The Rev. Dr. José Rodríguez
The Rev. Dr. José Rodríguez is the Rector and Vicar of the Episcopal Churches of Christ the King and Jesús de Nazaret, co-located in Orlando, Florida. Born in Puerto Rico, his own migration experience became his doctoral dissertation focused on the pastoral care of migrants.
He served as a university chaplain for a decade. In 2017 he was assigned to Jesús de Nazaret months before Hurricane María and oversaw a major disaster response. During the pandemic, he partnered with a Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Central Florida Black Nurses Association, and others to launch major community health initiatives. In 2022 he was called to serve as co-Rector and then Rector of Christ the King.
He is passionate about promoting the Gospel in Kingdom work that isn’t performative but upholds human dignity in tangible ways. He believes religious communities have a unique role in developing Christ-like communities that are just, healthy, and have a shared duty of care to others.
He was the 2019 Heart of Florida Changemaker of the Year for Advocacy and a 2020 Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year Finalist. He was recognized as a 2020 Distinguished Leader in Florida by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Our bishop nominees have produced videos to introduce themselves to us in advance of our September meet-and-greet sessions.
As part of the application process, each nominee was asked to respond to a set of four questions.
How have you navigated a changing church in a changing world to enhance congregational vitality?
I navigate change through contextual awareness, cultural competence, inclusion, and flexibility. I also recognize that change is a task done as a community and that I am one of many leaders involved in facilitating change within the congregation.
I am aware of my place in the Church and society. A pastoral response to our dynamic landscape requires a heightened awareness of opportunities, disparities, and intersectionality. Leaders must be willing to adjust and reach across social boundaries to address inequalities and bridge the gaps that separate the Church from its surrounding communities.
I ask myself the following questions:
- Where am I? It is important to be aware of not only our geography but whose space we are in.
- Who are we serving? Being the Church is being in a community, and placing the community at the center of our efforts is important. Approaching this egocentrically leads to colonial or patronizing actions, not solutions.
- What challenges are present in this context? Chaos exists in every system. From lack of communal vision to brute systematic oppression, all systems have some level of dysfunction. We must see problems in systems, not people, and work together to free all people from oppression. People have inherent worth, resilience, and a desire to thrive.
- What are the barriers preventing people from accessing opportunities? Change involves properly equipping people to be agents of change in our communities. Treating change as either a handout or a concession is offensive. People thirst for change because they want to thrive. Identifying key obstacles is necessary to help them thrive.
- Are we inviting all people to vision and dream? We are called to invite people into this prophetic space of envisioning hope for their communities. From children to older adults, inclusive of a broadly representative and diverse grouping of God’s own people, navigating change requires corporate vision.
- Am I the best person to facilitate this change? Who can I support or collaborate with to effectively and appropriately serve if I am not? A Spanish word comes to mind: “prepotent.” Leaders should not assume they are all-powerful and know everything. A leader or a group of leaders must always be willing to step aside for other leaders who are better equipped to competently serve others in a culturally relevant manner.
- Am I hearing all the voices and stories of all involved, impacted, and forgotten? We worship the God of hearing who also calls us to corporate remembrance. All are made in the image of God, and our voices and our stories are part of our collective redemptive history. We must carve out space to hear, learn, and receive wisdom from our community elders. We must carve time and space to hear those we are not accustomed to hearing or who have never been invited to speak.
- In facilitating change, are we answering the prayers of all the people, not just some? Transformation is a physical manifestation of our sacramental life. It is important that as we walk together as a holy people, our collective prayers have a collective response.
Within our Episcopal tradition, we embrace change in ways that honor our ministers, leaders, and shared values. Our catechism teaches us that all baptized members are ministers in the Church, and embracing the shared, mutual leadership entrusted to us is critical to navigating the Church through the world’s changes as a resolute and resilient community of believers.
Change is constant. As successive generations come and go, we are responsible for managing change while preserving tradition and legacy and embracing ever-diversifying communities and customs. This sacred duty of care for preservation, inclusion, and growth is how the Church has renewed itself in the creativity of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages.
