St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church
Sunday services: 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. English-speaking Mass; 1:30 p.m. Spanish-speaking Mass
Address: 2920 Landrum Education Drive, Oakwood
Phone number: 770-503-7555
In Hall County’s large and ever-growing Hispanic population are people in need of a place to worship.
St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, at 2920 Landrum Education Drive in Oakwood, recently started a new Hispanic ministry for this purpose.
The ministry was the brainchild of the Rev. Bill Combs, the church’s former rector, and the Rev. Rob Wright, bishop of the diocese of Atlanta. The bishop then hired the Rev. Samuel Porras to start the Hispanic ministry this year, according to the Rev. Peter Wallace, interim priest in charge at St. Gabriel's.
“The bishop saw the large Hispanic community in Hall County,” Porras said. “And he wanted to reach out to them as there were already some members of the Hispanic Episcopal community who were going as far south as Atlanta for worship. So he decided to open this and see how it works.
“And it’s going quite well.”
In less than a year, Porras said 30-40 Hispanic families have already joined the church’s ministry.
St. Gabriel’s was originally a mission of Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, and has seen several changes in leadership during the past couple of years. After Combs retired, the Rev. Rich Sanders completed a one-year term, and Wallace now holds the interim position.
Wallace said the Hispanic ministry was in the works for a few years before Porras joined the staff. He said it was on Combs’ “wish list” for years, and it finally started in January.
Porras said he became an Episcopal priest on May 15, but started at the church the last weekend of January to get the ministry off the ground.
Currently, the ministry offers Spanish-language activities such as Bible study and all the sacraments, including a 1:30 p.m. Spanish Sunday mass.
“We celebrate the Mass and the sacraments in Spanish,” Porras said. “But basically, we are there to help and support people with whatever needs they may have.”
Porras said he is only part-time at the church, working weekends in Oakwood and weekdays in Atlanta. But the goal is for him to be at St. Gabriel’s full time.
“Right now we are kind of planting seeds and seeing how it grows and what direction the lord takes it,” he said.
While Hall County has a large Hispanic population, Wallace said the church is still learning how many Hispanic Episcopalians are in the area.
“That’s what we’re really trying to find out,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a substantial Hispanic population, and a lot of them are having trouble finding a place to worship. What we’re learning is a lot of them find the Episcopal church offers the kind of worship services and programs they are looking for, for themselves and their families.”
Porras said he hopes the ministry will “fill spiritual needs of the community.”
“We’re trying to offer another option of worshipping, especially for those in the Hispanic community who have not found a home,” he said. “We’ll offer them a place, at least to visit. And if they like it, they are welcome to see our faith community as their own.”
Wallace agreed, saying he hopes the ministry will grow. He said it’s “kind of amazing” how quickly people have taken to the ministry. He said he is impressed by the work Porras has done already this year.
“We’re going to do everything we can not only to make it grow and thrive, but I also hope that the folks who have been members of St. Gabriel’s for a number of years will feel that we’re one family and one parish, serving and worshipping God,” Wallace said. “Maybe in different languages, but we’re all in this together.”