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SDOP national committee chair is encouraged about the future of ministry

Rebecca Reyes recognized as Self-Development of People trailblazer

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Rebecca Reyes (second from right) joins former SDOP Coordinator Cynthia White at an International Task Force meeting in Belize. (Photo from SDOP)

LOUISVILLE – For Rebecca Reyes, the work never ends. The now-retired Presbyterian pastor has put a lifetime into working for the denomination whether pastoring a church, working as a campus minister, or leading Latino health services at Duke University Hospital. A fourth generation Presbyterian, Reyes was the first Hispanic woman ordained by the denomination.

“I’ve held a wide variety of positions within the denomination. For the past 15 years, I helped the Duke hospital administration work with the Spanish-speaking population,” she said. “North Carolina saw a huge influx of Spanish immigrants coming from Mexico, South America and Central America. I was hired to look at what needed to be put into place as it relates to billing, patient care, patient safety and ethics.”

Although she has stepped away from a number of responsibilities, you could hardly say Reyes is slowing down. For the last year, she has served as chair of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, a ministry she describes as true evangelism.

“We get to meet folks we don’t get to see inside the church walls and I really feel like the ministry is bringing good news to people in a refreshing way,” she said. “We are paying attention to their lives in terms of needs, whether providing medical support, creating a cooperative, learning how to start a new ministry or feeding the homeless.”

In 2015, SDOP celebrated its 45th anniversary of ministry. It has provided support for more than 5,600 community projects struggling with economic and social justice issues in more than 67 countries. The ministry grew out of the civil rights era in the late 1960s.

“SDOP has been there nationally and internationally, transcending and going beyond the church to work with people of faith from all traditions and learning how to be partners with that,” she said. “Not for our sake but for the proclamation of the good news.”

In her current position, Reyes has found gratitude among those SDOP has served.

“We pay attention to their lives and listen to their concerns and that has generated a sense of gratitude and appreciation,” she said. “It is an affirmation of God’s grace in their lives. It’s not always presented in theological words, but there is a spirit of grace.”

SDOP has undergone some change in the past year with the retirement of coordinator Cynthia White and three additional staff. The Rev. Alonzo Johnson, who served with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program for two years, has assumed leadership of the ministry. Reyes is excited about what the future has instore for them.

“Cynthia left the office with a staff that is fabulous in the work they do. They know their work, have been doing it for years and are open to creativity,” said Reyes. “As we face the coming challenges, we are able to succeed because of an excellent staff. We couldn’t do the work we do without that.”

Reyes does see some challenges ahead, including awareness. She believes the denomination needs to know about SDOP’s work and success. The other challenge, she says, is that the denomination not lose sight of SDOP’s significance.

“In the world of non-profits, it’s a model that is very unique. It brings in partners that we wouldn’t know about in terms of philanthropic organizations,” she said. “This kind of work cannot be replicated by anyone else. We need to keep SDOP visible to the denomination in how it participates with other non-profits.”

Reyes believes more should be done in the church to reach a wide and diverse population.

“I grew up in a very small, Hispanic church in Texas. I recognize that our denomination needs to be more creative in working with immigrants, people of color and people from all socio-economic backgrounds, recognizing the strength that we have,” she said. “We’ve been deficient in that area.”

“SDOP is cutting edge, it’s bringing in folks that traditionally, we wouldn’t be working with,” said Reyes. “SDOP can help the denomination be richer, healthier and embrace what’s out there.”


For more information about SDOP, click here.

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