January 31, 2017

A New Thing | Daniel Vélez-Rivera

For background on this series, read this. This was inspired by the How I Work series over at Lifehacker. If there are planters, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs–ministry leaders that are working on new enterprises that you know and think I should profile, fill out this form or leave me a note on Twitter or Facebook.

About Daniel: The Rev. Daniel Vélez-Rivera is the Vicar of St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel Episcopal Church, a dual language (English and Spanish), multigenerational and authentically inclusive congregation in Leesburg, VA. He is passionate about establishing faith communities with and for all people. His vocational ministry focuses on ministry plants and redeveloping congregations that integrate new Latino Ministries into existing congregations. Daniel was a panelist at Missional Voices '16.

The Series: Colby Martin | Jane Gerdsen | Jeya and Dan So | Sara Shisler Goff | Katie Nakamura Rengers | Daniel Vélez-Rivera

Can you describe your new thing?
I cannot describe St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel as a “new thing”. We do what Christ commanded us to do: to love and serve all people and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In that spirit, I was called in 2012 as Vicar of this now fourteen year old mission congregation in the Diocese of Virginia. In addition to ministering to the community, I was asked to help turn the English language congregation back into a thriving ministry with the support of the remaining congregation and to also start a new Latino ministry. Our “new thing” is to prove that the church isn’t dying and that with God all things are possible. We have new life, new ministries, a new team of servers (a deacon, seminarian, lay worship leader) and a congregation of ministers that is willing to try their hand at serving others. Together our congregation is building the kingdom of God in Leesburg, VA.

Why you? What drew you to do this?
I am Latino, fully bilingual, and I have a business background in startup enterprises. I brought those entrepreneurial skills to the church and with my spiritual sense of adventure I believe that I can help build new ministries and redevelop existing congregations. I also have a spirit to invite others to participate and to feel part of a wonderful thing, the body of Christ. Nobody should do ministry in silos; Jesus sent his disciples to love and serve others in groups, two by two at the very minimum! And so, with eleven years of ordained ministry under my belt, I know that my business in life is God’s business for the world.

How would you describe yourself?
Spiritual and religious, of the world and of the church, authentically inclusive, creative, joyful, afraid of failure but willing to take the risk, inviting, loving, committed, tenacious.

When I was a curate fresh out of seminary, a community leader said to me, “I hope you aren’t like some of the other clergy around here who are priests of their four walls.” Wow, that stuck with me, I am definitely NOT a priest of my four walls, but a priest to and for the comunidad.

Where and when are you most productive?
Where: I am most productive in my office at home when I am envisioning and creating the big picture. I am most productive anywhere else (at a coffee shop, the office, a parishioner’s home, anywhere) in groups of two or more when the big picture needs to be broken into smaller frames (example creating a plan for the vestry and then working with them to put the plan into action and refine the big picture). I feel most productive when I’m helping others see that they have wisdom, skills and talents and that they can fly with all of that to serve others.

I am most productive in the early mornings, which for example, is when I refine my sermons on any given Sunday, or when I’m writing the narrative for a grant application, or when I am creating a Bible study, or a workshop.

What inspires you to create?
Love, passion and spirit for Jesus. I am very much part of the Jesus Movement and that involves doing, not just imagining doing.

What are you currently reading or listening to that inspires you?
Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage by Barney Frank--wonderful read about this hard working, quick thinking US congressman who believes that government can improve people’s lives). Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario--a story that puts a human face on the debate of immigration reform - something that I live everyday in ministry. Mindless mystery action novels when I get a chance! Time magazine to sort of keep on top of domestic and world news. Occasionally The Christian Century.

Start-up’s can be spirit-draining work. What nourishes your soul?
Dinner with my husband, vacations (we do one two-week vacation annually and mini trips), going to the movies with a friend, talking with my best friend which we do almost daily, Bikram Yoga - to sweat out the anxiety and stress of ministry and be healed by listening to my body in the silence, playing golf from April to December (when possible) with my husband - great time to walk and be with nature while chasing that little ball around!

