”

Nancy Virden and the Rev. Ron Welborn share a laugh after worship at La Trinidad United Methodist Church on Nov. 19. Virden and Welborn are part of Walnut Springs United Methodist, a Seguin group that formed earlier this year after First United Methodist Church of Seguin voted to disaffiliate. La Trinidad has provided worship space for Walnut Springs, and the two congregations occasionally worship together, as they did on Nov. 19. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

Nancy Virden and the Rev. Ron Welborn share a laugh after worship at La Trinidad United Methodist Church on Nov. 19. Virden and Welborn are part of Walnut Springs United Methodist, a Seguin group that formed earlier this year after First United Methodist Church of Seguin voted to disaffiliate. La Trinidad has provided worship space for Walnut Springs, and the two congregations occasionally worship together, as they did on Nov. 19. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

Ramirez proposed to the La Trinidad council that Welborn and the group — meeting under the placeholder name Stay UMC Seguin — be allowed to use the La Trinidad fellowship hall.

“We all thought it was a great idea,” said Alice De Anda of La Trinidad.

It didn’t hurt that Welborn had been part of the joint Lenten services.

“We’ve known Pastor Ron for years,” said Ysabel Ramirez, a La Trinidad council member. “We love Pastor Ron.”

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On July 30, Welborn led worship in La Trinidad’s fellowship hall, with 44 people attending. The group has met there every Sunday since.

Welborn has his own set of keys to the building. La Trinidad also lets him use its copier to make worship bulletins.

The Hispanic church has done all this for free, but Welborn said he and the other guests insisted on reciprocating with a love offering.

Of La Trinidad’s welcome, he said, “I get choked up thinking about it.”

The new group remains unchartered, but on Nov. 12 formally chose a name: Walnut Springs United Methodist Church.

Stan Costo values being part of the new congregation — and The United Methodist Church. A retired biologist, he said he’s keenly aware of climate change and the importance of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in responding to hurricanes, droughts and other disasters.

“By working together, we can accomplish more,” he said.

Mike Barrow said Walnut Springs United Methodist is committed to welcome LGBTQ persons and everyone else, and embraces the denomination’s Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors slogan.

“One of the names that was high on our list was ‘Open Doors United Methodist Church,’” he said.

The Rev. Marcus Freeman, a district superintendent in the Rio Texas Conference, preaches during a Nov. 19 worship service at La Trinidad United Methodist Church in Seguin, Texas. Members of the new Walnut Springs United Methodist Church joined La Trinidad for the service, and Freeman’s message was titled “Estamos Todos Juntos en Esto” or “We Are All in This Together.” Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

The Rev. Marcus Freeman, a district superintendent in the Rio Texas Conference, preaches during a Nov. 19 worship service at La Trinidad United Methodist Church in Seguin, Texas. Members of the new Walnut Springs United Methodist Church joined La Trinidad for the service, and Freeman’s message was titled “Estamos Todos Juntos en Esto” or “We Are All in This Together.” Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

While La Trinidad has been Walnut Springs’ main partner, other churches have helped.

First United Methodist Church of San Marcos, Texas, sent a piano. Wesley Harper United Methodist provided United Methodist hymnals, and University United Methodist Church of Austin delivered “The Faith We Sing” hymnbooks.

The Rio Texas Conference arranged for First United Methodist Church of New Braunfels, Texas, to do bookkeeping for Walnut Springs. That church also shared hymnals.

Along with all this, Bishop Martinez has been a strong advocate for the new group, and preached when La Trinidad and Walnut Springs had a joint worship service on Aug. 6.

The support for Walnut Springs has wowed the Rev. Marcus Freeman, superintendent of the Rio Texas district that includes Seguin.

“This is everything the connection should be,” Freeman said.

La Trinidad has offered Walnut Springs not only the fellowship hall but also a small building on the church campus, where Walnut Springs has a sewing ministry.

The Walnut Springs folks have, in turn, provided meals for La Trinidad’s youth group meetings.

On Sunday mornings, La Trinidad begins worship in the sanctuary at 10:45 a.m. Walnut Springs begins 15 minutes earlier in the fellowship hall. There’s overlap, but the worship spaces are just far enough apart.

“It works so smoothly that we don’t hear them and they don’t hear us,” said Rudy Herrera of La Trinidad. “It’s amazing what God has done.”

Nancy Virden and the Rev. Ron Welborn share a laugh after worship at La Trinidad United Methodist Church on Nov. 19. Virden and Welborn are part of Walnut Springs United Methodist, a Seguin group that formed earlier this year after First United Methodist Church of Seguin voted to disaffiliate. La Trinidad has provided worship space for Walnut Springs, and the two congregations occasionally worship together, as they did on Nov. 19. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

Nancy Virden and the Rev. Ron Welborn share a laugh after worship at La Trinidad United Methodist Church on Nov. 19. Virden and Welborn are part of Walnut Springs United Methodist, a Seguin group that formed earlier this year after First United Methodist Church of Seguin voted to disaffiliate. La Trinidad has provided worship space for Walnut Springs, and the two congregations occasionally worship together, as they did on Nov. 19. Photo by Sam Hodges, UM News.

Still, the question must be asked: Why not just merge congregations?

Ysabel Ramirez said she’s not sure the Walnut Springs folks would be entirely comfortable in a service that switches from Spanish to English.

“You do lose some things in translation,” she said. “I can see that being an issue.”

Barrow said for himself and the rest of the new group to have joined La Trinidad “would have seemed like we were bigfooting our way into their congregation.”

All agree that relations have strengthened, not least through occasional joint worship service, such as the one on Nov. 19, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The congregations had a bountiful meal together afterward. Bishop Martinez and his wife, Raquel, came from San Antonio for the service and social time.

Freeman also attended that Sunday and gave a spirited sermon titled “Estamos Todos Juntos en Esto” or “We Are All in This Together.”

He was preaching to the choir.

“La Trinidad loves us and we love La Trinidad,” said Nancy Virden of the Walnut Springs congregation “They reached out and accepted us. We’re so happy to have a place to be.”

Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.



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