Pastor Alecia Williams had a plan for how she wanted to introduce bilingual services at the First United Methodist Church of North Liberty.
But an encounter during the church’s second fiesta celebration for area Hispanic families changed Williams’ mind.
“Out of that, a woman said to me, ‘Why can’t we come to service now?’ Williams said. “I had developed a plan that we were going to start with Bible study and that maybe starting this January  we would start a monthly event and then by fall, we would try to have a Latino-only service.
“When she said that to me, I just felt ashamed. I had never asked anybody to wait two years to come to church.”
So Williams and Lino Padilla, a member of the church’s Crossroads band, began planning how the church would offer a bilingual service to cater to the needs of North Liberty’s Hispanic population. Padilla attends the San Pablo Church in Muscatine, Iowa. He came from the church in Muscatine to help plan First United Methodist’s Hispanic fiesta, Williams said.
The original plan was to offer the service primarily in English and give portable translation devices to those congregants who needed them.
“We didn’t have them yet when a family arrived,” Williams said. “Lino was here, and so he just started translating in the seats and afterward I thought, ‘Why in the world would we do it this way?”
The service was still an English-language service, Williams said. Most United Methodist churches offer minorities a time and space within their churches, free of charge, for use, she noted. The problem with that is, there is “no real connection,” Williams said.
“Lino and I felt very strongly from the start that we’re called to be one body,” she said. “We had a nice, beautifully-laid out plan, it’s filed in the office, and all the sudden, God’s spirit said, ‘You’ve been called to have a service.’”
When the church began offering contemplative service for Spanish speakers in October 2012, about 20 to 25 people regularly attended. Now, the bilingual third service on Sundays, which begins at 11:15 a.m., attracts 50 to 70 people, Williams said.
The church has seen other changes as a result of adding the bilingual service. The church’s band for the third service, Crossroads, has gone from playing contemplative songs to adding new Hispanic band members, Williams said.
“If we learn a song once in English, then the next song we learn is in Spanish,” she said.
The number of translators has grown from one to four. Andres Garcia is one of the translators who offers his services on Sundays. Garcia and his family, who live in North Liberty, have been attending First United Methodist Church’s bilingual third service for a little more than a year.
Garcia and Williams do not meet before the service to compare notes. Instead, Williams pauses naturally during her delivery and Garcia translates for the congregants.
“I’ve been exposed to different faiths and different other churches and this is by far one of the services, even inside the Methodist community, that is totally different from what I’ve seen,” Garcia said. “Although it is nice for churches to offer a certain part of the day for fellowship, to me, this is better. This is becoming one, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We speak about unity, the Bible talks about unity, this is unity in the making.”
Visitors to the church’s website, www.nlmethodist.org, have the option of translating the entire site to Spanish.
“We have seen in our leadership group… that this is something that had to happen,” Garcia said of the bilingual service.
In Cedar Rapids, Immaculate Conception Church offers a Spanish-speaking mass at noon on Sundays. The church also has a full-time Hispanic minister.
Congregant Judy McRoberts serves on the leadership group for the church’s bilingual service. McRoberts, who lives in Coralville, has been attending the church for 25 years. She also has a working knowledge of Spanish.
“It is fun because when he [Garcia] translates, he doesn’t translate the exact words, he translates the concept and I’ve never heard a translator do that before,” she said. “It’s great because sometimes the concept doesn’t translate, you get a cultural thing that isn’t going to fit, and you can just switch it over and that’s amazing to me.”
“I think this service has potential to become our largest service, but that’s not the goal,” Williams said. “The goal is to become one body. And this is part of who North Liberty is.”