I also recognize that change is a task done in the community and that I am one of the leaders in facilitating change within the congregation. Within our tradition, we must embrace change in ways that honor all our ministers, leaders, and shared values as Episcopalians. In order to nurture thriving communities, it is critical to embrace the shared, mutual leadership entrusted to us.
I manage change through gentle assertiveness, where my speech, conduct, and behavior are not meek or submissive examples of being Latino in Christ. Instead, I put my gifts, talents, cultural contributions, and worldview on full display and use them to build up and expand God’s kingdom in the communities I serve.
Living our baptismal vows is key to enhancing congregational vitality in a changing world. This can be done by incorporating new members, customs, ideas, and talents into the Church’s life. Our baptismal vows are not only the initiation into the Body of Christ; they also represent our shared values as they relate to managing an ever-changing community that is constantly expanding, evolving, and growing beyond Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria while also contending with turmoil, rumors of wars, alarming news, devastation, and deception.
Change is an opportunity for the Church; challenges strengthen the Church’s self-resilience. When we embrace change sacramentally, the diverse members come together, thereby allowing iron to sharpen iron. Opportunity requires leaders to have the ability to adapt and grow to face emerging realities.
Fostering congregational vitality is a holistic task that balances my personhood while upholding the personhood of those we are called to serve. This task is made holy by managing and celebrating change and diversity, conforming all our work to the personhood of Christ. The Holy Spirit gives everyone the necessary gifts for this to be an activity done not by isolated leaders but by a community in relationship.
Balancing change and seeing the Church as continuous despite constant change empowers our rich spiritual traditions to respond effectively to the needs of our time. As Paul reminds us, we plant the seeds and water what has been planted. It is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
Describe a situation in which you needed to create a sense of shared interests and community among individuals or groups who felt disconnected from one another. What is the role of the bishop in bringing a diocese together, and what gifts do you bring to the ministry of connection?
I have served three communities where a growing Hispanic presence actively transformed and pushed the congregation past artificially created boundaries. These experiences had the following in common:
- A community with a strong sense of legacy and community. The communities I have served all had robust and mature leadership. These communities were formed through many storms, and legacy members had a strong sense of kinship with one another.
- A community that was created to address changing needs but became fixated on itself and stopped responding to change. I’ve worked within missions and missional communities that were formed to satisfy unmet spiritual and community needs. Over time, the entrepreneurial spirit that allowed these communities to establish themselves was set aside. To protect what was built, the communities stopped stretching themselves as a mechanism for growth. Good bishops are willing to say both comforting words and difficult truths. It is the bishop’s responsibility to provide sound teaching that enables the Church to increase in wisdom and stature and in favor of God and neighbor.
- A community that confused opportunity with disaster. In business, changing demographics is an opportunity to increase market share. In the Church, changing demographics are seen by some leaders as death. The bishop must be able to step into aging and changing congregations and celebrate with them the Kingdom opportunities in changing demographics. The bishop must also be able to differentiate between Kingdom opportunities of inclusion and missional opportunities that become a smokescreen for cultural dominance and abuse. Changing demographics is an opportunity to welcome other formed and mature Christians of other cultures into our Church’s diverse communion. A faithful bishop leads with wisdom to ensure that the only conversion sought is of hearts, and is willing to push congregations needing re-birth to open up to the dramatic cultural change to preserve legacies and enhance communities.
- A community that ritualizes its immediate context and dominant culture. I became Anglican because of the outreach program in the Diocese of Connecticut and the time I spent in the United Kingdom. I love our Church’s English patrimony, but I am also Latino and love the rhythms and beat of my native culture. Making space in worship and communities for others is not only the Christian thing to do, but also as Anglican as the Elizabethan Settlement. Sadly, many of our churches confuse “white” with “right” and, later, with “rite.” They develop a church culture that reflects the attitudes of the dominant culture, confusing cultural norms in worship with “rite,” ritual, and liturgy.
