|The Revs. Dan Romeo, Linda Jaramillo and Héctor López (l-r) prepare to cut the ribbon to open Centro Romero, a border immersion ministry in San Ysidro, Calif.
A new UCC ministry in San Ysidro, Calif. — located just blocks from the high-fence barricade that separates the United States from Tijuana, Mexico — opened its doors on Dec. 15 with a dedication service honoring its namesake.
The Daniel F. Romero Border Ministry Center, or Centro Romero, is a border immersion ministry housed in a former UCC church that will provide opportunities for UCC groups to experience life on the border and reflect theologically on immigration issues.
"I consider it a way for the UCC's national setting to be located in a place where justice ministry needs to happen," says the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, which is co-coordinating the ministry with the UCC's Southern California-Nevada Conference. "It's right in the heart of the neighborhood. You can actually see the border fences from the church."
Jaramillo compares the new facility to the UCC's longstanding national presence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Franklinton Center in eastern North Carolina, where the denomination has lived out historic mandates to advocate for public policies and educate about racial justice.
"This gives us the chance to see how we can be engaged in other critical issues of our day," she says.
Romero, a former general secretary of the United Church Board for World Ministries (now Wider Church Ministries), is retiring this month after 37 years in ministry, including 27 years in Southern California — Nevada as a local church pastor, Associate Conference Minister and Conference Minister.
"Dan's uncle was an evangelist on the border," says the Rev. Jane Heckles, who has been Romero's colleague as Conference Minister. "His uncle and his family started three border ministries and, as a child, Dan spent his weekends down on the border. So there is a very poetic coming around to the beginnings of his life."
Centro Romero will regularly host church groups — ranging ideally in size from 12 to 20 — that will lodge in a nearby hotel but use the facility for worship, shared meals, seminars, discussions and theological reflection.
"We want to incorporate the whole foundation of theology, using the action-reflection model," insists Jaramillo. "It will have a clear theological focus. It will be faith based."
Heckles says the Conference took on the project because it underscores one of the Conference's top missional priorities: "building community and diversity."
"You don't have to live on the border these days to be impacted by border realities," Heckles says. "And we who live on the border understand that we have something important to offer others across the church."
The Conference is using reserve funds and proceeds from the sale of property to pay for building renovations.
"We're going to put a quarter of a million dollars into this," she says.
The Conference also is committed to sharing some of the marketing costs for Centro Romero and will act as registrar for group events.
Romero, a graduate of UCC-related Pacific School of Religion and Loyola Law School, has long been regarded as a leader in pluralistic ministry, global partnerships and Latino ministry. In retirement, Romero plans to spend more time developing his law practice in service to the immigrant community.
The Rev. Carlos J. Correa Bernier, a member of JWM's staff in Cleveland, has relocated to southern California and will provide program leadership at Centro Romero. He will work three-quarter time at the center, in addition to his duties as the UCC's minister for environment justice, which are issues that are so prevalent and obvious in border towns.
JWM is also retaining a full-time intern in Cleveland — Natasha Miller, an attorney and recent seminary graduate — to work with Correa on environmental issues. Both will staff the UCC's EcoJustice Task Force, which was created four years ago in response to a General Synod resolution on the environment.
In late March, JWM's entire staff will participate in a weekend immersion experience at Centro Romero.
"They will go through the same weekend immersion that other participants will go through, so they can later serve as faculty for these experiences," Jaramillo says.
Already, Centro Romero's first three months of weekends have been booked by church groups.