It took commissioners four ballots Saturday evening to elect an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and a mid-council executive as the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s second-ever co-moderators.
Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann of the presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England gained their victory at 9:01 p.m. Central Time over two pairs of challengers – the Rev. Eliana Maxim of the Presbytery of Seattle and the Rev. Bertram Johnson of the Presbytery of New York City, also standing as co-moderator candidates, and Chantal Atnip, a ruling elder who stood for moderator, and the Rev. Ken Hockenberry, her vice-moderator running mate from the Presbytery of Chicago.
On the final vote, Cintrón-Olivieri and Kohlmann received 266 votes to 253 for the team of Maxim and Johnson. Atnip and Hockenberry got 5 votes on the fourth ballot after having received 45 on the first ballot.
Following their election, the new co-moderators were immediately installed by the co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly by the Revs. Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, as well as the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II, stated clerk of the General Assembly. Cintrón-Olivieri’s family displayed the Puerto Rican flag as the two new leaders were being installed, honoring the place where she lived until 2011.
Cintrón-Olivieri is an ESL teacher and a ruling elder at First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami. Last year she was moderator of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida. She was a Youth Advisory Delegate to the 205th General Assembly in 1993, and was asked at age 19 to serve on the session of Caparra Terrace Presbyterian Church in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Kohlmann has pastored congregations in Ohio and Massachusetts. She’s currently resources presbyter for the Presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England. As resource presbyter, she designs leadership training opportunities, connects pastors and congregations with local and denominational resources and has helped start sometimes difficult conversations about structure and vision in the midst of change.
“We are deeply honored by your confidence,” Kohlmann told commissioners following their installation. “We will seek God’s will in all we do, praying that the Spirit will blow us to new places – all because of our common love for Christ, who is our lord and savior.”
Before the election, Cintrón-Olivieri promised their work over the next two years will be marked by “audacious, spirited, bold, unapologetic women.”
Asked to assess their strengths and weaknesses, Cintrón-Olivieri admitted the pair’s main weakness is “that we get into our heads a lot. But our family shakes us and says, ‘Get over it at and move on.’ A strength is that we are very loving. I am a hugger, and I cry a lot when something really moves me – like worship this morning.”
Ministry can look different in some of the small New England towns where Kohlmann serves two presbyteries. One example: Leeds, Maine, a town of about 2,300 people where the town’s church and gathering place “took the locks off the door and unlocked the internet.” Now the church is full of “unchurched” people – students doing their homework after school and “a gym full of people.”
“Sometimes we get tied to our buildings,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “Maybe we need to see what is happening in the community to rethink the structures we have.”
“We want to invite the church into deeper faithfulness, including languages and cultures and many identities and orientations, all of which reflect the breadth of God’s creation,” Kohlmann told commissioners.
“I look different, and sometimes I feel that way too,” Cintron-Olivieri said. “But we need to keep showing up, even around people who don’t think like we do. We need to concentrate on what we cherish and what we share. If we do that, we can claim to be walking with God.”