Daniel Rodríguez left legacy of servant leadership

Bishop Joel Martinez. Photo courtesy of the Council of Bishops.
Bishop Joel Martinez
Photo courtesy of the Council of Bishops.
The Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez, a widely known and beloved United Methodist Hispanic/Latino leader, died July 19 in San Antonio. With his passing, The United Methodist Church lost a caring pastor, advocate for justice and facilitator of dialogue.

I was blessed to work closely with Dan as we shared in ministry within our conference and in the wider church for over 40 years. He was a good friend, a thoughtful mentor and a wise counselor to me throughout my ministry. 

Dan, who was 88, had a 50-year ministry as a pastor, district superintendent, conference council director and executive director of MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus in The United Methodist Church. He influenced three generations of lay and clergy leaders in mission with Hispanic/Latino communities in the United States and Puerto Rico.

A lifelong clergy member of the Rio Grande Conference, he was a graduate of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Southwestern conferred the honorary doctor of divinity degree in recognition of outstanding leadership as a pastor and denominational leader.

Dan’s voice and advocacy for the mission of United Methodism with the growing Hispanic/Latino community were key in the denominational effort to develop and approve the Ethnic Local Church Missional Priority in the 1980s.

The Rev. Daniel Z. Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of the Rodriguez family.
The Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez
Photo courtesy of the Rodríguez family
As a director on the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he worked for the support of a stronger commitment to congregational development in Hispanic/Latino communities and the implementing of financial stewardship development programs in the missionary and ethnic language conferences.

While serving as council director of the Rio Grande Conference, he made a commitment to participate in the ongoing work of MARCHA. His ability as a facilitator and his relational style led the caucus board to invite him to serve as executive director from 1980-83. His three-year tenure helped MARCHA to regain momentum as it advocated for a more inclusive United Methodism and for the strengthening of the Ethnic Minority Local Church. The caucus also advocated for more Hispanic/Latino staff in the general agencies, for the election of Hispanic/Latino leaders to the Council of Bishops and for cultivating closer relationships with the Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dan once told me that “for me the annual conference comes first.” So, while he answered the call to wider service in the general church, he was most devoted to serving as a pastor and other appointments in his beloved home conference of Rio Grande. This helps explain his return to the pastorate in 1983, when he was appointed to the historic La Trinidad United Methodist Church in San Antonio. He would serve the longest tenure – 19 years – as pastor in the 144-year history of the congregation. He came from a family of preachers, preceded by his father, Amado, and several cousins. This was part of his spiritual legacy.

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Laity that he pastored appreciated his warm and caring approach to ministry with the flock. He also encouraged younger laity to embrace and affirm their roles as leaders of the present and the future. Youth ministry was important in his work. 

His preaching was informed by his involvement in community and the social teachings of The United Methodist Church. As pastor in the Rio Grande Valley at Mission in 1966, he walked with and supported the striking farmworkers of the valley in their 400-mile march to the state capitol in Austin seeking justice, fair wages and improved working conditions. 

At La Trinidad, he engaged in community organizing efforts in the heavily Mexican American west and south sides of San Antonio. He supported the work of Communities Organized for Public Service and The Metro Alliance, two groups affiliated with the Industrial Areas Network of Community Organizations. Transformative efforts by these organizations corrected some of the decades-old discriminatory practices of the San Antonio power structure toward these areas of the city.

Jesus sent out the disciples two by two. Ministry is always a team ministry. Dan’s spouse, Evelí Rodríguez, was a caring and supportive team member in their ministry. Her own labors as staff in the conference council office, including serving as associate council director, and her work as a certified Christian educator, left a lasting imprint on the lives of countless persons in the conference and local churches where they served. Her 34-year tenure on the conference office staff is also a record.

For many of us who were privileged to share in ministry with the Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez, our fondest memory of him is as a caring mentor and role model. His good counsel, his honest feedback, and his smiles and laughter were gifts we can never repay. 

Before retiring, Martinez served as resident bishop of the Nebraska and San Antonio Episcopal Areas, as well as president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and president of the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry Coordinating Committee for eight years each.

News media contact: Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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