Archive for From the Pastors

Times of Reflection and Meditation

We are going through very difficult times worldwide. It’s not only in the United States and in Mexico that we are suffering in this pandemic, living separated from our family, friends and loved ones. I think the whole world is enslaved by the pandemic.

Human and economic losses, bankrupties of small and large companies, and compulsory social isolation puts many people in a tremendous emotional crisis. Anxiety is leading many couples to divorce, since they are forced to be together for too much of their time. In the worst case scenarios both adults and children are affected if they share a home with other families. And problems multiply when people are thrown out of their houses for not being able to pay the rent.

Hope in Uncertain Times quote by Oprah Winfrey

Unfortunately, I have personally seen these situations when receiving calls from people in the middle of a crisis. Thankfully, I have been able to contact several social organizations to help me find support for these Hispanic/Latino families in San Jose. Organizations such as Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart), Friends of Guadalupe, Santa Clara County, and different family shelters have been able to supply the help needed to keep people from living on the street. Food for families has been supplied by the Segunda Cosecha (Second Harvest) food bank.

Those who are suffering in El Maguey are receiving help from SJ First Church and the Methodist women and also the leaders of Cristo Vive, all great warriors with noble hearts, who have been supporting the community. I have been able to see—in the middle of my time of prayer and meditation—the hand of God protecting His people. Of course, several people who I know from Atotonilco and El Maguey, as well as some relatives of our congregation members, have died. But prayer and faith keep us standing .

We have been going through Holy Week which, for me, is very special. One of my favorite days is Palm Sunday, when Jesus humbly made his triumphal entry mounted on a donkey. He was accompanied by the multitude of devoted people, who spread their cloaks on the road where Jesus Christ would be passing. More people joined this beautiful procession, waving branches of trees and full of hope that Jesus would save them. They shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Another special day is Maundy Thursday, where Jesus invited His beloved disciples to the last supper that he would have with them. This event instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He not only invited those who wanted to follow Him, but also the one who would eventually betray Him. He humbly washed everyone’s feet, teaching them service and the way they could serve the world. Jesus did it with humility, being faithful and obedient to God.

On Good Friday Jesus fulfilled his mission and the will of the Father. He died on the cross for the sins of the world, giving His life for us. He was charged with the sins of humanity, those of the past, present and future, so that we do not lose ourselves but instead have eternal life with Him. God gave us the spirit of life with his breath in creation. Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we are not alone. He cares for us and protects us.

Through Jesus Christ we will return to the Father. He gave us the breath of life, and to Him we will return, thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ. This resurrection Sunday we celebrate His coronation in heaven. He sits at the right side of the Father as heir of all that we see and also of all that which is invisible to us. He will be waiting for us, since, by believing in Him, we are saved.

Sisters, brothers and friends, for more than a year of pandemic caused by the coronavirus we have been living our life on our own cross. I imagine it as a very dark night; just like during the crucifixion of Our Lord, the world got dark at three o’clock in the afternoon. But we believe that we will soon come out of this crisis. The vaccination process is advancing, and little by little the economy is opening up. We are coming out of this gray cloud that is over our world.

My mother used to say that when the night is darkest it will soon be dawn. Let’s not lose hope. Let us meditate and reflect on everything that Our Lord Jesus Christ had to go through and came out triumphant. We will also come out victorious; we just have to believe, have faith, and put our burdens in the hands of God.

Happy Easter!
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez.

Pastor’s Note: Leadership Update

Dear Friends,

Blessings to you during these Great 50 Days of Easter. It is with gratitude and joy I wish to share an update regarding the transition of SJ First to becoming the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose.

On Wednesday, March 17, members of the Vision Leadership Team elected a new Hispanic/Latino Nominations Committee. This action was authorized by District Superintendent, Rev. Samuel Hong. The vote was 8 support, 0 oppose, 1 abstention. The new members of the Nominations Committee are Emma Carmen Diaz Rodriguez, Josefina Flores Acebedo, and Alma Delia Martines. These persons were affirmed in part because of their Christian character, commitment to the church, and are well-respected among Hispanic/Latino members and constituents.

Following the VLT meeting, members of the new Nominations Committee met with Pastor Gerardo for a significant amount of time to consider and pray about the nomination of new Hispanic/Latino leaders and officers to be elected at the Special Charge Conference, authorized by Rev. Hong.

