San Juan, Puerto Rico

At times, strong relationships between the church in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have been frustrated by differences in location and language; yet, those differences have not brought the Synod of Boriquen immunity to the questions facing every expression of the church. With that in mind, Presbyterian Mission Agency leaders recently visited with the synod to spend time in worship and reflection and to introduce the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement to the presbyteries.

From April 28 to 29, the group spent time in San Juan for a presbytery workshop, worship with congregations, and a visit to the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. I was privileged to preach at the Iglesia Presbiteriana (EUA) en Villa Carolina, an active and vibrant community pastored by Presbyterian Mission Agency board member Cruz Alberto Negron-Torres and boasting a school for more than 700 children from preschool through the 12th grade. A lively and spirit-filled service celebrated the impending graduation of dozens of high school seniors and pointed to a future filled with hope for the church and the community.  There is an impressive youth movement happening across the synod. The youth and young adult presence at meetings in San Juan Presbytery as well as the presbyteries of Noroeste and Suroeste would easily outnumber any youth presence at presbytery events I’ve been a part of. I was amazed not only with their presence, but also that leaders in congregational, presbytery and synod events were younger people.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Stephanie Negron, a high school junior and clerk of session; Salvador D. Gavaldá, a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, self-described “lab geek,” and synod moderator; and others. Each worship service I attended, whether at presbytery or in a congregation, had youth leading worship, praying extemporaneously, making announcements about church life, and asking questions about how they can offer their gifts in creating a church that excites and engages their peers and the world. The ownership and engagement of young adults in San Juan, Carolina, Aguadilla, and beyond impressed me not as “youth on display,” but as fresh wind of the Spirit for the church in a deep and inspired way.    

Matt Schramm in passionate conversation with Salvador Gavaldá. —photo by Erin Dunigan

As a presbytery of only fourteen congregations, San Juan is the PC(USA)’s smallest, and has unique challenges. We had the opportunity to visit with the president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, the Rev. Sergio Ojeda-Carcamo, who gathered students from the presbyteries of San Juan and Noroeste for an afternoon workshop and presentation on the 1001 movement. While expressing real concerns about how new and emerging ministries might fit into a small but complex presbytery structure, the response of the seminarians could not have been more encouraging for our shared future. Students were open in discussing potential hurdles with which we are all too familiar, such as “validation” for innovative ministries, territorial behavior among church leaders, and the scarcity of funding and resources; yet, they balanced each challenge with healthy doses of hope, entrepreneurship, and pragmatic determination that new ministries will thrive.  

There are great expectations that God is doing something amazing and new for the church in Puerto Rico. From what I have come to know of the brothers and sisters in Christ there, as well as the transformative power of the gospel that is beginning to bear fruit even now, I wouldn’t doubt that for a minute.