November 9, 2010

Leadership in the Feligresía

This past weekend the Episcopal Church Foundation visited the northern part of the Diocese of Puerto Rico. We were there at the invitation of Bishop David Álvarez and Fr. Juan Monge with the goal of presenting just about everything we possibly could in a seven hour stretch: the role of the vestry, transformational leadership, stewardship and planned giving. As this was the first time ECF had done such a presentation in Spanish, we learned a great deal about how our “church speak” – which truly is a language all its own - doesn't necessarily translate. We also learned the helpful term feligresía which serves in Puerto Rico as a catchall word for mission, parish, church plant, worshipping community, etc. If it involves worship, it’s a feligresía and the lay members are feligreses.

But perhaps the most important thing I learned – or was reminded of – came from two conversations I had during lunch.

While in line and then at table, two individuals separately told me of how being invited to join their feligresía and then later being asked to serve on its vestry had radically transformed their lives. Far from being yet another burdensome responsibility, they spoke of their time on the vestry as the first time anyone – including themselves – recognized their potential for leadership. Neither had been members of churches prior to this, both had significant struggles in their past, and in each case they were asked to serve on the vestry after just one year of participation.

At the Episcopal Church Foundation, many of our conversations are focusing on transformational leadership. How can our feligresías transform lives? And how can those whose lives have been transformed go on to transform their community and world? It was inspiring to be in the Diocese of Puerto Rico for many reasons - its openness to innovation and entrepreneurship, for example - but especially because of the many, many stories I heard of individuals whose lives were transformed by their participation in their feligresía and who are now challenging their communities of faith to become more deeply engaged in addressing the social ills around them.

Needless to say, I came away with a deep love of the Diocese of Puerto Rico, and a stronger sense of what transformational leadership looks like.