On Sunday, March 28, members of the Special Charge Conference, upon recommendation of the Nominations Committee, elected Hispanic/Latino leaders and officers to serve as members of the Vision Leadership Team, Trustees/Finance, Staff Parish Relations Committee, and Worship Team effective May 1, 2021. The vote was 8 support, 0 oppose, 0 abstention. Other committees, such as UMW Leadership Team, Inclusion Team, and Altar Guild are to be supplied at a later date and will likely be elected at the Fall 2021 Church Conference.

I am so very thankful for those leaders and officers who have labored for Christ and served on various committees and ministries over the years: Ron Hunt, VLT Chair; Kristin Huget, Treasurer; Susan Cassens, Membership Secretary; Ellen Shaner, UMW President & Alt. Lay Member to AC; Curtis Jones, SPRC Chair and members (Nancy Hellyer, Dianne Smith, Kari Wallick, Jeff Huget); Don Langworthy, Trustee/Finance Chair and members (David Cassens, Kristin Huget, Jerry Burge, Melissa Diaz); Dianne Smith, Inclusion Team Chair and members (Ellen Shaner, Kari Wallick, Kevin Crawford, Darlene Woodburn, Joan Clements); Members of the Nominations Committee (Jeff Huget, Yolanda Bernal, Ellen Shaner, Darlene Woodburn); Ray Castellon, Outreach Program Coordinator; UMW Leadership Team (Ellen Shaner, Susan Cassens, Dianne Smith, Carol Prewett, Kari Wallick, Arlene Zarou-Cooperman); Worship team (Kirk Tamura, Susan Cassens, Don Langworthy, Steven Hoffman, Abby Axtell, Nancy Langworthy, Darlene Woodburn and members of the Bell Choir, Abby Axtell, Kristeen Pemberton, Joan Clements, Don Langworthy, Perry Absher, Arlene Zarou-Cooperman, Patty Meeko, and Christian Delooper); Members of the Altar Guild (Joan Clements, Kristeen Pemberton, and Patty Meeko).

Now we pray God’s blessing upon these newly elected servant leaders: Miguel Rodriguez, VLT Chair; Iris Álvarez, Lay Leader; Yaritza Hernández, Treasurer; Maria Cordova, Membership Secretary; Jessica Cornejo, SPRC Chair and Members (Bertha Hernández López, Patricia Alvarez, Horacio Lopez, Romana Ramirez); Members of the Trustee/Finance (Erwin Polar, Felipa Hernández Carrada, Oscar Vazquez, Yaritza Hernández, Socorro Del Real); Members of the Nominations Committee (Emma Carmen Diaz Rodriguez, Josefina Flores Acebedo, Alma Delia Martines); Horacio Lopez, Lay Member to AC; Osman Mendoza, Young Adult Rep; Marcos Garza, Open Pantry Coordinator and Team (Horacio Lopez, Osman Mendoza, Oscar Vazquez, Veronica Zuares, Manny Ponce); Members of the Worship Team (Osman Mendoza, Marcos Garza, Miguel Rodriguez, Vivian Gabriela De León, Mauricio Mendoza, Oscar Vazquez, Betzabe Díaz Garciduenas).

Pastor Gerardo and I will continue to work with our Hispanic/Latino sisters and brothers in Christ, orienting them to leadership and committee responsibilities.

I am grateful for the support offered to members and constituents by our Congregational Co-Ministers, Ellen Shaner & Susan Cassens, during this time of transition. As I mentioned in my last Pastor’s Note, Sunday, June 13 will be the last day for English-speaking services. I will, however, continue to be available for pastoral emergencies through June 30 before beginning a new appointment at a different church July 1.

Lastly, we welcome Nancy Villalobos as our new Church Administrator in training. After meeting with the interview team, and our current Church Administrator, Susan Cassens, for a significant amount of time on at least two or three separate occasions for introduction and orientation to the job, Nancy accepted the position and begins training this week. Susan will continue to work at SJ First in order to offer the necessary support and on the job training while Nancy learns about her numerous responsibilities. Nancy is bilingual and brings many gifts to SJ First. The church and community will, no doubt, be blessed by her presence.

Indeed, we give thanks to God for all that the Risen One is doing in the life of the church and community.

