La Iglesia: A Place to Think About God

By: José Humphreys

My dad is a prophetic intellectual.  In Puerto Rico, he studied engineering, loved mathematics, and has a memory that I often envy.  Dad also has an uncanny ability in the spirit of a Nehemiah, to exegete a community inside out providing a snapshot of where it will be 10 years from now.  Until this day I’m amazed at his past prognostications about a presently gentrified Lower East Side.

When my dad moved to New York from Puerto Rico, he worked several jobs and eventually landed a job in the post office. During his 30 years of service my dad would also need an intellectual outlet, so he satisfied this by consuming books of all sorts.  His eventual conversion to the Pentecostal faith, and his role as a teacher and superintendent of Sunday School gave him the opportunity to use his intellect in a way not afforded by his vocation.  My dad would reason with his students over La Guia-El Expositor,a staple curriculum of many Pentecostal Sunday Schools.  At times the reasoning in class would even turn into a milieu for healthy biblical debate, essentially becoming a sanctioned space to think and pontificate about God. 

As I think about the role of the Old Spanish Pentecostal church, la iglesia, both past and present, it is a place where much of our community: exiles and immigrants can celebrate euphoric experiences, family, and even have a nook on Sunday mornings to theologize. Perhaps if our communities’ intellect is affirmed no where else, for many, la iglesia is that place. A place to think about God.


  1. Jose. I appreciated this post because its good to be where we are right now. Reflecting on our church history, the foundation on where we now rest. It is what bent us to our orientation and although flawed like every human institution, it had a richness that I know I had missed until now…where I am creating a similar space for mi gente. Now that we are “wiser” (as opposed to older-smile) and experienced by the battles of life, we are going back, thinking and appreciating what made us (and yes that means the good, the bad, the ugly). Our responsibility is to honor La Iglesias that formed us and use the good we remember to help create new spaces for an entire genre of dechurched and unchurched. And of course, keep ourselves accountable so we do not revert to the old customs that were spiritually abusive. But when transposed against the canvas of my own spiritual formation, I do have to say, for the most part, it was all good. Even the scars help me remember what not to become. La Iglesia Latina, the underground catalyst for the “knowledge with fire” Latino/a’s of today. Revolucion Viene!

  2. Dude,
    I definitely remember El Expositor! You are absolutely right, church became the matrix/crucible where life and meaning were discussed, masticated, digested and ever so often regurgitated. What about this? La Iglesia was a place where people loved on you–gave you a hug, smiled prefusely when they saw you, gave you a kind word and even spoke prophetic words of destiny in our lives. We are eternally grateful for the investment in our lives–all the more reason why need to give back.
    Gotta run to church, Liz, I’ll be back to comment on your post.

  3. Liz,
    You’re right, it’s good to be able to look at our church experiences beyond the scars to find many of the redemptive qualities. Lately I’ve been running into more and more folks from our backgrounds that are becoming “ancient future”. Reverencing the past, seeing what vestiges they can hold on to, and creating a new expression of church.
    La revolucion viene indeed LOL. Y viene en Spanglish!
    Dave, I’m reminded of the prayer chains my mom still participates in every Wed. morning. She’ll bring stuff I’ll tell her about to the prayer chain, and the hermanitas will pray with such fervor and passion as if the petitions were their own. I can witness to the truth that those prayers availeth much.

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