Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Rev. Robert Ortiz
September 20, 2019
This week TMF welcomes Rev. Robert Ortiz to reflect on his Hispanic heritage and its significance. Rev. Ortiz is the lead pastor of Asbury Church in San Antonio, Texas, a satellite campus of Alamo Heights UMC, and is an Ordained Elder in the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is in his eleventh year at Asbury. Rev. Ortiz was born and raised in San Antonio and graduated from Wheatley HS (Brackenridge) in 1983. He earned his BA in Sociology from UTSA, a Master of Divinity from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and is currently working on his Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
The focus of his doctoral project is on Church & Community Collaboration. Robert is married to Diane Ortiz, a first-grade teacher with Northside ISD, and is the father of five adult children and one granddaughter. Robert is a passionate Spurs fan and loves San Antonio.
Can you tell us a story that illustrates how your Hispanic heritage prepared you to answer your call to lead and serve your congregation and community?
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and I am a fourth-generation Texan/American. Growing up in San Antonio I didn’t realize I was a minority until I left for Texas A&M University in 1983 to attend school. I was in culture shock when I realized there were very few Latinos in College Station. For the first time in my life I realized I was, in fact, a person of minority status. It was during my time at A&M that I began to sense I had been sheltered by loving parents from the effects of racism and inequality, and while I never experienced overt racism during my time in College Station, it was the first time in my life that I felt I didn’t quite measure up due to systemic obstacles. I soon returned home to finish my studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio and earned a BA in Sociology. It was during my undergraduate years at UTSA that a true appreciation for my Hispanic heritage began to blossom. It was also during this time that I started to seriously consider ordained ministry.
Growing up in the former Rio Grande Conference (Principe de Paz – San Antonio) of the United Methodist Church, I was provided with an abundance of love and acceptance from a nurturing church family, and it was at Principe that I first heard the call to ministry as a shy sixteen-year-old. It was a call I ran away from for several years. By the time I said yes to my call, I had a better understanding of social justice issues and the effects of inequality on minority and marginalized groups. As my understanding of these issues has become more informed, it has shaped the way I approach ministry in profound ways.
Over the past eight years, I have been serving on the pastoral staff of Alamo Heights UMC as the pastor of Asbury Church. Asbury is a satellite campus of AHUMC as the result of a church merger that occurred in 2012. From 1948 to 2012 Asbury UMC served a community that in 1948 was on the northern outskirts of San Antonio. By 1980 the city had grown tremendously, and the demographics of the community had completely changed. Today Asbury is situated in a predominantly Hispanic inner-city neighborhood. Our mission at Asbury is to simply share the love and compassion of Jesus with everyone. We are called to expand the kingdom of God. We believe that happens when we build relationships of trust and mutual respect, one person at a time, and by acknowledging that all people are created in the image of God, and all people matter to God. We are a missional community striving to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
How would you describe the contributions (past and present) of your congregation and ministries to your community?
Since its charter in 1948, Asbury has been actively involved in the life of the community. It has always been willing to open up its doors in service to the local community. It has housed city-sponsored meals for seniors, daycare services for special needs children, boy scout troops, and a charter school. It was known as “the Church with the Friendly Heart.”
After the merger in 2012, when the church was on the verge of closure, our legacy of opening our doors to the community came to life once again. We wanted to make Asbury one of the central meeting places for the community. With that in mind, we began to create partnerships with local groups. We have been in partnership with Project Transformation, Rogers Elementary School, Edison High School, SAISD GED Programs, and SAISC Charter School. We are currently in partnership with Methodist Healthcare Ministries, Northmore Neighborhood Association, District Councilman Roberto Treviño, and Rise Recovery. We believe that collaboration is an absolute necessity for the church and community in today’s world.
Rise Recovery houses a program on the entire second floor of our Education Building geared towards young people between the ages of 13-21 who are currently in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions. Rise provides a safe place in the evenings for young people to continue their recovery, as well as counseling and support services free of charge for their participants and families.
What is your congregation doing to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, and why?
Asbury is directly involved in our community with our Food & Prayer & More Ministry, our Wesley Nurse program, Our Benevolence Assistance Ministry, and of course with our worship services and Bible studies. We are a small community of faith that has sent out four people in the last four years, who have heard their own call to ministry, and are now serving the Las Misiones district as licensed local pastors. It is essential for us to be in ministry with our community.
While Asbury has become a multicultural, multiethnic, multigenerational community of faith over the past few years, we have shared a community meal during Hispanic Heritage Month to highlight the contributions of the Hispanic culture with regard to food. In past years we have enjoyed Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Mexican dishes. It is my hope that the list will grow this year.