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Grace Wesleyan Church gets new pastor

Jose Rivera began as the new pastor at Grace Wesleyan Church, 56 E. Franklin Street, on July 1, but he preached at this location in May as pulpit supply, meaning he stepped in as a pastor because the church didn’t have one. The bookshelf is the only part of his office that is unpacked.

By HANNAH GUNNELL - hgunnell@shelbynews.com

“If you were to ask me seven years ago if I would be in the midwest, I would tell you you’re losing your rocker,” said Jose Rivera, the new pastor at Grace Wesleyan Church, 56 E. Franklin Street.

Rivera knew he was going to be a minister at 13 years old, but he never would have guessed his service would have taken him from Brooklyn, New York, to Shelbyville, Indiana.

Rivera grew up in a religious family, spending 12 hours at the church nearly every Sunday, he said. He started displaying leadership qualities and that was when he figured out he was going to be a pastor.

“There was a time when we had kind of a kid’s church service, and people started recognizing me as a leader,” he said. “I would get all the kids together and organize kid games, and things like that. I think very early, pre-teen, people started seeing leadership qualities in me and I started feeling the same way.”

He and some of the older teens even organized a food pantry, which Rivera said led to his ministry service back east.

“I got together a few of the older teens, and we went around and asked people for canned goods and non-perishable items,” he said.

Realizing he enjoyed helping those in need was the first indication that it would become his life service, Rivera said.

Rivera was ordained as a minister in New York, but before he did that he attended Siena College, where he studied theology, and he was in the U.S. Navy.

“If that doesn’t wake you up, you know,” he said about his service.

“The time in the navy really reinforced my ministry because we visited a lot of third world countries, and when you visit these countries that’s all you see is people in need, and homeless people,” he said. “It’s really saddening to see people living without the basic needs of life. That really opened the eyes and sealed the deal of my ministerial walk.”

Rivera married when he finished his military service. His father-in-law was a pastor too, so he said that also influenced his decision to become a pastor.

“It wasn’t until I got back to New York City after the navy, where I got married and had my first child and I got heavily involved in the church, when I began to deal with people in crisis,” he said. “And that’s really what it is for me – crisis ministry.”

Crisis ministry is a God service that helps people who are struggling.

“In a nutshell, Crisis ministry is helping people who are finding themselves in situations in their lives that are just a mess,” Rivera said. “Because God turns that mess into a message. It’s kind of a ‘pay-it-forward’ service.”

Rivera said he worked with people who have had family issues and drug addictions. His job is to provide them with the hope of Christ.

Rivera did a lot of crisis work in New York, but he first came to Greensburg, Indiana, at the request of his in-laws in October 2015.

“My in laws retired to Greensburg, (Indiana),” he said. “They got involved with a place called the Greensburg Transitional Living Center – Greensburg TLC. What that is, is a transitional homeless shelter, really. … They called me up and they say, ‘well TLC is hiring a director.’ Well obviously they want their family to come follow them, so they called and said ‘will you interview? Because this is right up your alley, Jose.’”

Rivera came to Greensburg with his wife and three of his five children.

“My middle daughter was pregnant at the time, so I have a grandson who is really a Hoosier, because he was born in Greensburg,” Rivera said.

Rivera said the moving experience was exciting.

“In the military I got to see different small towns, so I’ve always been a small-town guy, stuck in a concrete jungle,” he said.

When Rivera got to Greensburg, he was looking for a “home church,” so he ventured to several of the nearby churches before he chose the Lifeline Wesleyan Church of Greensburg.

The church in Greensburg offered a program similar to what Rivera did in New York, so he worked his way through the ranks in that program.

“So that’s my introduction to the Wesleyan Church,” he said.

He then transferred his ministry credentials from New York to Greensburg, got his district license from the Wesleyan Church Indiana South, and was offered the assistant pastor position at the Greensburg church two years ago.

“So I became heavily involved with the Wesleyan District, and I serve on the district youth council, so I’m at the district office a lot,” he said. “In doing so, I met some of the other churches. As a licensed minister for the Wesleyan Church Indiana South, I provide pulpit supply –here comes the Shelbyville connection.”

Pulpit supply means when there is a church without a pastor or preacher, any licensed minister in the district can be asked to fill in that position.

Rivera filled in for the Grace Wesleyan Church in Shelbyville for the month of May.

“When I prayed about even coming to the Midwest, I fought it,” he said. “I was really comfortable in New York City and I fought it a little bit. God really clearly in my spirit told me that I had to come. That he had plans and people needed me. The second time God spoke to me like that was the first time I provided pulpit supply here. When I left the first Sunday after preaching here, God said it again.”

“The spirit of God is just in this building,” Rivera said.

Rivera’s first day in Shelbyville was July 1. He took a vow, where for 77 days the church would pray and fast, and Rivera would not make any changes because he believes God will show him the way, he said.

“Miracles happen when you fast,” he said. “We’re going to let God decide how to turn the church inside out.”

When the fasting period is over, the church will do what God has asked. Rivera said as pastor, he would like to get to know the community.

“I want to open the doors of this church to ANYBODY,” he said. “I want to invite people to come talk to me, to come see the facility, and I want to see how we can first pray and help people in any which way we could. I think this community is a good community and there’s a lot of opportunity here. I call them God-portunities.”