ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – For many, church is a place of worship but for one Tri-Cities community, it also allows them to keep their heritage alive.
Just 15 miles outside of Johnson City, sits the town of Erwin. Holding about 6,000 people, its town is known for its Apple Festival, which has been running for 42 years, and its many churches.
“There’s about 96 churches here in Erwin,” Erwin resident Bernice Luquin said.
If you look a bit closer, you will find its only Catholic church, Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, providing a sense of home for the Hispanic community.
“Three-hundred eighty, about that we have on names on lists including kids. Three-hundred twenty of those are Hispanic, 60 are Anglo,” pastoral associate, Kathleen O’Brien said.
If you do the math, more than 80% of its parishioners are Hispanic.
“I remember asking my mom if there was ever going to be a Catholic church here, and at the time it seemed very unlikely. So, whenever we did get a Catholic churh here, getting to meet all these people… these wonderful people in our parish, they became family. Honestly, they’ve done a lot for us,” church member, Bernice Luquin said.
Luquin is part of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Council (DYMAC) uses her faith to help motivate others as they go through life.
“I give my life to this parish by being Christian. You don’t have to do some great deed to basically giving your life to it. I think it’s all the little things that you do, every little good deed in your life that eventually adds up,” Luquin said.
Not only does St. Michael provide a place of worship for the Hispanic community, it also allows Latinos in the community to celebrate their heritage.
“Without St. Michael’s, we wouldn’t be able to have the cultural things that we have back home and everybody’s willing. Father Tom says, if you come up with an idea, and you’re willing to take it on yourself, go with it,” church member, Anna Bel Andrade explained. “We are very lucky that St. Michael’s is here.”
Anna Bel Andrade, a eucharist minister for St. Michael, has been a parishioner for five years, the church has been in Erwin for eight.
Andrade recalls when she first attended St. Michael, “I sat up front and the first thing I noticed on the first Sunday I was there that everytime Father Tom gave the Eucharist, he named everybody by their name, and that impressed me.”
“Something that our church does every December, is we have El Posada, and it starts December 16th, and it ends on December 24th. Basically, just follow the journey of Mary and Joseph going from Bethlehem and Nazareth,” Luquin said.
Quienceneras, weddings, baptisms; there is always something going on for the Hispanic community to celebrate.
“That’s just part of the Hispanic culture,” O’Brien said. “The parties aren’t always here but it begins with church here.”
O’Brien said it is hard to imagine St. Michael as a church without the people that keep it alive.
“Life, enthusiasm, fiesta. We have food and faith around here,” O’Brien said.
Each Sunday, Andrade delivers Father Tom’s English sermon to Spanish.
Andrade said, “Then there’s the lucky us that speak both languages. We take it in English and then we take it again in Spanish. It’s a long service but I think it’s well worth it.”
While it may be Hispanic Heritage Month, it is no different to the other eleven months of the year for these members because of a church that embraces their culture.
O’Brien said, “Yes, we live it. There’s hardly a month goes by without some big celebration, even if it’s grandma’s birthday of the 11 kids that were raised here.”
“Religion is such a part of your culture. It’s such a part of who you are, and St. Michael’s is part of that,” Andrade said.