Amid a struggling economy and a government crossroads over massive debt, the Reverend José González-Colón, MDiv ’07, is blazing new trails in Puerto Rico by adapting an old political adage to say, “All theology is local.”
“We are in the heart of San Juan and there is a real economic crisis here,” said the pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana de Hato Rey. “We’re facing a church life we weren’t expecting to change.”
González-Colón said that around 1,000 people each week, mostly young families, are leaving the commonwealth in the hope of finding better employment opportunities. This means they are leaving churches with an increasingly aging and retired population. González-Colón has pushed beyond the theology he learned at Princeton Theological Seminary and started learning economics, so he can serve both the spiritual and physical needs of the community.
“We needed to make strategic alliances with other entities at the grassroots level,” González-Colón said. “We had to look at economic development models because if we are going to be a prophetic voice, then we are going to have to do more than just preach.”
The church is creating a community development nonprofit to help the city transition to a greener economy with urban planning, green technology, and the promotion of healthy living. The first efforts will look at a community garden and reducing solid waste through composting, recycling, and reuse.
“We’re facing a major paradigm shift in Christianity today and the exciting part is that we can be a part of envisioning it,” González-Colón said. “San Juan is a microcosm of Latin America and the Caribbean. If we do things right here, we can create small-scale models that can be replicated or analyzed to spread ideas.”
González-Colón is thankful for his Princeton Seminary education, which is allowing him to take on the ministry he wanted to do.
“The financial aid was one of the main reasons I chose to attend Princeton Seminary. I realized that I needed to avoid the kind of student debt that would force me to look for a job for the paycheck. I was the recipient of financial aid, and achievement awards, and graduated without any debt.”