- A community that confused assimilation with cohesion. A sense of belonging among members is important in forming any group. Group cohesion is important, but successful leaders understand that individual sovereignty is preserved and all human dignity is upheld in our tradition. The idolatries of the age and cultural supremacy that pervade all our communities – white, Black, and Brown alike – fool the children of God into thinking that in order to be one, we must be the same.
- A community with the inherent ability to adapt to change and thrive. Bringing unity into division answers Jesus’ prayer for us to be one. Jesus’ prayer to the Father is a command to us to honor Christ’s anguish not only of his broken body on the cross but the broken body of the believers we belong to. A transparent bishop will be honest with the communities they serve—the work is hard and may alienate us from our own misconceptions, but it is also worthwhile and will unite us into a chosen family. The bishop helps us see life’s hardness as a revelation of future hope.
Each community met a different fate, but also had the same alternatives before them and the same capacity to heal. In the contexts in which I have served, these situations involved churches that desired to engage with changing cultures but struggled to find a way to comfortably welcome neighbors and strangers. There was a fourth community I supported that struggled not with ethnic culture but with cross-generational differences and changing norms. Cultural adaption comes in many forms, and the bishop must be able to differentiate, discern, and not become trapped in complacency.
In each situation, I worked with my bishop, and through various successes and further challenges, I learned:
- It is not natural for people to be disconnected. Disconnection is caused by a variety of social forces. Sometimes complacency or unwillingness to change is the source; other times, feelings of superiority or outright hostility to strangers is the cause of disunity.
- The source of disconnection and disunity matters. We live in a society where we default to asking people to “hug it out” or “talk it out.” These are only appropriate when disunity occurs among a group of equals. Such solutions become dangerous when there is an aggressor and victim in situations where communities fail to unite and thrive.
- The bishop is an instrument of unity but must be willing to not always be neutral. The bishop’s task involves keeping people safe and ensuring people are protected. Disunity is a symptom of conflict, and conflict is rarely tolerable. The bishop has a duty of care to protect people from harm. Sometimes this means protecting people from themselves. Guiding and correcting individuals harming others is a form of grace, as is protecting aggressors from themselves. Sometimes in the spirit of “giving the benefit of the doubt” or waiting for the completion of an investigation, aggressors continue to harm churches and dig themselves deeper into a situation where forgiveness will be even harder to achieve.
Good bishops are willing to engage in conflict. Conflict is not inherently damaging. Conflict can be healthy and lead to positive change and growth. Unresolved conflict is inherently dangerous. Every bishop has a sacred responsibility not to flee conflict but instead go into it with arms wide open to gather up God’s children while simultaneously lifting up holy hands to bring down God’s wisdom, healing, and nurturing into tough situations.
What is your theology of money? Tell us a story of exercising your leadership to move an institution into a more Jesus-centered, mission-oriented relationship with money.
My theology of money is rooted in my experiences of growing up in poverty and serving in cash-strapped mission communities. I have seen firsthand how the Church can thrive even when it doesn’t have much money. Churches need money but must also learn to be the Church without it. The lack of money across the Church is a disparity not tied to a particular ethnic group or group of persons.
I was always taught that when Christ told the Pharisees to give Caesar his dinar, he also emphasized that our true calling in life is giving ourselves to God. Our obsession with money in the Church is a first-world problem that alienates us from the global Church. A bishop must always keep the Church’s focus, conversation, and energies on people. Likewise, people are our primary resource in ministry. The Church can and will survive without money, but many will walk away from a financially bankrupt church because the object of their affection is money, not God.
Money can be a blessing, but it’s evident in Scripture that money can mask and hide places where healing and growth need to occur. Money also causes us to lose our focus and celebrate the wrong things. Money replaces people and stops talent from being developed. In places where people can serve, money is wasted, and when the money is gone, we not only lose a resource but find that we failed to develop leadership, skills, and abilities within the Body of Christ to meet the needs of God’s people.
