I recently told our mission congregation of St. Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that we are the small church with a big heart. I am very convinced of this. There are no "buts" in the phrase. We are not the church that is small but that has a big heart. We are the small church with a big heart.
I have served St. Francis of Assisi for three years now, and it has been a great and beautiful experience. I was raised in a big church. My dad's side of the family has a long Episcopal tradition, yet I am the only one to answer God's call to the ordained ministry.
I was baptized and confirmed in St. John's Cathedral in San Juan and served there as an acolyte and many other things. When one of our priests started a church in his home, which was in the same area where I lived, we decided to support his work in this small mission, and I stayed there for my youth and young adult life.
Since my ordination, I served in another small congregation before coming to St. Francis of Assisi. I thank God for small congregations. There is nothing little in the life of a small congregation.
There is so much work to do -- and not just work in terms of looking for more people to be part of the church, but also in terms of each and every life you touch just by offering them of your time.
Maybe we don't have the resources we need to have a Sunday school or a youth group or a musical ministry, but we have lay eucharistic ministers, readers, a seminarian, the treasurer of Episcopal Church Women, a person working with our diocesan Episcopal Social Services and members of Cursillo and Happening -- or "Vivencia," as we call it in Puerto Rico -- among other ministries.
There are always the ladies that fix the breakfast, the man that fixes everything in the church, the treasurer who is very responsible with the finances, the lady that cleans, the lady that folds the Sunday bulletins and the members of the Altar Guild. Everything that has to be done is done thanks to people like this.
Helping the young
Members St. Francis of Assisi give monthly monetary contributions to "Proyecto Vidas," a program of Episcopal Social Services that serves children and youth through child care and a home for 12 young boys who need everything teenagers need.
This year we started a Wednesday morning service and have had a very good response. I always have an invitation for lunch from one of my members.
It is such a rich experience when you can enter the homes of your members and sit at the table in the kitchen, enjoying a very delicious lunch and wonderful company. In that informality, you talk about everything. And when that happens, I thank God that he called me and I said yes.
There is so much life in small congregations. I am not criticizing our brothers and sisters who serve and worship in a big church. Small congregations compose the majority of the missions that serve the Episcopal Church. We are here, too, to serve, to pray, to work and to enjoy Christ in all living things.
Congregation: St. Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís)
Location: San Juan, Diocese of Puerto Rico, Province IX
Average Sunday attendance: 30
Year founded: First Holy Eucharist held June 2, 1963
Current leadership structure/staff: Seven-person vestry, vicar.
Try these books and web locations for resource materials and further reading
- Episcopal Church's small congregation development webpage:www.episcopalchurch.org/smallchurch.htm
- Episcopal Church's Latino/Hispanic ministries webpage: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/latinohispanic-ministries
- Devotional resources in Spanish: http://www.forwardmovement.org/
- Bible studies and small-group studies resources geared to youth: Mission: Christmas -- Youth Programs and Ideas for Advent by Bryan Brooks (Abingdon Press: 2005) Mission: Easter -- Youth Programs and Ideas for Lent by Todd Outcalt (Abingdon Press: 2005)
This is the sixth installment in a 12-month series offered by Episcopal Life, the Office of Congregational Development and the Standing Commission for Small Congregations, sharing best practices, fresh ideas and resources.
-- The Rev. Ivette Linares, vicar of St. Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís), also works as the youth ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Puerto Rico and for Province IX and is the archdeacon of the diocese's northeast deanery. She is a member of the Episcopal Church's Standing Commission for Small Congregations.