There will be many firsts at the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this year. This is the first hybrid gathering of commissioners and advisory delegates. Another first will involve leaders in two committees. The Rev. Miguel Angel Dros Lorenzo is serving as the first to moderate a committee with Spanish as the primary language, while the Rev. Iris Dalila Santoni Ortiz will serve as the first Spanish-speaking vice moderator.
“The fact that I was chosen to lead this committee, even though I don’t speak English, is a wonderful opportunity. I am thankful for the people that have believed in me, and it is a true honor to serve with the Leadership Team, our continuous conversations during prayerful discernment, the study of the items that came to us and we hope that we deliver a good job,” he said. “I am also thankful to the denomination for the care and the commitment to the pastors that accepted the call to serve, and I am thankful to God.”
Dros Lorenzo spent 14 years as a chemist with Abbott Pharmaceutical before being laid off in 2010. It was then that he says he felt the call to ministry.
“I requested of my church to be a lay pastor and I asked to go to seminary,” he said. “I was granted the permission by Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana in Hormigueros and started at the age of 39. I graduated from Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico in 2018.”
In addition to serving as pastor, Dros Lorenzo’s denominational experience includes serving as the stated clerk of the Presbiterio del Suroeste for 2½ years.
“I was very happy and thankful to the denomination and specifically to the Office of the General Assembly for this appointment. I have received training and care for this new role,” he said. “I am very excited to be the first one to lead a GA committee in Spanish. I am grateful and blessed to receive help through resources and technology, so we can have deep conversations.”
Santoni Ortiz, also of Puerto Rico, was born near El Guacio, a Presbyterian camp and conference center. She says she was basically taken from the hospital to the church where her family was very involved. Santoni Ortiz has served as a math teacher with Puerto Rico’s Department of Education.
“I graduated from Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico with my M.Div. and I feel that my extended family are the members of the church,” she said. “I’ve been a pastor for 12 years here in El Guacio. We are right next to the camp and conference center, and we work together to help the community and we share our work.”
Santoni Ortiz says she was asked to serve as vice moderator for the Bills and Overtures Committee.
“I was shocked because English is not my first language. I took this opportunity not to make drastic changes, but for us as Hispanics, Puerto Ricans to specifically lose the fear of participating because we are not fluent in English,” she said. “I’ve heard comments from my siblings that they were afraid to participate in committees because of the language barrier. Now we see that many of our elders and ministers are working in PC(USA) agencies, we see our siblings accepting to be a part of GA with less fear. I am seeing a growth from the leaders to provide translations, the creation of Global Language Resources, which provides Korean and Spanish resources.”
Santoni Ortiz says she is aware that the interpretation can delay the process and understands that some people may get upset. But she feels people are still willing to work with them and senses the inclusivity that is happening around the church.
“Some people refuse to hear English because they don’t understand,” she said. “But if we can show that we can do it, then many people may choose to be involved in this type of work.”
Global Language Resources, which was established in 2019 as part of the Administrative Services Group’s structured approach to translation and interpretation, will have staff on hand to support Dros Lorenzo, Santoni Ortiz and committee members.
“Global Language Resources has been training and working hard to provide our non-English-speakers the material and resources to prepare for this General Assembly,” said Stephanie Vasquez, GLR manager. “We are very glad we can serve Rev. Dros and Rev. Santoni in this manner.”
OGA leaders believe both appointments are significant to the church as it seeks to make this year’s Assembly more inclusive. Dros Lorenzo and Santoni Ortiz agree.
“It is important for me to hold a conversation in Spanish, when important decisions are being made,” Dros Lorenzo said. “The fact that the PC(USA) is including Spanish, with a presence of more than 100 years in the denomination, sets an example to listen to voices in different languages.”
Dros Lorenzo says the Environmental Justice leadership team has been meeting regularly in preparation for Assembly work.
“I know that having live interpretation is not easy, and the learning curve is high,” he said. “We are working diligently to make sure we do a good job as a committee.”
“We talk about diversity, inclusion, not only about gender, but languages and race, many areas that have been dividing us,” said Santoni Ortiz. “We are mainly the people of God and second as the PC(USA). We can break the barriers because the church has to be one and it is a new type of Pentecost that has arrived into our lives.”