Poverty and scarce resources touch all people groups and reveal places of true thriving. My theology of money is defined by what the Holy Spirit does in the Church in places where money is scarce; moreover, this theology also extends to what people with money do with their money and resources to touch the lives of those without it.
A Christian theology of money is not about how much money we have but about how we use the money we have. It is about being good stewards of God’s resources and using our resources to love and be generous to others. As Jesus said, the poor in money are not necessarily poor in spirit, and the Church can thrive starved of resources.
A bishop must separate Christian ministry and generosity from what can be done with money. Many places in the Episcopal Church are vibrant and growing despite scarce and limited resources. The bishop’s sacred duty is to differentiate between thriving that results from money regardless of talent, and those places that are thriving despite not having money because the Holy Spirit has provided charisms and other resources.
As a teacher, the bishop is responsible for promoting principles for a Christian theology of money:
- God is the owner of all things, including money. (1 Chronicles 29:11).
- We are stewards, not owners, of God’s money. (1 Timothy 6:10)
- We should use money wisely and generously. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
- We should be content with what we have. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
- We should be willing to share our money with those in need. (James 2:15-16)
The Church’s obsession with money has always hindered how the people I serve are received and how the ministries that serve them are resourced. As a college chaplain, vestries didn’t blink at lavish budgets for church meals and events but scrutinized every pizza I bought. As a Latino missionary, I would see a congregation of over 150 people worshipping and giving generously, but bringing in as much money as an early morning service of no more than ten people in a different context. As a missioner, I have also experienced some of our cash-strapped communities meet local needs more extensively than larger parishes and institutional charities.
In my teaching, I focus on people and money as fuel for Christian generosity. I believe that prosperity in the Church comes when we come together as a community of faith to start up economic engines for the sustainment of the nurture of the Church and the nurture of God’s people. We can create a more just and equitable world by using our resources wisely and generously. We can help to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate, and we can build up the Body of Christ. Christian generosity is not just about giving money. It is also about giving our time, talents, and hearts. It is about building relationships and creating community.
In my stewardship of the congregation, I work with my vestry to create budgets that reflect stewardship and the mission of the Church. I work with the leadership team to move the congregation into a healthier relationship with money. Together we:
- Identify the Church’s core values and priorities. What are the things that the Church is most passionate about? What are the things that the Church wants to achieve? The Church is a living body with values and priorities sourced from our members and local context. Church budgets allow the Church to be incarnational and use its resources to transform local communities.
- Allocate funds to ministries that support the Church’s core values and priorities. For example, if a church’s mission is to “spread the gospel,” the budget should include funds for ministries supporting evangelism, such as outreach programs and discipleship training. Most church budgets are focused on administrative costs and salaries. The Church’s mission should be the priority, and all other support functions should lend themselves to fulfilling that vision.
- Be transparent about the Church’s budget. Let the congregation know how much money the Church has, where the money is going, and how the money is being used. The only mystery our parishioners should ponder is the Sacraments and the work of the Holy Spirit. All other mysteries are a distraction from our purpose.
- Could you include the congregation in the budgeting process? Ask the congregation for their input on the budget and how their giving can be used to further the Church’s mission.
In many ways, our region reflects the social inequalities (e.g. gender, education, health, housing, and race/ethnicity) that afflict our country as a whole. Please discuss ways in which you have had experience dealing with and supporting multicultural populations. What do you see as a bishop’s role in addressing and healing these disparities?
The next bishop of Southern Ohio has the sacred task of ensuring that the justice and equity work performed in that region is as tangible as the sacraments we offer and as real as the grace that pours out from the Savior. So much of the justice work done throughout our country and in our churches is performative, not active. Performative justice and equity work may stimulate minds and emotions but leave the sick dying, the poor hungry, and the naked cold. The next bishop will be responsible for ensuring that when we lift our voices demanding justice, we also lift holy hands to do the work needed to heal, feed, provide refuge, and be a strong tower for the people of God.
