Spanish mass starts in Barrie

A group photo after the first Spanish mass on Feb. 18.
A group photo after the first Spanish mass on Feb. 18.
 on April 2, 2024

Clergy respond to growing Latin American community

A new congregation taking root in Barrie has joined a growing number of ministries that are connecting with Spanish-speaking people across the diocese.

Fueled by a surge in the number of Spanish-speaking households in the Barrie area, last fall the Rev. Canon Hernan Astudillo, priest-in-charge of San Lorenzo, Dufferin in Toronto, approached the Rev. Canon Simon Bell about the possibility of starting a new Spanish-language mass. According to 2021 census data, Spanish is the mother tongue of 6,475 households in Simcoe County, more than any language other than English and French and an increase of 73 per cent since 2016.

Canon Bell, the incumbent of St. Margaret, Barrie, brought the idea to the Simcoe regional ministry team, which comprises parishes in and around Barrie collaborating on ministry that engages their local communities. He asked the team if there was interest and capacity among the clergy to begin dreaming about planting this new congregation.

It was then that the Rev. Andrew Kuhl spoke up. Mr. Kuhl, priest-in-charge of the parish of Craighurst and Midhurst, had minored in Spanish linguistics during his undergraduate degree. “It’s 10 years in the past or so, but it was the gift that matched the need,” he says.

After an initial conversation with Canon Astudillo before Christmas, plans came together quickly in the new year. “We started a conversation with the connections we had in the Latin American community within our churches,” says Mr. Kuhl.

Less than two months later, the inaugural service was held at St. Margaret’s on Feb. 18, with 22 people attending. Mr. Kuhl says the congregation was a mix of people who were already connected to St. Margaret’s, a few people from the broader Latin American community, local clergy and a few members of San Lorenzo who drove up from Toronto with Canon Astudillo. Bishop Riscylla Shaw and her husband Jana were also on hand to show their support.

Bishop Riscylla Shaw, the Rev. Canon Hernan Astudillo (centre) and the Rev. Andrew Kuhl after the service.

“It was encouraging, it was warm, it was supportive. People are excited. They’re grateful for the opportunity to worship in their own language, for many of them for the first time in many, many years,” says Mr. Kuhl.

He says it’s appropriate that the mass launched on the first Sunday in Lent. “It’s that start of a walk together, a pilgrimage together to become a church, to figure out what it means to be a church that follows in the footsteps of our Messiah,” he says.

Canon Astudillo preached and presided, and he has offered his liturgical and preaching leadership for the congregation’s first six months. “Fr. Hernan is supporting us in terms of helping to build a plan for us to get more deeply connected to the Latin American community,” says Mr. Kuhl. “He set the tone extremely well.”

The team plans to hold a weekly mass on Sundays at 4 p.m. as a starting point as the congregation begins to find the rhythm of its communal life. “Once we discover the needs of the congregation and its desire for timing, we’ll begin playing with and imagining what might work better for the community,” says Mr. Kuhl.

In the meantime, Mr. Kuhl will be working hard to sharpen his Spanish skills. He’s been using the popular app Duolingo to get himself back into the habit of speaking and listening in Spanish. “I’ve also been reading the Forward Day by DayAdelante día a día – in Spanish as part of my preparation to get myself thinking scripturally, thinking devotionally about things in Spanish. And then I’ve also been doing a lot of listening to music, to mass settings, to just get myself around the rhythm and the context,” he says.

He’s also asked members of the new congregation to help him practice and learn as they get to know each other. “The goal for me is to get myself to the point where I am thinking and processing in Spanish right alongside the conversation,” he says.

Because of his Spanish skills, Mr. Kuhl will be taking on the pastoral, liturgical and preaching leadership in the new congregation, but he’ll be well supported by other clergy in the Simcoe regional ministry. The Rev. Susan Snelling (Good Shepherd, Stayner) and the Rev. William Welch (Parish of North Essa) have both committed to building up their existing Spanish skills so they can take on some of the presiding and preaching, while Canon Bell plans to preach with the help of a translator.

Beyond the church walls, Canon Astudillo is also helping the team imagine ways it can connect more deeply and raise its profile with the Spanish-speaking community in Barrie. He’s suggested that Mr. Kuhl could report live on the CHHA 1610 radio station from Carnival Barrie, the new Latin festival that launched last September.

“He’s got dreams and plans to get me on as a Spanish-language reporter from Barrie,” says Mr. Kuhl. “Chatting and meeting people around, just to have that presence of there’s a priest in Barrie that speaks Spanish and it’s Father Andrew – Padre Andres. We’re going to build that connection so that people feel comfortable and known.”

Celebrating masses in Spanish and leading a congregation as “Padre Andres” isn’t something Mr. Kuhl had dreamed of when he moved to Midhurst in 2023, but he says he’s excited to see how this new ministry unfolds. “A lot of this is about stepping out of the boat in peace, trusting that God has actually called me and equipped me with what I need for this moment, to trust and discover where God’s at work,” he says.

His advice to other parishes considering new ministry opportunities is to start by noticing what’s going on around them and where God might already be at work in their communities. He also encourages them not to be afraid of failure.

“We need to be more bold and more willing to take these risks and these experiments. We need to allow ourselves that space to get out there and to see and dream again where God might be at work, to step into that adventure of faith,” he says. “This may not go so well, and we’re going to learn along the way because God is going to meet us in those places.”

As this young congregation and its leaders start to find their feet together, Mr. Kuhl says he’s deeply grateful for the support of Bishop Riscylla Shaw and of the network of clergy already involved in Latin American ministries in the diocese, including Canon Astudillo, the Rev. Canon Ted McCollum and the Rev. Augusto Nunez.

“It’s so beautiful to have a network of clergy, a network of people who decide to say yes to working with each other for the sake of empowering ministry, for enabling ministry to happen and flourish,” he says. “The more we can do that, I think, the better we are, the healthier we are as a diocese. And that gives me hope and excitement for the future.”


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