Grace and Peace, Jeffrey

Times of Change

I remember a saying that my mother used to repeat: nothing is forever, everything has its time

My memory makes me look to the past, reviewing my call and the part of my life on August 17, 2007 when Cristo Vive began. I felt the call to unite my community in El Maguey, to eat together, to read the Bible, and to be one in Christ. My house was a very humble dwelling, made of dirt. The garage of my house was not covered, so we were out in the open. I was equal to, maybe even poorer than, my debt-ridden and hopeless neighbors. But I wanted with all my heart to do something for others, since I had been left alone, as you may know, and did not want to live without a purpose. My motive was and is to help my neighbors, wherever I am. Most importantly, I wanted God to walk with me to make things right.

In January 2010, my neighbors from the El Maguey and Atotonilco neighborhoods got together and officially registered the Iglesia de Cristo Vive with the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico. Sometime later agents of the Social Services of the State of Jalisco came to approve the facilities of Cristo Vive and to ascertain that this church and its leaders were ready for this great project. Our aim was to help the poorest; however, the irony was that we didn’t see that we were very poor, too.

When the social workers arrived, they could not find the location of Cristo Vive, and they were going around in circles. The small group of people waiting for them—mostly women and children—were nervous, because we needed the registration. Without it the local church could interfere so that Cristo Vive could not be independent and Protestant.

I heard about a truck that was driving around the village, so I went out to see who it was. Here they were . . . these frustrated social workers who could not find us and were now in front of us. I told them, “Here it is! I am the president of Cristo Vive.” Astonished and with great respect they greeted us. I imagine it was a surprise for them. They visit other organizations, which are usually located in huge buildings and are run by entrepreneurs. What they had in front of them was a group of poor people in a humble house wanting to help the poor.

They entered the house and we shared with them water and fruit, which was all that we had to offer. They received it with much respect and gratitude. I apologized and told them to forgive me, because the house was very poor and had a dirt floor. But we wanted to help people, and we wanted the name of Cristo Vive for our organization. They told us not be ashamed. They said this type of project bears better fruit than others, because you have the intention and the courage to undertake something new. They also pointed out that later they would return, and by that time Cristo Vive would have its own building. They couldn’t say when, but only that it would happen, because they believed in us. They made their report and left.

A month later a small group of people from Cristo Vive joined me on a trip to the office of Social Services in Guadalajara, the state capital. The purpose of our visit was to get documentation which would provide recognition of Cristo Vive as a non-profit organization serving the community.

Since that visit, Cristo Vive has changed a lot with God’s blessing. It is located at the intersection of two streets. One is Columba Domínguez Street which extends to the main entrance of El Maguey. The local government has paved it, since it was in very bad condition. The school is across Ester Fernández Street, opposite the library side of our building. We’ve been holding our festivities and anniversaries on Ester Fernández Street for several years. But over the last 8 months we’ve had the generous support of San Jose First Church and the Methodist Women’s Group. We use that street, since it is spacious, but in the live broadcasts on Facebook it looked very neglected. With the help of God, I think that the local government felt sorry for how the street appeared as we carried out our activities. In the last three weeks they have been cleaning it and installing new hydraulic concrete there. Our neighbors and members of Cristo Vive are the most benefited, since when it is finished, it will be in better condition for our services and celebrations. The elderly will be safer, since chairs will be set on a firmer place. In truth, that street is our patio or esplanade for Cristo Vive.

There is no doubt that God chooses where He wants members of the community and neighbors to meet: at the corner of Calle Columba Domínguez and Ester Fernández in La Colonia El Maguey (and including neighbors from Atotonilco El Alto), as well as on North 5th and Santa Clara Streets in San José, California.

God’s timing is perfect. It only takes time, faith, and love for the neighbors to have a place to meet to worship Him. The social workers did not doubt that Cristo Vive is the right place for the neighborhood to meet and live in harmony. It works because of the hand of God and every one of those who participate with their financial support and volunteer work.

Changes are often sad and hard, but many times they are necessary. Nothing is forever, and everything changes. You just have to trust God’s timing and believe and live to achieve a dream of helping those who need it most.

God bless you.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note: Church transition update

Dear Friends,

I want to update you on some significant developments regarding the transition of SJ First to becoming a Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church. On Saturday, March 6, Pastor Gerardo and I participated in an important virtual meeting with many Spanish-speaking members and constituents where there was a shared vision and passion for SJ First to become the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose:

  • Where Hispanic/Latino people are leaders of the church they love.
  • Where cultures and traditions are woven into the theological and ecclesial fabric of the church.
  • Where the building is used for ministry to its potential.
  • Where the church is connecting with the surrounding community.
  • Where the church has space made sacred by generations past to baptize and make disciples for generations to come.

