Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

More than 200 leaders from two of Puerto Rico’s three presbyteries—representing some 60 congregations—gathered together on a warm spring Saturday to learn, share, and dream new dreams of what the Spirit of God is calling the church to become in Puerto Rico.

 The leadership from the Presbytery of the Northwest, the Presbytery of the Southwest, and the Synod of Boriquen (Puerto Rico) came together with pastors and lay leaders to learn about the 1001 new worshiping communities movement in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

 At a 1001 Get in the Game workshop led by a delegation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, Vera White, associate for 1001, said it was important for the training to happen in Puerto Rico. “We’re trying to cast the vision for 1001 throughout the denomination—to presbyteries, synods, congregations, and seminaries. The Synod of Puerto Rico is part of our denomination—we have a seminary there—a fact often forgotten due to the challenges of distance and language.”

It was the first 1001 Get in the Game gathering to happen in two languages (English and Spanish) and the first to happen in Puerto Rico, whose three presbyteries include more than 75 congregations and the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico. Because of the island’s fairly compact size, Presbyterian Mission leaders were able to visit every PC(USA)-linked site and to provide training for pastors and leaders within the congregations.

 “I’m realizing more and more that this is not something we do,” said Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission. “Sometimes God says, ‘I’m going to start changing things,’ and our job is to get out of the way to allow some new things to happen that maybe don’t feel comfortable at first.”

 “This movement is a big opportunity for us,” shared Fernando Rodriguez Barrios, moderator of the Synod-Council.  “We here in Puerto Rico have a passion for growing and building new worshiping communities.” That passion was evident at the gathering—in worship, in prayer, and in conversation about the question “What new thing might God be doing in Puerto Rico?”

Presbyterian Mission Agency's Board Chair Matthew Schramm (middle left), Vera White (center) and Roger Dermody (middle right) share in a moment of prayer at 1001 gathering in Puerto Rico —photo by Erin Dunigan

The moderator of the Presbytery of the Southwest, Myrna Rivera Rodriguez, was also impressed and eager to see how the movement might take root in Puerto Rican soil.

 “We see this as a way not only to create new worshiping communities but also to help existing churches learn how to reach out to the communities that surround them,” she said. “I think there is the potential to do something new, something distinct—not just the same thing we’ve been doing for the past 100 years,” she continued. “Sometimes it is good to have a point of view that comes from the outside.”

 White challenged the gathering to widen their understanding of what it means to be the church in mission and witness to the world. “Instead of preserving what we have, how do we explore something new?” she asked.

 Gerardo Lopez-Vigo, stated clerk of the Presbytery of the Northwest, sees both a challenge and an opportunity in this invitation to try something new. “We are oriented to be ‘church,’ not to be community—to be very structured in our way of living,” he explained. “It is a shift that is not always easy to make.”“New things are always a challenge,” said Hector Rodriguez, associate for Hispanic/Latino-a Congregational Support. “But if we keep using the ways that worked for an older generation, how will we ever reach a new one?”

Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.