30 May 2013 • Svots.edu Interview • The Rev. David Wooten (SVOTS '12)
The Rev. David Wooten is the pastor of the Mision de los Santos Apostoles (Holy Apostles Mission) , Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Born in Amarillo, TX, Fr. David grew up in Tulsa, OK, where he felt a call early on to proclaim the Gospel in both English and Spanish. In his college years, he studied English and Spanish Education at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and ministered in a Spanish–speaking Baptist congregation.
As a young adult, Fr. David began to wonder why historical Christianity was so different from the American evangelical context so familiar to him. Eventually, his questions propelled he and his wife Natalia to join the Orthodox Church, and in the eight years that followed, Fr. David served as a Spanish teacher while earnestly praying about the call to ministry that had been with him since his youth. In the summer of 2009, the Wootens moved to New York to study and live at St. Vladimir Seminary. Father David was ordained a deacon on May 14, 2011 and a priest on March 11, 2012, graduating a few months later. By the fall, he was immersed in the challenges of pioneering a Spanish–speaking Orthodox ministry in Miami.
Recently, the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) announced that its flagship program "Come Receive the Light" was launching a Spanish–language version, "Vengan a Recibir la Luz." Each monthly program will present talks on different theological topics offered by Fr. David and The Rev. Aristidis Arizi (St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church  in Miami).
La Iglesia Ortodoxa de los Santos Apóstoles, or "Holy Apostles Orthodox Church" in Miami became an OCA parish on July 1, 2012. Can you tell us how this ministry came about?
We originally received a request to work with an immigration ministry in the Miami area which had said it wanted to bring its religious services into communion with the Orthodox Church, but needed a Spanish-language priest to do so. We chrismated over 50 people in the month of July 2012, and began the work of catechizing, baptizing, and chrismating others who expressed an interest in the Church. Sadly, the ministry suddenly decided to part ways with the Church about nine months later, but thankfully, a good group of those who had been chrismated have remained with us. We now are celebrating the Divine Liturgy on Sundays at noon at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Miami Lakes, thanks to the generosity of that parish and their vision to help support a Spanish-language Orthodox mission in the area.
What do you think will be the keys to bringing Orthodoxy to the Latino/Hispanic community? What has kept this community from embracing the Faith thus far?
You know, that's a good question! To be honest, I don't think there is a "key" or even "keys" to any one particular community. We no longer live in a day where just because someone is from Latin America, he or she is automatically Roman Catholic, for example; the person could be Protestant, or not religious at all, just like most other areas. The key to any mission effort is understanding what your community needs and what it responds to...and that changes with every community!
One of the main needs is language. I'm extremely fluent in Spanish and thus able to serve and minister in the heart language of so many of the people in South Florida. This has still been challenging, however, given that I'm coming from a different place, culturally speaking, than many of my parishioners (they've been very patient with me!). But really, there aren't many people in the Church that are well–equipped enough to do this kind of work. A first step would be to develop "liturgical proficiency," which in Spanish would be very easy, since it's very simple phonetically. Along with this, however, priests who would seek to minister must be able to understand native speakers of the language, and, at the very least, make themselves understood to the faithful, both in ministry settings and from the pulpit.
In spite of the fact that I can minister in Spanish, my wife and I have had to translate and/or compile many of the services into Spanish that we have needed for this year. Much has already been done in the 70s and 80s, thanks to the efforts of Archbishop Dmitri of blessed memory, as well as the Orthodox Book Center at the Miami Cathedral, and much is being done in the Archdiocese of Mexico, but some services in the Menaion, the Triodion, and the Festal Menaion weren't readily available in formats we could use. We need to have hard copies of liturgical services; one of the things I'd like to help with in the coming year, God willing, are Spanish-language versions of all the little OCA service books that serve us so well in English.
One of the challenges I have seen in my time here is that many people in the Latino/Hispanic communities here are not concerned very much, if at all, with the Orthodox Church's being "the one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church established by Christ." Many in Latin America will church hop, even to the point of Baptist couples taking their baby to be baptized in a Roman Catholic church, only to be back in their Baptist church on Sunday. The pastor probably doesn't like it, but there's not a whole lot of concern among many Latinos/Hispanics about denominations. One priest told me of a conversation he had with a Latino minister who told him, "No prediques la Iglesia," or "Don't preach the Church," by which he meant, "Preach Christ/the gospel," presumably apart from any kind of Church presence. There's a big challenge ahead of us when the Church is big on ecclesiology (as it should be!), but the community around us sees little to no need for it.
So I think we need to present ourselves, yes, as the original Church, as a worshiping community with the worship and praise of heaven, but also a place which provides fellowship, retreats, community events, means for families to be strengthened, Bible studies, and service projects. Basically, we need to be about the business of "giving the faith hands and feet" by serving others, then connecting that service with our life of faith that springs from the liturgy and the Eucharist.
Tell us about your podcast, "Vengan a Recibir la Luz," which is the Spanish version of OCN's "Come Receive the Light." What is its content and purpose, and how people have responded since it was launched?
Well, we've really only just begun to post podcasts. We don't have a streaming station yet—mostly due to the fact that we don't have enough music yet to fill such a station!—so our podcasts begin with a talk between myself and Fr. Aristidis Arizi about a given topic. We've already had one guest on with us—Fr. Antonio Perdomo of St. George Church (OCA) in Pharr, TX talked about fasting—and we hope to have some phone interviews in the future. After that segment, we play one or two hymns of the church that are sung in Spanish. After that, Fr. Michael Marcantoni of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Clearwater, FL, reads an epistle and gospel from the lectionary, then preaches a short sermon about the gospel. We've already gotten some positive feedback on it, and have just launched a Facebook page , so we're hoping to continue to reach out to more people who are interested in hearing about Christ's Gospel and His Church.
How did your years at St. Vladimir's help equip you for the ministry you are engaged in now?
A priest back home in Texas asked me a great question when I came home after my first semester at St. Vlad's: "So...you overwhelmed yet?" He said that, in seminary, they give you more than any person could possibly do in any 24 hour period, and that they do that on purpose, by design. Seminary does that to you because it's teaching you how to learn what you need to cut. There's always something you could be doing; you need to learn how to manage your time, evaluate what needs to be done and what doesn't. On top of that, the invaluable conversations with classmates and teachers come back to you when you encounter pastoral issues in a parish.
Related to that, what has been the biggest challenge you've faced since leaving seminary? The greatest blessing?
The biggest challenge has been our unexpected move; we went from a fulltime position in a church building that we used exclusively, to having to be bi–vocational, Sunday only (for now), and use another parish's facilities. The greatest blessing is that that parish, Christ the Savior Cathedral , along with many other parishes in the area (most notably Ss. Peter and Paul in Miami, who hosted us in the interim period of Lent and Pascha) and other individuals in the Church (most notably Abp. Nikon, Fr. Marcus Burch, Fr. Ted Pisarchuk and Fr. Antonio Perdomo), have all been a wonderful example of how the Church is a support network for brethren who are having to face challenges in ministry. People have offered sympathy, and I appreciate it, but really, thanks to all of the support I just mentioned, we've never felt abandoned or alone. Truly, God is wonderful in His saints.