The presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Episcopalian, Lutheran or other Protestant spaces could be more commonplace in Mexican American neighborhoods, as the result of “ecumenical efforts or shared religious understanding.”
Though celebrating the feast of the brown-skinned Virgin, the patron saint of Mexico, has long been connected to Latino Catholicism, Protestant churches, particularly Episcopalian and Lutheran congregations whose liturgical traditions are adjacent to Catholicism, are venerating Our Lady of Guadalupe, part of a slow but steady migration of Latinos out of Catholicism, both in and out of Latin America.
The Rev. Norma Guerra, during a celebration of the Virgin on Sunday (Dec. 11) at St. Clement’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in South Orange County, admitted that, as a cradle Episcopalian, “I could not understand this devotion toward La Guadalupana.”
In recent years, Guerra told her congregation, “This is a tradition that I have come to love and have come to adopt here in the U.S.”
“I would have never imagined loving her this much, or wearing her stole when I was back in Guatemala,” she said, referring to a ceremonial garment festooned with images of the Virgin. “It is because I have heard the experiences of the people, and I have seen and witnessed the love for her, that I have come to love Our Lady of Guadalupe this much,” she said.
While Protestant theologians dating back to the Reformation have called Mary a central figure in any Christian’s faith, in practice Protestant churches have historically reduced her importance in salvation and in the daily life of the church. “The further away we move from a Catholic veneration of saints, the less likely we are to encounter a veneration of Guadalupe in a positive context,” said Lloyd Barba, a professor of religion at Amherst College.
But the presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Episcopalian, Lutheran or other Protestant spaces could be more commonplace in Mexican American neighborhoods, Barba said, as the result of “ecumenical efforts or shared religious understanding.”
And, he added, “if Latinxs are converting, and if you don’t have to give up Guadalupe, that would be a big sell because that’s also a major barrier to conversion.”
These new connections have sometimes come as mainline Protestant churches respond to the immigration crisis. Barba recalled the story of Elvira Arellano, an undocumented Mexican immigrant and activist, often called the founder of the Sanctuary Movement, who took sanctuary inside Adalberto United Methodist Church in 2006 to avoid deportation. The church’s pastor allowed her to build a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.