A New Home for San Jorge

The people of Iglesia Episcopal San Jorge have left their cherished building behind, for the time being, at least, and that has allowed them to focus their energies on being a church. 

The primarily Spanish-speaking congregation that once met in an imposing and historic stone structure in Central Falls now gathers about a mile away on Sunday mornings at St. Luke’s, Pawtucket. So far, the change has done them good. 

“The congregation was experiencing a real burden dealing with the physical and financial costs of maintaining a historic building that was in poor shape,” says the Rev. Jack Lynch, the diocese’s Hispanic missioner who serves as the parish’s priest. “The move has allowed us to rethink how we are doing things, and to reach out to partner in the community, to reach out and do more mission. It has given us a new sense of direction and new ways forward.”  

San Jorge’s story, in some ways, is the story of its neighborhood’s transformation, Lynch says. Central Falls was once a posh address, and St. George’s Episcopal Church was a prominent pulpit. Founded in the mid-19th century by a clergyman whose grandson — James DeWolf Perry — would one day become the bishop of Rhode Island and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, its programs were so prestigious that people came from the tall steeple churches in New York and Philadelphia to participate in them.  

Today parishioners and their neighbors speak mostly Spanish, and come from “all walks of society,” Lynch says. He ticks off a few demographic categories including small business owners, asylees, veterans and retirees. At one point before the pandemic, the church included 14 nationalities, but most members of the current congregation trace their lineage to Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.   

The parish was diverse, and representative of the neighborhood, but it was not rich. During his eight years at San Jorge, Lynch came to understand that the parish’s “gorgeous church that will stand for a thousand years” was a burden the congregation could not sustain.   

“We have a beautiful building that is in such need of care and maintenance that it was soaking up too much energy, and too much of our financial resources,” he says. “And that was making it difficult and unsafe to do our ministry there.”  

The diocese, which was already paying much of Lynch’s salary, offered what resources and guidance it could, eventually helping the parish come to terms with its need to move.   

“It’s encouraging to the parish leadership to know that the diocese did not leave us without help,” Lynch says. “It’s been encouraging to know that we have the bishop’s support and the support of the wider diocese as we try to serve the community we are committed to serve.”  

Fortunately, although the congregation was leaving its building, San Jorge was not leaving its community, Lynch says. St. Luke’s, which was willing to provide a home, was only a few stops away on the same bus route.  

Life has been different for the congregation since it began holding services at St. Luke’s on the first Sunday of Advent. “We are now free to focus more on discipleship and the work of the church and pastoral care,” Lynch says. The church is now hosting a weekly Bible study and a monthly healing service.  “We are looking at what can we do as a church to take care of each other and hoping we can branch out and bring in new people now that we are in a new neighborhood,” Lynch says.   

“We’ve been resilient,” says Judith Carreño, the clerk of the vestry. “We believe this is a good change. We miss the building and we miss our space, but we feel this is a good opportunity for us.  

“I think we need to spread God’s word and I think the place we are now, we have more space, we can do more.”  

The parish is also experiencing a bit of growth. Its Sunday attendance previously hovered around 70, but on three consecutive Sundays this spring, the congregation numbered more than 100.   

On a recent Sunday, the parish celebrated the Feast of St. George, and Bishop Knisely was on hand to preside at the Eucharist and pledge the diocese’s support to San Jorge as it finds its way forward. He told the congregation that the diocese has no plans to sell the building, but cannot currently afford to pay for all of the repairs that would be required for the church to be habitable again.  

In the meantime, San Jorge is growing where it has been replanted.  

“This is a time for us to give,” Carreño says.