The response was inspiring. I have no doubt the bold witness of God’s light and love, and the legacy of SJ First’s commitment to acts of compassion and service, will be carried faithfully into the future by our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ.

The next step written in chalk

The next step in the transition takes place at our VLT meeting, Wednesday, March 17. The District Superintendent, Rev. Hong, has authorized the VLT to elect a new Nominations Committee that will be constituted by Hispanic/Latino persons. Pastor Gerardo, and me as Chair of the Committee, will present the names of those to be elected as the new Nominations Committee.

Following the VLT meeting, the new Nominations Committee will nominate new leaders and committees constituted by Hispanic/Latino persons who will be formally elected at a Special Charge Conference, authorized by the District Superintendent. The date of the Special Charge Conference has not yet been determined, but it will likely occur in a timely manner while also meeting Disciplinary requirements.

At the Special Charge Conference, the District Superintendent will identify an effective start date when the newly elected leaders and committees will officially begin, which will also likely happen in a timely manner.

Along the way, Pastor Gerardo and I will be working with our Hispanic/Latino sisters and brothers in Christ, orienting them to leadership and committee transition. Importantly, we are working with the District and Conference to identify resources that would be helpful in the orientation and training of committees.

Sunday, June 13 will be the last day for English-speaking services. I will, however, continue to be available for pastoral emergencies through June 30 before beginning a new appointment at a different church July 1.

As I mentioned in the previous Pastor’s Note, when the building can be re- opened and safely hold in-person worship services again, there will be a special worship service when all English-speaking members and constituents will be invited to mark the occasion by passing the torch, so to speak, and bless Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino congregation as they carry the legacy of SJ First faithfully into the future.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

Nota del pastor

Queridos amigos,

Como probablemente ya sabrá, San José First UMC se encuentra en medio de una significativa transición en lo que se refiere al ministerio futuro y la misión de la iglesia; es decir, para hacer la transición de SJ First a una Iglesia Metodista Unida Hispana / Latina y descontinuar los servicios de habla en inglés.

Soy consciente de que las transiciones como esta son difíciles y traen consigo una mezcla de emociones, particularmente sentimientos de dolor y pérdida.

 Por favor, sepa que el pastor Gerardo y yo estamos aquí para apoyarlo en lo mejor de nuestra capacidad. Nuestras copresidentas de atención congregacional, Ellen Shaner y Susan Cassens, también estamos aquí para apoyarlo y cuidarlo a medida que avanzamos con la transición y la visión de futuro de SJ First.

Una visión para que SJ First se convierta en La Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida hispana / latino insignia en la Conferencia Anual, un Centro de Ministerio en el Centro de San José:

  • Donde las personas hispanas / latinas son líderes de la iglesia que aman.
  • Donde las culturas y tradiciones se entrelazan con lo teológico y tejido eclesial de la iglesia.
  • Donde el edificio se utiliza para el ministerio en todo su potencial.
  • Dónde la iglesia se conecta con la comunidad circundante.
  • Donde la iglesia tiene un espacio sagrado por generaciones pasadas a bautizar y hacer discípulos para las generaciones venideras.

Durante los próximos meses, el pastor Gerardo y yo estaremos trabajando con nuestros hermanos y hermanas hispanos / latinos en Cristo, preparándolos para el liderazgo.

La transición del comité. Anticipo el primer comité al que haremos la transición será el Comité de Nominaciones / Liderazgo Laico en nuestro VLT de marzo reunión. Esta acción permitirá la nominación y elección de otros comités en abril y, si es necesario, mayo.

En este momento, lamentablemente no tenemos una fecha para cuando los hablantes de inglés los servicios se suspenderán, aunque probablemente será antes del 1 de julio.

Estamos trabajando duro en esto y nos aseguraremos de compartir esa información con todos ustedes tan pronto como podamos.

En una fecha posterior, cuando podamos reabrir el edificio y mantener en persona de manera segura servicios de adoración de nuevo, habrá un servicio de adoración especial para todos.

