The Seacoast District officially welcomed its new superintendent, Rev. Wanda Santos-Perez, three months and eight days after appointment, as she pointed out in her sermon.
The Installation Service was held on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at the North Kingstown UMC in Rhode Island.
“I can tell you volumes of what I have learned, and experienced, and seen in the three months and eight days (I didn’t count the hours or the minutes yet) since my appointment as District Superintendent to the beautiful, resilient, and extraordinary Seacoast District began on July 1,” Rev. Santos-Perez said.
She serves the only district in the Conference that covers more than one state. The Seacoast District includes churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
“I am struck by the diversity of geography and the ethos of the congregations,” she said.
Rev. Santos-Perez was welcomed by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar and Dean of the Cabinet Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, who is superintendent of the Green Mountain District.
“Wanda, it strikes me that you have a unique preparation for this important work, having supported your beloved in this same role,” Rev. Robinson said. Rev. René Perez served as superintendent of the former Central MA District from 2011 to 2019.
“Let me be clear,” Rev. Robinson continued, “your superintendencies will be as different as the two of you are differently gifted and blessed for ministry.”
But she said, Rev. Santos-Perez has personal experience of “both the privileges you will enjoy and the sacrifices your family may be required to make in order for them to support you.”
Rev. Robinson shared a few of the gifts that she and Cabinet colleagues have seen in Rev. Santos-Perez:
A loving heart,
A calm presence,
A strong, prayerful spirit,
A humble spirit,
A heart for compassion and mercy,
A willingness to speak the truth in love,
An inquisitiveness and thoughtfulness of others,
A soft-spokeness when it’s time to listen and a prophetic firmness when it is time to speak,
And an ability to cast a vision and lead people toward its fulfillment.
“You have been, up to this point, the pastor any of us would entrust with a beloved congregation,” Rev. Robinson said.
She quoted Rev. Santos-Perez back to herself using words Rev. Santos-Perez once shared with one of her congregations:
“I am in love with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I count it as a privilege and blessing to be serving the good people of this United Methodist Church and community.”
“May you never lose sight of this love, this focus, this calling, this privilege, this blessing, this Jesus, our Christ, who saves us and sets us free,” Rev. Robinson said.
Bishop Devadhar said that Rev. Santos-Perez, who began serving as a licensed local pastor in 1993, is well qualified to lead the church at this moment.
“We are at a time in our denomination where we depend on more and more local pastors to do the ministry of the Church,” the bishop said. “You come to us with a long history of being licensed as a local pastor. You will bring that new understanding to this Cabinet – what it means to be a local pastor.”
The bishop expanded on what he meant by “long history,” saying “You have been asked by your colleagues why you waited so long to become a full elder, but your answer is, as Jill said, a very humble answer with a great meaning behind it; you said:
‘Some have teased that I took the scenic route to ordination. I put my process toward ordination on hold when René was invited to join the Cabinet in New England in 2011.’
“Now we know the secret,” Bishop Devadhar said. “You were the support for René.”
Rev. Santos-Perez has traveled on many of the pilgrimages led by Bishop Devadhar including those to Taizé, the Holy Land, and Korea.
“Having seen you, having traveled with you ... I have observed you from a long range and from close range – microscopically and telescopically,” the bishop said. “As Jill said, you have a deep love for Jesus, and also a gift in you is to empower the laity, and we have seen that through your local ministries. And above all, Wanda, you follow the call of Christ, for which we are grateful.
“We are indeed grateful to you for having said yes to this call. Thank you, thank you and thank you,” the bishop said.
In her sermon titled “Showing Up,” Rev. Santos-Perez said that when it comes to the concerns she’s heard from the district’s clergy and laity, “I agree, and I hear you – we are living in very difficult and challenging times — where it seems the ability or the desire to listen to other perspectives and experiences have all been broken down.”
She specifically cited the “divisive and harmful rhetoric” within our own denomination on human sexuality and race.
“There is concern,” Rev. Santos-Perez said, “about the number of churches without clergy appointments, the inability or unwillingness of some in our congregants to return to in-person gatherings and worship even after the vaccines have been available and the restrictions of covid have been relaxed.”
Speaking of the increase in those facing mental health issues, violence, and substance abuse, Rev. Santos-Perez said:
“We cannot deny that the struggle is real. These weigh heavy on my heart and feature prominently in my brain, and I know they are in yours.”
Even so, she said, there’s reason to be hopeful.
“I celebrate and am encouraged, though, by the resiliency of our churches who continue to show up — rising the challenge of these unusual times and presenting themselves as hope-filled and life-giving communities,” she said.
But showing up must mean something different in these times, Rev. Santos-Perez said.
“[In the wake of COVID] pastors and laity alike have acquired new skills and discovered a treasure trove of gifts as they were pushed out of their comfort zone,” she said.
She, too, had to learn the skills of a video and audio technician, while also officiating on Sunday mornings.
At times, Rev. Santos-Perez said, “there were tears.”
“What kept me doing it, and I know what kept you doing it, was the love of Christ in us,” she said. “The love of Christ that we know God has for our people in the pews and now, believe it or not, on our livestreams.”
She commended the churches that have “embraced technology and are expanding their reach,” including one church where a 10-year-old member of the congregation helps her pastor with the weekly livestream.
“I am encouraged by the determination and the energy of those who gather to find creative ways to form and engage the community post-pandemic,” she said, “because if we are not asking how
we’re going to show up during this time, we need to stop what we’re doing and make sure that is a question that we are addressing, because the way that we are showing up needs to be different than how we showed up in the past.” Read the full sermon
The service included the anointing of Rev. Santos-Perez by the bishop and her Cabinet colleagues, the presentation of the symbols of the superintendency by members of the district, and communion, led by Rev. Santos-Perez. The day’s events concluded with a gathering to greet the new Seacoast DS and her family.