Attendance drops as 400,000 island residents move to the mainland.
The evangelical church in Puerto Rico won’t be the same after Hurricane Maria.
Even congregations that have resumed their regular gatherings after repairing buildings and regaining power are still missing a major part of church life: some of their members.
An estimated 400,000 of the island’s more than 3 million residents have left the US territory for the mainland since the record-setting September storm. Like every other aspect of Puerto Rican life, church attendance has taken a hit.
Gadiel Ríos’s 350-member congregation in Arecibo, La Iglesia del Centro, saw five to six families relocate to the mainland after enduring ongoing power outages and financial hardship—a number similar to losses experienced by fellow pastors.
About a third of Ríos’s congregants still don’t have power—the same proportion of electricity customers island-wide who are still waiting for service. He estimates Sunday attendance has dropped 5 to 10 percent.
“All of this is putting a lot of strain on families,” he said. “Remember that Hispanic families are very close and tend to live in clusters to support each other; now Maria is disrupting this way of life.”
Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking congregations in the States have welcomed the Puerto Ricans who have fled, particularly those in Orlando, where the “great migration” is expected to transform the city. Of all the people who moved to the continental US from the Caribbean island in the past four months, more than 300,000 settled in Florida alone, according to the Sunshine State’s division of emergency management.
Members of Calvario City Church greeted arrivals from Puerto Rico as soon as they landed in the Orlando …