Se invitará a miembros y electores de habla en ingles a marcar la ocasión pasando la antorcha, por así decirlo, y bendecir al pastor Gerardo y a la congregación hispana / latina a medida que llevan el legado de SJ First al futuro.

Paz y gracia,
Rev. Jeffrey Hall

A History of Immigrants in the United States

The North! When I was a child in my bed at night in the dark, I listened to my parents talk about The North (the United States). They talked about life here in the United States where many people emigrate to have a better life. They travel north to work, and they save money to return to their villages, buy a house, start a business, get married, and everyone is happy. In the morning when my mother awoke, I told her that when I grew up I would go to The North and buy a big house for everyone. She would get excited, but then fearfully she would tell me that in The North people get eaten, and that they no longer return to their villages. They get lost, as she lost her father when she was seven years old.

In Mexico when a person leaves his town for the border by bus, he begins to feel discrimination in his own country, since there are many Mexican emigration checkpoints with federal and customs agents. Adding to this discomfort is the danger caused by organized crime people who roam throughout the country extorting and assaulting men and women who travel. They go around looking for Central American centers or other places where immigrants cross the border looking for the American dream but end up being assaulted and abused. Victims are from many countries, including Mexico. I know this, since I was one of the many who experienced the expertise of those robbers and extortionists.

When immigrants finally arrive in this great country, they are dazzled by the wealth that is evident. Even bathrooms are beautiful, and one cannot escape the joy of knowing that there is immediate hot water for bathing just by opening the shower faucet. There are wide streets and so many parks and recreation areas. The first illusion is that one can find a job and earn money to pay for food and to send back to the family to pay debts caused by borrowing money to travel. Existing in poverty is the norm for many who live that way in their countries due to lack of opportunities.

Many times people arrive and cannot find a job. They do not speak English and only know how to work hard so that no one can say that they are lazy. Many immigrants are ashamed and proud and want to earn a living and pay their own way. Also there is a common belief that if someone is ever cared for by the government, he will not be able to become legalized. Or, if he entered the country without documents, employers may exploit him by paying very little for his labor and treating him like a slave who lives day by day and is poorly fed.

Many people do not know that immigrants pay federal and state taxes; yet, ironically, they will never benefit from a retirement pension, since they do not exist for the government. The IRS gives them a personal identification number (ITN) so that they pay taxes, and immigrants pay them to avoid getting into trouble. Many do not ask for any help from the government, since they live in anonymity.

So, the American dream is starting to get very difficult to achieve, since immigrants have to live in hiding from the police, gangs, and immigration agents (la migra). In addition, some of them suffer from racism, because some people think that they abuse the system. They are considered as criminals, because that is what is heard from some politicians in the media.

The search for the American dream stops. Many immigrants cannot return to their villages, because the years of looking for the dream have already passed. That reality does not arrive due to the low wages they earn. Individuals marry or get together with someone like them so as not to feel alone and to support each other. Children are born and raised here, and some yearn to return to their countries of origin.

Among groups of Latinos there is a lot of resentment due to profiling. Many Central Americans who crossed Mexico by road suffered from the abuses I mentioned earlier, and they think that all Mexicans are the same. They do not befriend Mexicans unless they know them well. There are some couples where the man is Mexican and the woman is Guatemalan or vice versa or from other countries where their children have 3 nationalities: Mexican, Salvadoran and American. If the father or mother of the family is detained by immigration authorities, one wonders where these children will be going. They also live in fear; they do not know how to explain that they don’t speak English, and they cannot say that their parents have no documents.

Many live in houses or apartments where there are more than two families living together in order to be able to pay the large rents. The parents live without health insurance for a variety of reasons: they cannot pay for it; they do not qualify due to their immigration status; or because, fearing discovery, they do not get registered.

In the countries of origin parents of these immigrants grow old and often die and do not have the opportunity to see their children who traveled North for a better life, one they could not achieve. Likewise, immigrants grow old, and their American citizen children grow up and do not want to return with their parents to their countries. They no longer know Mexican culture, they do not speak Spanish well, and there is no work for them. On top of this, they are stuck in a country where opportunities are limited by their lack of documentation, and they can no longer leave. I remember my mother saying the North eats people.

So, where can immigrants feel protected, not judged, condemned, or attacked?