Southern Ohio reflects inequalities I have labored to address elsewhere. Southern Ohio and Central Florida broadly represent our country’s diversity. Looking at Southern Ohio, from urban areas to more rural Appalachia, I see the same inequalities devastating the people of God, from minority and vulnerable urban communities to impoverished and historically neglected rural white communities. Christ identified with human suffering, and it is in the intersection of human suffering that White, Black, and Brown communities are united through the Church’s collective failure to meet the needs of our siblings living in disparity.
A bishop must be a precise and gifted communicator who can pierce binaries and reach out in a way that is representative of the full diversity in our communities. We are accustomed to discussing the human struggle in terms of male and female, white and black, oppressed and oppressor. In reality, our struggle for equity in gender, education, health, and housing transcends neatly packaged conversations. Unfortunately, so many communities are forgotten and excluded from our conversations. The full diversity and spectrum of gender, race, ethnicity, and economic conditions needs to be invited to the table when we discuss justice and equity issues in our community.
A bishop is responsible for the sacramental life of their diocese and for the care of the Body of Christ in their region by delivering tangible service and harvesting real fruit. Being a Christian isn’t an intellectual exercise; being a Christian means that ideas, thoughts, and faith are converted into real movements and synchronized action in Christ’s own Body. Addressing human suffering and bringing down strongholds of injustice are sacred tasks which requires a united diocese. This demands us to be resolute as well as bold and courageous. Aided by the Holy Spirit, the bishop must ensure that air is breathed into the Body and that the Body—the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio—rises to the occasion every time it encounters suffering, sickness, and injustice.
I am part of a forgotten family. As a Latino man married to a white woman, we are often left out of conversations that impact my family. My wife once said, “I may only be a white woman to you, but I have birthed Latino children and have done much more than most to grow and shape the lives of Latinos.” In our zealous rush to bring justice to our communities, we must not forget to see and hear the way the Almighty hears and sees the meek and humble among us. Women, people with disabilities, the atypical, those who exist on spectrums or outside of binaries, and a multitude of persons created in the Divine image who do not conform to often defective societal norms—these and more are often excluded from very important conversations and interventions aimed at improving the lives of those living in disparity.
I have lived within multicultural populations with my wife, a multicultural family, and a priest. I dedicate my life to serving multicultural communities and advocating for the needs of Latinos and immigrants in Central Florida. My wife and I have also advocated for the sick and vulnerable in our community, focusing on disabled children. So much of our work in the past six years has focused on welcoming families to the parish and our community. Many Sundays, we move from coffee in the parish hall to play dates and dinners in our home with newly arrived migrant and refugee families in our communities. Christian hospitality is a radical invitation to dine at the table and stay in the household of faith and the community as a family.
I am the Rector of a multicultural English-speaking community and the Vicar of a multiethnic Spanish-speaking community. The church was comfortable to worship in English at 9:30 am and in Spanish at 11:30 am with hugs and handshakes in the passageways of the building. There was life without vitality because there was no intersection or shared life.
Fortunately, that changed. After Hurricane Maria, thousands of climate refugees displaced to Orlando showed up at the church because we are 15 minutes from the Orlando International Airport. Human needs overwhelmed communities. However, a shared response to our duty of care for our neighbor united our two communities in service. In service, we became the one Episcopal Church in Azalea Park while we preserved the integrity, uniqueness, and beauty of our diverse worshipping communities. I don’t wish to minimize the difficulties of bringing diverse groups together. Still, I celebrate the joy sparked when we unite in the common witness of united service to Christ.
Bishops are bishops for the whole Church and all people. They must lead the people of God through the desert and give clear and decisive instruction that not only protects but spurs the Church to mature and thrive. In my life, I never expected to speak before those in governance by rebuking their behavior one day, praying for them in the Prayers of the People the next Sunday, and negotiating and working with them to secure resources for our community later. And yet, a bishop must always be willing to allow themselves to be stretched in ways that grow and strengthen both their vocation and the diocese and Church they serve.