When some members of Amor de Dios United Methodist Church in Little Village elected to move a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe into the sanctuary last year, the icon spawned an exodus.
Turned off by the introduction of a Roman Catholic tradition to a Protestant congregation, most of the church’s 15 founding parishioners drifted away. To them, venerating the Virgin Mary and reciting the rosary did not belong in a Methodist church.
Pastors of other Hispanic Methodist congregations objected too. They said praying to the Virgin equaled idolatry.
And Roman Catholics in the neighborhood worried that the church might be selling itself as something it was not.
Still, Rev. Jose Landaverde allowed the statue to stay. He says he sees no harm in embracing a tradition–the Virgin is an unofficial national symbol of Mexico–that might bring people closer to God.
"It’s coming from the people, which is the real presence of the Holy Spirit," said Landaverde, 31, a student pastor from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. "You cannot bring theological debates to the people when they need spiritual assistance."
Since his arrival in June 2003, the congregation has swelled to 150 members and about 100 regular Sunday visitors.
This month, parishioners celebrated their first novena in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe by parading the 2-foot-high statue around the neighborhood, singing songs and reciting the rosary. About two dozen parishioners weathered the chill each night to deliver the statue to a different living room, where it was surrounded by garland, twinkling lights, roses and poinsettias.
On Sunday, parishioners will commence the traditional Feast Day for the Virgin of Guadalupe and, through prayers, mariachi music, drama and dancing, pay homage.
"The Virgin understands our suffering and she accompanies us everywhere we go," said church member Oscar Hernandez, who grew up Roman Catholic in El Salvador but now considers himself a Methodist. "We don’t want to take away the faith that this community has, but we want to nourish it." [Source]