Answer: in the churches since they are the houses of God. Well yes, but there are some churches where they cannot live their faith or participate in the traditions of the church. Many women are single mothers or live in a free union because they have not been able to marry. This is because they may live with someone who cannot marry because one of them is divorced. Or they are from the LGBTQ community. None of these groups can receive communion or the sacrament, because their theology says they live in sin.

Communion chalices and wafers and bible in rainbow colors

Being able to receive communion gives the recipient the confidence of being close to those who do not reject him or her, including Our Lord Jesus Christ. I like to visit churches to see the participation of the people. After looking into some Protestant and Catholic churches, I’ve found that some priests and pastors deny the sacraments to these people. What broke my heart one day was that during communion in a Catholic church in this area I saw women with the desire to receive communion lined up towards the priest. Before they reached him, knowing they could not take communion, they crossed their arms to at least signal to the priest that they wanted to receive his blessing. For me, looking at that is humiliation where the whole church can see that they do not take communion, because they are not worthy to do so.

The life of immigrants in the United States is not easy, and many times the American dream becomes unattainable.

My reflection on this story is that we are all immigrants in some way, since we, our grandparents, and/or our ancestors traveled to this great country looking for a better life. Jesus Christ invites us to open the door to our churches since He and many of the great characters of the Bible also were immigrants.

Blessings.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Note from Pastor Jeffrey

(Nota del pastor, en español)

Dear Friends,

As you likely know by now, San Jose First UMC is in the midst of a significant transition where it concerns the future ministry and mission of the church; namely, to transition SJ First to a Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church and discontinue English-speaking services. I am aware transitions like this are difficult and bring with them a mixture of emotions, particularly feelings of grief and loss. Please know Pastor Gerardo and I are here to support you to the best of our ability. Our Congregational Care Co-Chairs, Ellen Shaner and Susan Cassens, are also here to support and care for you as we go forward with the transition and future vision for SJ First.

A vision for SJ First to become the Flagship Hispanic/Latino United Methodist Church in the Annual Conference, a Center for Ministry in Downtown San Jose:

  • Where Hispanic/Latino people are leaders of the church they love.
  • Where cultures and traditions are woven into the theological and ecclesial fabric of the church.
  • Where the building is used for ministry to its potential.
  • Where the church is connecting with the surrounding community.
  • Where the church has space made sacred by generations past to baptize and make disciples for generations to come.

Over the next few months, Pastor Gerardo and I will be working with our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ, preparing them for leadership and committee transition. I anticipate the first committee we will transition will be the Nominations/Lay Leadership Committee at our March VLT meeting. This action will allow for the nomination and election of other committees in April and, if necessary, May.

The next step

At this time, we unfortunately do not have a date for when English-speaking services will be discontinued, although it will likely be before July 1. We are working hard on this and will be sure to share that information with all of you as soon as we are able.

At a later date, when we can re-open the building and safely hold in-person worship services again, there will be a special worship service when all current English-speaking members and constituents will be invited to mark the occasion by passing the torch, so to speak, and bless Pastor Gerardo and the Hispanic/Latino congregation as they carry the legacy of SJ First into the future.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

God’s Mission in El Maguey

The love for my call to the service of God is the best thing that could happen to me. For me, it is a privilege to serve God, since his blessings are immense.

During this pandemic, many very sad experiences have emerged with loss of work, education, family reunions, life of a family member, and the social contact that we need to live as humans. Fortunately, technology has helped us to be in touch with our loved ones and with the world.

With the grace of God, I decided to preach on Facebook to the Hispanic/Latino congregation of San José First UMC. The people of Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, were added to our broadcasts and were able to learn more about our church and Methodism. The addition of this group brings more love and solidarity with our neighbors, even if they are far from us and we don’t know them in person.

Pastor Gerardo leading worship service

With the love and kindness that characterizes our heavenly Father, He did the miracle of touching the group of Methodist women and members of our Church to express solidarity with the Cristo Vive church. In fact, the entire El Maguey community has been generously supported by them with grocery bags for the last 6 months.

I felt the need to go to El Maguey, not only to bring food to the tables of the families there, but I also decided to take my vacation time with them. In the midst of a pandemic I knew that it was not the safest thing to do, but I felt the security of God’s will. There were many people waiting for me to arrive, so that I could pray for them and reaffirm their faith on the second Sunday of January. Among those waiting was Luis Ramírez, one of the young people from El Maguey and a member of Cristo Vive. His mother, María Isabel, and his brothers have been attending Cristo Vive for more than 10 years. Luis was going through the terrible disease of leukemia, and every transmission day he connected and asked me to praise God and to ask for him to be well.