Starting something new requires knowing who will be served by the thing you are creating. What method(s) have you employed to understand your context (or market)?
Feet on the street: driving around, talking to people at local community meetings that I attend, I’m a Rotary Club member and so I know the movers and shakers in town, at our worship services I inform the congregation about events and programs that are not so “churchy”, so that they can invite their squeamish friends to attend in a safe environment.

Know the community stakeholders: I am on several local boards in my community unrelated to the church; I set up meeting with new people: police, executive directors and staff of non-profit agencies, local business owners, the people who work at those local businesses; I volunteer as a Spanish-speaking chaplain at the local hospital and meet many unchurched people that way - that is how we got one of our guitarists at the Spanish language service.

Know your demographics: drive around the community; use the tools available from TEC; I met the mayor of our town and she gave me her estimation of the number of Latinos in our town of 50,000 people - turns out that there are 10,000 Latinos in Leesburg - 20% of the population! I verified those numbers against the school census numbers which are the most current demographic reports anyone can obtain. The school numbers are taken annually and every student must be counted, race/ethnicity is one of the numbers registered.

Typically, there are fewer people available to get work done in new endeavors. What do you use to manage your time, get things done and/or delegate to your team?
I have a team of free professional resources: deacon, lay pastoral associate, children’s minister, seminarian, vestry I have a team of part time paid professionals: parish admin, bookkeeper. I meet with these teams consistently to ensure that we do what we said we would do according to our strategic plan, that we administer properly and efficiently, and that they know they are part of a team - their voice and ideas are very important as constituents of St. Gabriel’s ~ San Gabriel.

I have had a coach for two years, that coaching keeps me accountable to a professional who understands congregational development and the life of a church planting priest in a small church (our budget is $222,000).

I delegate and participate: liturgy (music), formation: some of the children’s, teens, adult faith formation, financial management (keeping my nose in the books - I have to know where we stand month to month financially), community: lay visitors, people attending community meetings to be a presence of St. G’s).

PR and Social Media - not my strength but we have two parishioners for whom it is a passion and they are on the team. I have a vestry member liaison who used to be in PR/Marketing and he along with another parishioner are our PR people! They are great!

Time and resources are often limited during start-up’s. What time-savers have you found useful? What have you found is worth splurging on and what can you skimp on?
In the very beginning of my ministry I didn’t have a paid parish admin, that can eat up so much ministry time. I pay a part time person to help keep me on top of things and to have a face/voice/staff person at the office.

Music is SO important for the communities in worship: I am blessed that my music minister is free, it is his gift to the church and he is good. I thought for the past two years that we could do without a choir director, our music minister is not gifted in choral direction, and have come to the realization that I can’t skimp on that anymore. In order to grow we need a person to hire a person to direct both the English and Spanish speaking choirs. Sometimes volunteers can work, there are things that should be paid, that way one can keep them accountable to their important tasks.

Where do you find affirmation that you are doing what you were meant to do?
God gives me a glimpse, a message, almost every day. I’m learning to listen to God in the stillness.
I have a wonderful spiritual director, she is a tower of spiritual energy. My bishops affirm the ministry quite frequently and I make sure they know what we are up to! My husband is my biggest cheer leader, I couldn’t do it without him. The vestry and the congregation are witnesses of the ministry and they are incredibly affirming. We receive cash donations annually and the donors aren’t members of our church (or any church), but they give to St. Gabriel’s because they see what we are doing in the name of Christ.

On days that you go to bed with a deep sense of satisfaction, what happened? What was accomplished?
I witnessed transformation in at least one person’s life and soul. What happened? A conversation, a testimony, a smile, a nod or thumbs up, a drawing from a child, a hug, a blessing on my forehead.

What advice would you offer to others starting something new?
Fear and don’t be afraid. Find mentors. Be willing to work hard and remember to take care of your soul. There are so many things that seminaries don’t teach or even people in the trenches of church planting and congregational redevelopment can’t teach because we are DOING the work. Time is precious, but a true planter is always willing to help another, ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find.

If there are leaders you think I should profile, fill out this form or leave me a note on Twitter or Facebook.

The Series: Colby Martin | Jane Gerdsen | Jeya and Dan So | Sara Shisler Goff | Katie Nakamura Rengers | Daniel Vélez-Rivera