In our society, there are many times when our identity is reduced to a number.

Whether it is one’s Social Security number or the number one takes as they wait in line at the coffee shop, there are times when people are only seen by a series of digits rather than who they are as people.

Life is much easier that way, said Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, a general assembly co-moderator for the Presbyterian Church in the United States. She was in Redwood Falls recently to take part in the weekend activities at the church, including a regional Presbytery meeting as well as Sunday morning worship.

Cintrón-Olivieri, who is originally from Puerto Rico, said people feel a greater sense of identity when people call them by their name. She added that is what happens in the Christian faith, “when God calls us by our name.”

“That is what Jesus did,” she said. “He saw, he acknowledged, he validated people. Jesus disturbed the status quo. Jesus saw the invisible. He saw the humanity in people.”

Cintrón-Olivieri said Christians are called to do the same thing.

“We are called to love God and love our neighbors,” said Cintrón-Olivieri. “There is no ‘or.’ To love God is to love our neighbors.”

In her role as general assembly co-moderator, Cintrón-Olivieri said she has been able to visit people in their settings across the United States, and she has seen loving one’s neighbor lived out among the faithful.

“We need to see others through the eyes of grace,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “When we see numbers or labels, we devalue the person. We must see the image of God in our neighbors.”

Cintrón-Olivieri said she was invited to visit Redwood Falls by Scott Prouty, First Presbyterian Church pastor, and in February she was finally able to make that happen.

In addition to sharing her message about loving one’s neighbor, Cintrón-Olivieri also shared a message about the church.

“The Presbyterian church is alive and well,” she said.

After what Cintrón-Olivieri called a season of rediscovery, the denomination is again moving forward with the vision to grow in faith and to focus on being a good neighbor locally, nationally and globally.

Moving forward toward congregational vitality is an important step, she said, and having the chance to visit local churches across the country, Cintrón-Olivieri said she is seeing that in congregations time after time. 

Cintrón-Olivieri said the Presbyterian church in the United States has 1.4 million members in 10,000 churches, adding the number of members is leveling off in recent years.

Like a lot of mainline denominations, the Presbyterian church has been experiencing a decline in their numbers, but Cintrón-Olivieri said that decline has been slowing down.

“We have room to grow,” she said. “As Christians we just need to continue to be faithful, because God knows the plan.”

Growing churches in the denomination are unique, explained Cintrón-Olivieri, as many of them are going away from what has been more traditional worship services.

As a lifelong Presbyterian, Cintrón-Olivieri said she feels very positive about the future of the denomination, adding she believes as long as the church continues its Christ-centered focus the church will be able to continue to make a difference in communities as it demonstrates love for its neighbors.