On December 10th he and his mother sent me a photo of the results of his medical exams. He was free of leukemia! It was a tremendous joy for them and for me to see that miracle. There was only one step left: Luis took his final week of daily chemotherapy in the mornings and afternoons to ensure that the cancer would not return.

He finished the routine, but after taking it he started to feel bad again. He knew that I would arrive on December 28th and he was waiting for me to pray for him again. On Saturday, December 26th, he gladly wrote to me that he was waiting for me with open arms. Luis’s condition began to get serious, so they took him to the hospital in Guadalajara. There they found that the last week of chemotherapy had resulted in the burning of his lungs, kidneys and the platelets that produce blood. Everything happened very fast. They tubed him so he could breathe. When I arrived at the Guadalajara airport, I decided to go to the hospital to see him; however, when I was renting a car I got the news from María Isabel that Luis had died.

I went to Atotonilco and spoke with María Isabel by phone, to get informed of the time she would arrive with her son’s body, so I could grieve with the family. They arrived at the funeral home at midnight with the body of 18-year-old Luis. I went there to see him and offer the praises to God, that—night after night on Facebook—he had asked me for. I could see in his face that he was peaceful, knowing that I was able to pray for him before he went to his grave.

It was devastating for his parents and for me. I am a man who speaks of faith and miracles, yet Luis died. We embraced each other and became stronger in dealing with the great loss. Both María Isabel and her husband, Javier Ramírez, in the midst of their pain, treated me with respect and love, since I shared the pain with them, with the family, and with all of Luis’s young friends. For me it was an experience that I still cannot explain. I watched hundreds of people, young and old, crying and suffering for the loss of Luis, while at the same time letting myself be led by me as a pastor and friend, singing praises and praying for the family. To me, a possible explanation is that God sent me to be with them to provide love and pastoral care.

Three Kings Day (Epiphany) January 6th

Holy Magi caravan with children gathered round

This was a special day which, for the first time in the community of El Maguey—and I dare say in the entire region—a caravan with the Holy Magi made its appearance. The Magi were represented in costumes by Juan Carlos Anaya, Eduardo Anaya, and Pedro Vázquez. To make this possible, these three and a huge group of volunteers toured the El Maguey neighborhood, (sections Pascual Rojas, and Madre Luisita) where the girls and boys went out to see this festive sight. They received sweets and soccer balls that filled the community members, both young and old, with joy. Christmas carols enlivened the night with smiles and hope, alleviating the stress that people carried during this pandemic. Also, with First Church’s donations, the blessings of God, and the leaders of Cristo Vive, we were able to distribute grocery bags to 200 families in El Maguey.

On January 10th, the day of the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we began our healing and faith renewal service, scheduled according to the safety protocols in El Maguey with masks and antibacterial gel. On this very important day for Methodism and Christianity, children, youth, adults and the elderly—and without fail María Isabel Aguirre, mother of our angel in heaven, Luis Ramírez, and his family—appeared at this important service directed by Pastors Juan Carlos Anaya and Gerardo Vázquez. The pastors, their servants and the leaders of Cristo Vive all contributed to a service full of faith and love for our neighbors, and praying for the members of San José First, since we are one in God.

I want to express my gratitude in the name of God for all those who made this possible, since it is the call of God to love and respect each other, to cry, to laugh, and to celebrate in union, since that is how we grow stronger.

May the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend upon us. Amen.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note: 40 Days of Lent

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear…The Lord of hosts is with us…Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46)

Lent is traditionally a season when we give ourselves to spiritual practices we may have neglected. This year, it begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17. It’s a season of preparation; characterized by silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy. It’s a season to “quiet our minds and open our hearts,” to borrow a phrase from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. Many of us think of prayer as primarily talking to God. Some of you have learned prayer as listening to God. Still fewer have experienced prayer as being with God.

