That doesn’t mean there isn’t church, though.
The presbytery has about 345 members, spread across seven congregations. They meet for worship in homes. The members who live in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital and home to about 9 million people, sometimes meet at the Colegio Americano.
Education is a key focus of the presbytery, and the Colegio Americano is proof of that dedication. Founded as an all-girls school in 1869, the school is now co-ed and has about 2,000 students. Not all of the students are Presbyterian, but the school’s long reputation for stellar education and Christian principles draws students of many backgrounds.
Also appealing is the school’s mission, which is to shape autonomous citizens with minds and hearts for social justice and Christian ideals.
In addition to education, the presbytery focuses on social and spiritual programs. Social justice is at the foundation of the Colegio Americano, and the presbytery does other social outreach, such as running a program for the children of single mothers. Spirituality is highlighted in the churches and children’s programs.
But for all its positive attributes, the Central Presbytery has some concerns — largely about its lack of church buildings.
Colombia is mostly Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church used to the state church. The government later allowed for the freedom of religion, and churches of many faiths began springing up. This gave other churches the same rights as the Catholic church, but it also gave them the same responsibilities, said the Rev. Dayro Aranzalez, a pastor in the presbytery.
There is now a proposed law would allow Colombian churches to worship only in church buildings. If members worship in homes or other buildings, the church will be deemed illegal. The proposed law is about regulation, not persecution, said pastors at the Cental Presbytery.
Because of the religious freedom, anyone can open a church in their home and interpret the Bible in any way. There are also practical dangers to worshipping in homes — there are no emergency exits, not enough parking or bathrooms, and many of the homes might not meet codes.
Members of the Central Presbytery are concerned about the law because building new churches costs a lot of money. The presbytery has drawn up plans for a new church building that will cost $2 million, but that building is just a dream, Aranzalez said.
The IPC plans to ask the government for more time to build new meeting places. Because it’s already an established church — the IPC has been in Colombia for more than 150 years — leaders are hopeful an extension will be granted.
The Central Presbytery could use the Colegio Americano as a church space, but timing and transportation would be big hurdles. Not all members of the presbytery live in Bogotá and would need a way to get to the campus.
But the worries about church buildings won’t diminish the spirit of the presbytery. It will keep preaching the word of God and bringing hope to the people of Colombia.
“Because this is a church, we cannot be afraid of the future. In fact, it is the opposite,” Aranzalez said. “People who go through a struggle appreciate and know that God is with them.”
The church wants to help make a better world in this life, not only the eternal one that God promises, he said.
The IPC has the support and prayers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said the Rev. Byron Wade, vice moderator of the 218th General Assembly.
“No matter how many problems you face, you still come at it with faith and joy that God continues to be with you,” he said. “You are our brothers and sisters. We will continue to pray for you and help you in whatever we can that you may grow and do great things in the name of God in Colombia.”