Tuckerton Leader

Hurricane Maria Delivers New Pastor to Tuckerton Methodist Church

Comes from Puerto Rico, Loves the Ocean
Sep 07, 2018
Source: Facebook/First United Methodist Church of Tuckerton NJ Rev. Jason David Rios and his wife, Yaya.

 

Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in September and was, according to a new study from George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health, responsible for 2,975 deaths.

The hurricane was also responsible, as was extensively reported, for knocking out power on much of the Island for months. Most importantly for this story, it brought the Rev. Jason David Rios and his wife, Yareliz, nicknamed Yaya, to Tuckerton.

Rios is the new pastor at Tuckerton’s First United Methodist Church.

Rios, 35, was a Methodist minister in Puerto Rico for a dozen years, with his last church located in the small central highlands city of Cidra.

You might figure the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory in the Caribbean with approximately 3.3 million residents – all American citizens – would be dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. After all, the island – larger than Delaware or Rhode Island – was a Spanish possession until the United States seized control of the island in 1898 after winning the Spanish-American War. Spain was/is a Catholic country and its American conquests have followed its example. Mexico, for example, ruled by Spain until the 1820s, is 83 percent Roman Catholic to this day.

Puerto Rico, though, because of its political association with the United States, is the most Protestant of Latin American countries. While 56 percent of its citizens identified themselves as Catholic in 2014, Protestants accounted for 33 percent of the population.

Rios graduated from the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, founded in 1919, which he described as serving most of the island’s mainline Protestant denominations. Indeed, it is sponsored by the American Baptist Churches USA and is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA and the Christian Church, a.k.a. the Disciples of Christ.

Rios served as a pastor in his native land for 12 years, and was also a spiritual director of Chrysalis of Puerto Rico, an organization that promotes three-day spiritual retreats for young persons.

He was a vice-president of the United Methodist Church’s Puerto Rico Board of Ordained Ministry.

So how did Rev. Rios and his wife, whom he met in seminary and who is also an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, end up in Tuckerton?

Hurricane Maria.

In the wake of the hurricane, the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church signed a covenant to launch a partnership with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico to assist Puerto Rico in its recovery. Methodist pastors in Puerto Rico whose congregations were disbanded after Maria were given opportunity to serve churches in the Garden State.

Rios applied for that opportunity as soon as he heard about the program.

He traveled to Tuckerton in February for an interview and was impressed by what he saw.

“I loved it!” he said.

Why? Tuckerton must be so different from Puerto Rico!

“I’m originally from the southeast part of Puerto Rico, so I am used to the ocean, to beaches,” he explained.

A few weeks ago the pastor visited Long Beach Island for the first time.

“I loved it!” he again exclaimed.

Rios has been thrilled with his reception since he arrived in Tuckerton.

“It’s been a great turnout at Sunday services,” he said, after taking the pulpit in Tuckerton for the first time on July 1.

Meanwhile the congregation had nothing but good things to say about their new minister and his wife when this reporter stopped by after a Sunday service a couple of weekends ago. That’s easy to understand – the couple is gracious and outgoing.

“Pastor Jason and Yaya’s first month at Tuckerton UMC certainly has been exciting with VBS (Vacation Bible School) the first week, and Praise Choir Camp the third!” wrote Worship Committee Chairman Carol Sceurman in the church’s August/September newsletter. “Worship attendance was high and we’ve enjoyed participation from the VBS kids, the Praise Band and the Praise Choir. The month ended with a church-wide picnic – something we, as a church, haven’t done in a very long time!”

Rev. Rios would seem to be a natural for the Tuckerton United Methodist Church, considering it hosts a Casa de Esperanza (House of Hope) worship service each Sunday at noon. Casa de Esperanza is an outreach ministry of the First United Methodist Church of Tuckerton and its surrounding areas, comprised of a group of disciples committed to provide resources to the community so that people can find and experience the redeeming love of Christ and grow in knowledge, commitment and service to others.

“The Spanish service has been averaging 20 to 25 people,” said Rios. He hopes that figure will rise in the fall when workers who are very busy in the summer can return.

So all is looking well for the future of both the Rios family, which includes a dog and a cat, Michonne and Grey, and the Tuckerton United Methodist Church.

The only potential surprise? How will the Rios family deal with a Tuckerton winter?

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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