When she lived in Puerto Rico, Rev. Dr. Iraida Ruiz de Porras, CSD (Certified Spiritual Director) recalls being asked to come one Sunday to the Methodist church her mother attended. Her mother was to be liturgist, read the scripture that day, and wanted her daughter’s moral support. After the service, members of the congregation greeted Ruiz de Porras. One noted the way she carried herself and predicted, much to her surprise, that Ruiz de Porras would be a pastor one day. That prediction came true. Ruiz de Porras has served a church in Puerto Rico plus ones in Hasbrouck Heights, Paterson, and Lakewood, New Jersey. This July, she became the new pastor of Butler United Methodist Church at 5 Bartholdi Avenue, Butler. Recently, Ruiz de Porras reflected on her path to the ministry and what she brings to the Butler church.
Ruiz de Porras (also known as “Pastor Iraida”) was born and raised in New York. When she was 14, her grandmother took her to Puerto Rico, and they visited a Pentecostal Church. There Ruiz de Porras was asked to sing. At first, she didn’t feel she could, but then “[It] felt like my heart was going to pop out of my chest”. Moved by what stirred inside her, she sang and felt she was being drawn to something. When she got back to New York City, her mother got her a record player so she could listen to Christian music and Ruiz de Porras spent time reading through her Bible.
Later, the family moved to Puerto Rico. There was no Methodist Church where they lived, so they attended a Presbyterian one. On youth day, the youth took on the different roles in delivering a worship service. Ruiz de Porras was asked to preach. She was 19 at the time and gave the message, “The Armor of God”. She remembers, “I felt very comfortable at the pulpit.” Later, a Methodist church was started in their area, and they worshipped there.
There were struggles for the family in Puerto Rico. Her mother, who had worked on Wall Street, was over-qualified for every job. Still, they got by (and things got better later). Ruiz de Porras went to college and studied business. Then, she got into business administration and even co-owned a business. However, she felt empty. “I had no passion for it,” she recalled. Then came the prediction at her mother’s church plus another experience which cemented her path.
Ruiz de Porras was worshipping at the Salem Methodist Church in the rural town of San Sebastian from 2003 – 2005. At first, her daughter was the only child there. “[I ] went out looking for [other] children,” she recalled. Within one month, she had 22 children at the church. She lured them in through teaching music and dance, creating a group. News of the church’s group grew, and the bishop came to see it. They were invited to share their talents at a conference of Methodist churches. Ruiz de Porras found her role growing in the church from children’s minister to youth minister to becoming a licensed local pastor. Then, she wanted to become ordained. However, that required attending a seminary.
She started studying at a seminary in Puerto Rico, but the commute was a hardship. Her brother encouraged her to apply to Drew University and return to the states. She was accepted and came to New Jersey. She earned a Masters in Divinity from Drew. “[I] thought God could call me back to Puerto Rico, but He hasn’t,” she shared. Instead, she went on to serve churches in New Jersey. Also, this past May, she received her Doctorate in Ministry (DMin).
When asked what she likes most about the ministry, Ruiz de Porras said, “I really like to see God’s grace in me and the people I serve.” She added that she feels her strength is being very empathetic and being a good listener. She shared, “I like to listen to people. I like to place myself in the middle of their stories and feel what they feel.” She added that she likes to help people to see the gifts God’s given them. Also, social justice issues are important to her. She wants to be present for those hurting and feeling rejected as she’s been through such things herself.
Her most memorable ministry experiences have been working with the children in the church in Puerto Rico and working with a church in New Jersey during the pandemic. The latter’s congregation was made up of people who commuted to church; Ruiz de Porras was the bridge to the local community. She lived there and knew what it needed. During the pandemic, the church pantry gave food to 400 people. Also, Ruiz de Porras helped the church stay alive by teaching its members how to learn zoom so online services could be held.
Ruiz de Porras is married and between them, she and her husband have three children. There is also her dog, Sally. Sally is a six-year-old bichon-shih tzu mix who likes to accompany the pastor to the church office and to get the church mail. The pastor enjoys golf, bowling and crafting. She enjoys making things for the children’s sermon that the children can take with them to remind them of the lesson. Also, she loves contemplative photography, seeing God’s presence in the captured moments.
Reflecting on coming to the Butler United Methodist Church, Ruiz de Porras is thrilled at all the church offers as outreach to the community: Noah’s Ark Day Care, Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry, Gleaners Thrift Store, Zumba classes, Red Bird Mission, and ballroom dance lessons. Also, the church is a place where AA, NA, Al-A teen, and Al-Anon meet during the week. Ruiz de Porras noted that she wants everyone to feel welcomed at the church and feel part of its community.