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At 96, Reyes is the oldest, longest-serving pastor in the U.S. Assemblies of God. He’s served the Spanish-language Iglesia Pentecostal de Washington Heights since 1953, first as a co-pastor, and since 1958, as lead pastor.
And he has no plans to retire, though the thought has often crossed his mind.
“Many times I have felt like retiring, but since the Lord has not given me permission, I can’t,” Reyes says.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1924, Reyes came to faith in Christ at age 12 and in 1944 moved to New York. On the recommendation of his pastor, he sought out a Pentecostal church, which led him to the congregation where he’s served since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency.
But as the church ended up with a succession of 10 pastors, in 1952 he began studies at the Instituto Bíblico de las Asambleas de Dios (Assemblies of God Bible Institute) to prepare himself for the pastorate. The next year, Iglesia Pentecostal called Reyes to be co-pastor and, in 1958, together with his wife, Antonia, lead pastor.
“I didn’t know how to be a pastor,” Reyes says. “The Lord taught me in 1956.”
Reyes says that God revealed a ministry method that the church follows to this day, which includes always having a baptism class.
The couple had three daughters as they ministered in the church, which has planted congregations throughout New York’s boroughs, in New Jersey, and abroad in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Spain. The areas represent the demographics of his congregation of around 275, comprised of Salvadorans, Dominicans, Cubans, Spaniards, and Puerto Ricans. He’s served as a presbyter and in other capacities in the AG Spanish Eastern District, to which the church belongs.
He’s ministered in Manhattan through the aftermath of terrorism (the church is 11 miles from the World Trade Center) and now amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We preach the gospel, save souls, and baptize people,” Reyes says. That calling stands, even in the global health crisis that early on devastated New York. “We have to keep preaching so people can convert. One rejects the gospel and another receives it.”
The senior pastor describes Iglesia Pentecostal de Washington Heights as biblically conservative.
“Many churches have become modern,” Reyes says. “We’re old-fashioned.”
Reyes doesn’t know how many sermons he’s preached. But in his closet is a big box and several notebooks full of his messages, records of his ministry that now extends over two-thirds of a century. He also has accumulated a few pointers over the decades about staying in the pulpit.
“I have learned that to be a Christian, you have to be strong, brave, and take hits,” Reyes says. “There is criticism, persecution, slander, attacks, and insults. The good part is there’s joy, life, baptisms, healings, and miracles.”
Reyes says he hasn’t done anything special to live so many years.
“Every time I get sick, the Lord heals me,” Reyes says. “I don't drink or smoke or take drugs or have any other kind of vice. I converted at age 12 and have followed this path.”
Reyes mentored current District Superintendent Manny A. Álvarez Sr. as a young pastor and signed off on his first ministry credential.
“He’s continued the battle,” says Álvarez, 61. “He’s been a true servant of God who has served his members, enabling them to press on, both spiritually and educationally.”
Although Reyes doesn’t have the stamina he once did, Álvarez says he remains a role model.
“He has a great deal of experience and much wisdom to mentor many leaders,” Álvarez says. “He's helped a lot of people through the years, and still he’s ministering in raising up leaders. At his age he still preaches and teaches effectively.”
Álvarez affirms that retirement isn’t in the vocabulary of Reyes, who still faithfully attends sectional meetings.
“We admire him because it’s not easy at his age,” Álvarez says. “He thinks he can continue to 120.”