Hands with fingers clasped in a praying position

Of course, if our image of God is a vengeful God, we will more than likely find it hard to be with God because we can’t trust a God whose right hand is ready to smite us at any moment. Similarly, if our image of the Holy One is a Judge, gavel in hand and ready to level an eternal life-sentence, we may also find it difficult to be with God because we cannot rest in God while awaiting our “sentence,” so to speak, which sadly many people fear is outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. If the Almighty is something of a Cosmic Vending Machine where we drop some silver, push a button and purchase what we want, this is not being with God either because we cannot be with God in the deepest way if our experience of the Everlasting One is little more than a transaction. Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr, writes: “A lot of us pray as if prayer is really twisting the arm of God or convincing God to do something. We think by saying more words we’ll talk God into it. We think, “If I say it one more time, God will agree with me.” That very attitude is an alienating attitude. It keeps us in the role of doing it “right” or often enough to convince an unready or unwilling God.”

In short, our experience of being with God is compromised if there is always something to protect, to merit, to fear, or to pay for. However, if God-with-us is a Loving Presence, as close and dear to us as our own breath, and as necessary, then we can learn to trust, to surrender, to be still…to love. Then we can learn to quiet our minds and open our hearts and welcome the wonder of being with the God who is forever with us.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note: I Would Have Despaired Unless…

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.  (Psalm 27:13-14)

As I write this Pastor’s Note, we are one week from the insurrection on January 6 and one week from the Inaugurationon January 20. You have all read the headlines, seen the pictures, watched the videos, and hit your social media platforms by now.

We are one week from the day the 45th President of the United States of America led a mob of thousands, via social media, to violently storm the Capitol. Members of congress hid under desks or escaped through secret passageways while angry, predominantly white, Trump loyalists carried out orders from their Commander and Chief, mounting an assault against one of our nation’s symbols for democracy, thereby temporarily halting the constitutional process of certifying the election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States. 

We will likely not forget the images of that dark day anytime soon: Images of Trumps red-hat rioters dressed in maga apparel and/or camouflage uniforms and/or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts carrying American Flags, Confederate Flags, the Christian Flag, and the battle flags that bore Trumps name. Images of so called “protesters” pushing through barricades and barriers, breaking windows, destroying property, hell-bent on not only disruption but destruction of not simply property, but something much more precious; namely, democracy. And, for heaven and earth’s sake, if the image of the make-shift gallows does not make anyone gasp, then Trump has succeeded in leading this country to the edge of an abyss. All of this is disturbing, if not terrifying.

What is perhaps most troubling are not the images of violence or flag waving fascists. What is especially disturbing is how the image of a bare-chested, face-painted, heavily tattooed man in Nordic Costume complete with some sort of hat with horns, who goes by the name “Q-Shaman,” has become the poster child of this terrible event.

Originally, the term “poster child” was used for the image of a child suffering from a disease depicted on a poster in order to invite compassion and raise awareness to combat the disease. In this sense, on the one hand I suppose Q-Shaman (his real name is Jake Angeli born Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansely) is the poster child for a disease spreading across this land and we should thank him for raising awareness. On the other hand, if the events of January 6, 2021 are reduced to a delusional silly man in a costume, who reportedly still lives with his mother, complains about the lack of organic food while presently in jail, and thinks of himself along the lines of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, then the deeply troubling events can be too easily dismissed and, therefore, forgotten, which will a) likely only lead to more violence on the part of those who claim feeling dismissed or forgotten in the first place, and b) allow this ideology to continue to spread and infect more and more people regardless who holds the Office of the President post Trump.  

No, we cannot reduce January 6 to a silly man in a costume and, therefore, dismiss the events as easily as we might be tempted to dismiss him. Remember, people died. We must meet this moment in history, we must meet Mr. Jacob Angeli Chansely and all others like him, with courage, compassion, wisdom, a keen sense of justice, and love. Above all else, love. The only thing that is capable of freeing humankind from hatred and fear is love – a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13)

american flag waving in front of the sun

I have read more so called “protests” are planned at capitols in all 50 states across this great land on Inauguration Day.

  • We must pray for a peaceful transition of power.
  • We must be a peaceful people in thought, word, and deed.
  • We must pray: “God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” And the lesser-known verse of the hymn too: “God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control thy liberty in law.”
  • We must listen with understanding, act with wisdom and compassion, and speak with courage.
  • Above all else, we must love our neighbor as ourselves…and our enemy too. (Matthew 5, Luke 7)

I would have despaired on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Come what may on Inauguration Day and thereafter, I will not despair. I will not despair because of the One whose hope strengthens the weary, whose light dispels the darkness, whose grace saves even a wretch like me, and whose love conquers sin and death. Be strong. Take heart. Wait for the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey