August 02, 2003

The Diocese of Puerto Rico and its 30,000 baptized members officially joined the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. with a unanimous vote by the House of Bishops.

Approved Friday by the House of Deputies, the bishops applauded the entry of Puerto Rico and welcomed Bishop David Alvarez as a voting member.

“The Church in Puerto Rico will contribute in our identity as a Hispanic-speaking diocese to the growing Hispanic ministry and more importantly, in helping the Episcopal Church develop an identity as a multicultural, multilingual church,’’ said Alvarez.

The Iglesia Episcopal Puertorriquena or Diocese of Puerto Rico had been an extraprovincial diocese under the metropolitical authority of Province IX of the Episcopal Church. With this status, granted by the General Convention in 1979, the expectation was that other dioceses such as Cuba and Haiti would establish a province of the Caribbean.

Since those efforts have been unsuccessful, Alvarez said his diocese decided to move ahead for inclusion in ECUSA. As an extraprovincial diocese, Puerto Rico had little participation in decisions of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion, Alvarez said. Further, joining the Episcopal Church gives more pension security to clergy in Puerto Rico, he said.

The Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico has 48 congregations and operates several outreach ministries, including schools, hospitals and housing projects for the elderly and abused. According to information provided by the diocese, Anglican work began in Puerto Rico in 1872. In 1901, jurisdiction was transferred to ECUSA and the Missionary District of Puerto Rico was created.

With a population of 3.8 million, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. Its residents are U.S. citizens.

After the vote, a handful of bishops sang in Spanish, “In My Old San Juan,” a popular folk song in Puerto Rico. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold also welcomed Puerto Rico, saying he was delighted that the diocese is now officially and formally a part of ECUSA.

Puerto Rico joins the other dioceses of Province IX, which are Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador Central, Ecuador Littoral and Honduras. The Diocese of Venezuela also is seeking admission in the Episcopal Church. Neither house has yet voted on that resolution (A142).

In other business, the House of Bishops gave consent to the election of two more bishops, the Rev. Canon Johncy Itty, as bishop-elect of the Diocese of Oregon, and the Rev. Steven Andrew Miller of the Diocese of Milwaukee. Elected at age 40, Itty is the first “generation X” bishop.

The house also referred to the theology committee resolution A089, which asked for further study on the practice of communion of the unbaptized.