DisciplesWorld contributing writer Ted Parks is in Bayamón, Puerto Rico covering the Convención Centenaria, which runs from Feb. 12-15. Here’s his first update.

The Centenary Convention of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico opened Thursday, February 12, in Bayamón, a city some seven miles from San Juan.

Having traveled in Mexico, and other parts of Spanish America, I have noticed the uniqueness of Puerto Rico when compared to its Latin neighbors. Many people I know are not aware that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States and that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Arriving on the island the night before the Convention’s start, I drove from the airport in the Chrysler I rented at Budget and ate “Moons over My Hammy,” an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich at Denny’s, where the menu was in English. I paid for dinner in dollars.

While the history of Puerto Rico constrasts that of other nations in the region, the spirit here — despite the heavy American influence — is like other parts of the Hispanic world I’ve visited. Worship is fervent, animated by the steady beat of the worship group’s conga drums. Puerto Rican Disciples experienced a charismatic renewal movement in the first half of the last century that they call the “Avivamiento,” and the transforming energy from that moment remains.

In Thursday’s opening meetings, Esteban González Doble singled out three Disciples churches celebrating more than a century of history, the oldest founded in 1900, the second, in 1906, and the third in 1908.

González was consecrated to a second term as general pastor on Thursday night in a packed service at Buena Vista Christian Church in Bayamón. The consecration service capped the first day of the historic Centenary Convention.

According to the Puerto Rican Disciples’ website, the first convention in 1909 marked 10 years of Disciples outreach in Puerto Rico, with the first missionaries arriving April 23, 1899.

Ted Parks also writes for the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, the Christian Chronicle, Associated Baptist Press, and other publications. He is an associate professor of Spanish at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.