HUDSON HEIGHTS — A century-old Upper Manhattan church will celebrate a first this fall — a Latino leader.
Fort Washington Collegiate Church will make history in October, when it installs Robert Rodriguez as its senior minister.
Rodriguez, 47, was chosen to lead the church after its parent organization, the Collegiate Church of New York, conducted a national search for a replacement for outgoing pastor Charles Morris, who is retiring this year.
Morris and Rodriguez have a history. Both entered the Fort Washington Church, located at 729 Fort Washington Ave., in 1997, with Morris serving as senior minister and Rodriguez as Director of Christian Education. At the time the church was faced with a declining membership made up primarily white worshippers.
Today, the church draws up to 200 worshippers every Sunday, in part because Rodriguez worked during the early years to set up a Spanish-language service, which drew non-English congregants to the church. Ultimately, the service that was discontinued after Rodriguez departed in 2003.
"I've known Robert for many years," Morris, 64, said of the Puerto Rican-American Rodriguez. "I believe God brought him to us, and helped us find him."
"It feels like home here," said Rodriguez, who was born and raised in Washington Heights and previously worked as an assistant superintendent in Peekskill.
As for what he plans to do once he is installed, Rodriguez said that he would like to see the church engage with elected officials to address affordable housing, mental illness and gun possession problems that plague the neighborhood.
And although it's not on his immediate agenda, Rodriguez said that he would like to see the church host a Spanish-language service at some point in the future, like it did in the late 90s.
"I'm all about creating relationships with the community," Rodriguez said. "I believe that's what the church is here for."