Meet “Mr. Moderator”, Julio Peña

2013 Moderator of the Chicago Presbytery Assembly

Julio Peña, in black vest, blessing Mike Youngbloood at his retirement in April 2013.

Julio Peña, in black vest, blessing Mike Youngbloood at his retirement in April 2013.

by Chicago Presbytery staff Laura Cathey

With the laugh of a troublemaker and a passion for Christ, Julio Peña is the man people are calling “Mr. Moderator” at Presbytery Assembly meetings this year. Julio is a Commissioned Local Pastor (formerly Commission Ruling Elder) of Puerto Rican descent.

His whole family is heavily involved in ministry at their home church of Chicago Pullman. Julio’s wife is the superintendent of Christian Education. His daughter is a deacon, an officer in the youth group, and part of the audio system team at the church. His two sons (10 and 8 years old) are Pullman Champions – a program for Bible study and crafts – and they sing in the children’s choir. Julio affectionately admits that his sons are hams, loving the spotlight.

At Chicago Pullman, Julio loves the preaching, the music, and the sense of welcome in a congregation of great huggers. He says members are not afraid to pray on the spot and are open for change. Most of Julio’s ministry used to be centered on Pullman, but as moderator this year he travels all over Chicagoland. Additionally, for the last ten years he’s been leading a Bible study in his home. He ministers on his son’s baseball team, with the Boy Scouts, and was recently asked to pray over a postal worker when she found out he was a minister.

As the moderator, Julio’s primary responsibility is to run the five Presbytery Assembly meetings this year, facilitating efficient involvement from over 200 commissioners in attendance. But in between Assemblies, he attends numerous smaller meetings and serves on crisis teams. His role requires him to be a neutral party in conflict and a patient listener. On the heaviest weeks, Julio spends 20-25 hours on his responsibilities as moderator – a volunteer position. The fun part, he says, is being present at all the installation and ordination services – sacred and collegial celebrations.

Every year, the moderator selects a theme for his or her term. Julio’s theme is “Serving as One in the Kingdom of Christ,” which calls for working together, finding common ground, and realizing that ultimately our service is about God, not us. Presbyterians may not all be on the same page, and they may not be of the same age, sexuality, or race – but we can listen to each other and live out our differences. Besides, Julio laughs, when the world ends, there will be no Presbyterians or Lutherans, only one Church.

If he could pick one thing for the Presbytery to prioritize, it would be committed involvement from more individuals in the ministries of their local churches. He has a vision for the churches of working together and building relationships.

In 2014, Julio will pass the torch to Rev. John Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Chicago Fourth. Julio hopes to be supportive of John, responding to all his questions, while stepping out of the role of authority. In this, Julio plans to model himself on the 2012 Moderator, Rev. Debbie Paton, who has actively supported Julio this year.

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