Building Puerto Rico and its Church Leaders

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Over the years, the churches in Puerto Rico have centered upon operating more introspectively—looking within to invoke spiritual connection and a deeper relationship with God, and that is good. But equally important is that the church respond to situations that arise in their communities and connect more with our people to address existing justice and peace issues.

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Iglesia Evangélica Unida de Puerto Rico (IEUPR) staff are very clear about their commitment to the community. This commitment became more evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the widely-felt 6.4 magnitude earthquake on the island, and the pandemic. We are now working more closely with the local churches to develop our mission in each IEUPR community.

To support this work, we have to build and strengthen our church leaders.

When I arrived at the church 18 years ago as a general pastor, I concentrated on developing leadership programs for both pastors and lay leaders to engage with more people on the local level, especially women. I opened the door for more women to take on leadership positions in the local church or office, and today, about 30% of IEUPR pastors are women. We are a church working to address the issues of justice that include meeting the needs of women and the elderly. Raising women leaders is a part of this vital work.

Another matter that was very important to me was to support the pastoral body. Family stability is a big concern for me. Our pastors must be equipped to perform their duties as they mediate family issues or marriage issues for those they serve, but they too need support for their families, especially in building income for retirement.

“Our pastors are not experiencing the blessed and peaceful ministry they deserve.”

When I analyzed the future monthly pension payouts of our pastors, I was very frustrated. The average pastor would only receive about $300, $600 at best. I would also say that about 60% of our pastors don’t believe they have the opportunity to increase their finances. Adding to this mindset, is the reality of Puerto Rico’s economic situation. We are not a rich church, but we are a very strong church in our commitment.

Our churches are attempting to maintain the salaries of their pastors and put more money towards their retirement. But we also pay the utility and water bills of every local church, which are very expensive. However, we encourage our churches to understand that we have a responsibility to support our pastors as best they can, and for pastors to believe that it is possible to build their retirement, if we work together.

Through the Ministers’ Financial Vitality Initiative and Project Horizon programs, the Pension Boards is working with us to address the financial justice issue among IEUPR pastors. The programs encourage our pastors to take an active interest and control over their finances and pension accounts, so they can retire with dignity. That is our hope.

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Developing Close Relationships with Two Communities

Edward rivera
Rev. Edward Rivera Santiago is General Pastor for Iglesia Evangélica Unida de Puerto Rico (IEUPR). He pastored the congregations of Mariana and Florida in Naguabo and Humacao towns in Puerto Rico. He was founding pastor of Good News Church in the city of Cleveland Ohio, and Minister for Local Church Development and Renewal of the UCC. Prior to that, he pastored the El Buen Pastor Church in Guadalajara, Mexico.