Luis Antonio (Tony) De La Rosa – a lawyer and a ruling elder who is calling for “hope and creativity” in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) – is the new interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. De La Rosa will begin his service on Dec. 1 and is expected to serve from one to three years.
Since last May, De La Rosa has been serving as a commissioned ruling elder and interim lay pastor of Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington. A lifelong Presbyterian, he formerly served as the clerk of session at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles and as the interim executive presbyter of the Presbytery of New York City.
De La Rosa, 55, received Bachelor of Arts, Master of Divinity and Juris Doctor degrees from Yale University. As an attorney, he worked with L.A. Care Health Plan, the nation’s largest public health maintenance organization. In the ‘90s, he served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.
He is the second Latino, and the first openly gay person, to lead the Presbyterian Mission Agency. De La Rosa and his husband, Michael P. Bendgen, were married in June at Immanuel Church. De La Rosa has been involved with More Light Presbyterians and active in efforts to push for the equality of gays and lesbians in the PC(USA).
He also has served for more than 20 years on national church entities, including the Advisory Committee on Litigation; the Special Committee on Churchwide Compensation Policy Guidelines; the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage; and the Board of Pensions.
Marilyn Gamm, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, announced De La Rosa’s selection at the board’s meeting in Louisville Sept. 23.
“This has been quite a day for Latino faith leaders,” he quipped during a news conference – a nod to the exuberance greeting Pope Francis on his U.S. visit. “I’d like to see my self as just part of an ongoing trend within the church. I’m half Mexican and half Puerto Rican. My father was from Vera Cruz, Mexico. My mother was from a tiny little town in southeast Puerto Rico. That meant, naturally, I was born in Chicago.”
Not long after that, the family moved to Los Angeles where De La Rosa said he grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly Mexican-American and Asian. “My faith experience has also endured a great deal of diversity,” he said – including time at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles where he was ordained as a ruling elder and at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, where worship is held in both Spanish and English.
“I have had the benefit of incredible experiences in the life of the church that have sort of run counter to the presumed trend of being homogenous, white, European, upper-middle class,” De La Rosa said.
The executive committee began searching for an interim after Linda Valentine, who had served as executive director since 2006, announced this summer that she would resign, and did so July 10. Valentine said she was leaving not because of controversies troubling the church over the past year (involving the 1001 New Worshiping Communities and Special Offerings programs, for example) but out of a sense that God was calling her to other things.
The new interim executive director will have responsibility for leading the Presbyterian Mission Agency at a significant time – as budgets for 2017 and 2018 are being developed and as the PC(USA) is running out of unrestricted reserves that have been used in the past to balance the budget.
Earline Williams, the PC(USA)’s chief financial officer, said that unless something changes, the PC(USA) will draw its unrestricted reserves down to the required minimum by the end of 2016, if not sooner. Projections show that World Mission may face a $4.5 million shortfall by 2017, which would force the PC(USA) to recall about 40 of the 162 mission co-workers it now has assigned internationally.
De La Rosa acknowledged there is a lack of trust in the PC(USA) and in the country, and “at the root of that is the fear of change.” What a leader can do is “address some of that anxiety and to redirect the energy toward the creative responses,” he said.
The board has begun the search for a called executive director to succeed Valentine. Serving on that search committee are board members Landon Whitsitt (chair), Marsha Zell Anson, Jeffrey Joe, Joseph Morrow, Kears Pollock, Patsy Smith and Wendy Tajima. The committee also has three ex-officio members: Gamm; Heath Rada, moderator of the 2014 General Assembly; and a representative of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly.