Reverend Robert Rodriguez (Courtesy Fort Washington Collegiate Church)

North America’s oldest continuing Protestant church welcomes its first Latino pastor

A church congregation first established in the 1600s in what was then called New Amsterdam and is now called New York City –  the Collegiate Church of New York – is the oldest Protestant organization in North America. It has been in continuous service for the past 385 years across several churches in the city.

And in a sign of changing populations and demographics, one of its churches, the Fort Washington Collegiate Church will have a new pastor, the first Latino in Collegiate’s more than 300-year history.

Reverend Robert Rodriguez’ Puerto Rican family comes from a long history of pastors, so he says he’s not surprised he ended up in the ministry. He is excited and eager, though, about his new role.

“It is an honor and a privilege to take on this role in a church that has such a rich history,” says Rev. Rodriguez, who grew up in a neighborhood near to the Church, in upper Manhattan. “I also did work there 16 years ago as a director of Christian education and youth programming, so I’ve had a long history with the Church.”

The 47-year-old reverence is a graduate of Drew Theological Seminary with a masters of divinity and holds two graduate degrees in the field of education. He served as a public school teacher and as an assistant superintendent prior to joining the ministry full-time.

Fort Washington Collegiate Church in NYC (Courtesy Fort Washington Collegiate Church)

Fort Washington Collegiate Church in NYC (Courtesy Fort Washington Collegiate Church)

Living near The Collegiate Church since he was 12, Rev. Rodriguez says he’s seen the demographics of the neighborhood “change drastically” over time.

“The population was mostly white, Cuban and Puerto Rican 35 years ago,” says Rev. Rodriguez explaining the community is now about 86 percent Latino. “The Church predominantly was an Anglo church with some ethnicities represented — now we have a big representation from other countries [and it is approximately 40 percent Latino].”

When he worked at the Church years earlier, Pastor Rodriguez had set up a Spanish-language service. Though services are now in English, he says he is open to offering another service in Spanish if he finds it is needed.

The Reverend says he is also looking most forward to addressing the issues most prevalent no just in his community, but everywhere — mental illness, immigration, illegal gun use and education. Moreover, he wants the Church to be relevant to people’s lives, and to be open.

“What I have seen is people migrating towards faiths that are more open and progressive and more welcoming with people,” says the husband and father of three boys. “For example, here we welcome people of all walks of life, we minister to everyone who walks through our doors.”

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