Archive for From the Pastors

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

Pastor’s Note: The Peace Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

These words of assurance remind us no matter how tragic the circumstance, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how grim the prognosis, no matter how disturbing the news, no matter how heartbreaking the headline, no matter how grievous the sin, no matter how broken or corrupt the system, no matter the darkness inside you or me, no matter if we believe in God or not the Light of all people has come into the world and cannot be extinguished.

United Methodist Pastor, Todd Outcalt writes the following:

A few years ago, our congregation started an Advent tradition with the Peace Light – a flame that is taken from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, carried around the world in a miner’s lantern, and distributed from church to church and home to home via candlelight. The Peace Light usually arrives at our church a few days before Christmas Eve, and people from the church and community bring their own candles in order to retrieve the flame and carry it back to their homes.

The Peace Light has become a powerful connection in our community, and sharing the light of the one candle produces feelings of solidarity, unity, and support. This experience may especially be powerful for those who may be experiencing grief in their lives.

When people pick up the Peace Light, we also distribute a small slip of paper with various scripture readings, including the powerful words from the prophet Isaiah, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (quoted in Matthew 4:16), and the words of Psalm 23. Here, in this beloved psalm, we find words that have given aid and comfort to millions of people through the centuries – especially during times of loss. The psalmist, like Isaiah (and Matthew) echoes the promise of God’s light and comfort when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death…

We do not need a Peace Light from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in order to experience God’s peace and love. God’s peace is available to us through the abiding presence of the Spirit who encourages us and offers light during difficult times.

single candle in the dark

This week I heard of a group of neighbors who agreed that during this time of living in the shadow of pandemic, isolation, quarantine, and loss one of the ways they could feel connected was to connect their Christmas lights from one house to another, from one front yard to another, from one neighbor to another around a corner and down the block. Indeed, it’s another example of light symbolizing a powerful connection in our community.

This year, Christmas Eve Candlelight Service is going to be different. We will not be together, as we have in the past, with faces aglow singing Silent Night in the sanctuary. No, this year we will be together virtually, our faces aglow by our computer as well as candle. This is not the Christmas Eve Service we hoped for, but we will still be together as a Christian community, as a people of peace…we will still be connected by the Light of all people that will never be extinguished.

Please plan to join us for our Christmas Eve Service Thursday, December 24 at 7:00pm. Please email us for the Zoom link.

May God bless you this Christmas Season!
Jeffrey

Origin of Las Posadas

In Mexico the tradition of Las Posadas begins on December 16th and is carried out in a series of festivities that have been held in Mexico since colonial times. The origin of this tradition is of a religious nature, in which Joseph’s and Mary’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem is represented; however, since the end of the 18th century festivities have been part of popular culture, organized by families in their houses.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztecs celebrated the arrival of Huitzilopochtli, who was the god of war. These solemn festivals took place during the month of panquetzaliztli, equivalent to the month of December, and lasted 20 days beginning on the sixth day of the month. Festivities included honoring their god by putting flags on the fruit trees and banners in the main temple. This tradition was known by the name of “raising of flags”. The people congregated in the courtyards of the temples and waited for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the 25th there were celebrations in all the houses. Food was offered to the guests, and they also were given some small pasta statues called “tzoatl”.

The anthropologist Fernando Híjar tells us that the tradition of Las Posadas commenced with the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. The religious leaders in charge of the evangelization of the people replaced the cult of the god of war with the European practice of preparation for Christmas, focusing on Christianity. At first these festivities were called “Christmas Bonus Masses”, and since then they have been held from December 16th to the 24th in the atriums of churches and convents.

The celebration consists of proclaiming the mass together with Biblical passages and representations alluding to Christmas. Additionally, small gifts are given to the attendees, known as aguinaldos, or bonuses. The people congregate in the courtyards of the temples and wait for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the next day there are festivities in all the houses, in which food and some small gifts are offered to the guests.

Throughout time, the same people were adding more attractive elements to these celebrations such as candles, sparklers and piñatas. Ultimately they adopted these parties into their neighborhoods and houses. This transition from the temple to the streets was allowed by the church in order for these festivities to have a greater diffusion among the inhabitants. So the tradition has been transformed according to the culture of each zone or region of Mexico.

La Posada people in costume

Once the guests to this celebration have gathered, they prepare to represent the request for accommodation made by Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary on their pilgrimage from the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem. To symbolize this event, the guests make two groups. One group must leave the house accompanied by figures representing the pilgrims, Joseph and Mary, who ask for lodging at the door singing the following litany:

IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN I ASK YOU TO OPEN THE DOOR, BECAUSE MY BELOVED WIFE CANNOT WALK ANY FURTHER.

The people who stay inside must deny entrance at first, forcing the pilgrims to continue asking for an inn three more times. They play the part of the innkeepers and say,

THERE IS NO ROOM FOR RENT HERE.  GO ON, I CAN’T OPEN MY DOOR FOR YOU. DON’T PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE YOU ARE NOT. YOU ARE A SCOUNDREL.

To culminate this part of the tradition, pilgrims are granted asylum with the following litany:

ENTER, HOLY PILGRIMS. PILGRIMS, RECEIVE THIS CORNER, WHICH, EVEN THOUGH MY DWELLING IS POOR, I GIVE IT TO YOU WITH MY HEART.

It is important to mention that during the pilgrimage, all the members carry candles and a booklet with the litanies. Participants can read the litanies in one voice.

Once entrance to the inn is granted, the coexistence among the participants begins. It reaches its maximum splendor at the moment of breaking a piñata, which must be full of fruit, sweets, and snacks. The role of the piñata in Las Posadas symbolizes the triumph of faith over sin. It must have seven points on it that represent the seven deadly sins. Sweets and fruits symbolize the grace of God. The blindfold is faith. God is represented by the stick, and the people around it symbolize the church members who will show the way to overcome sin.

In these days of a pandemic, access to all the inns in many places such as our Church is suspended, closed for the safety of all. In a season without a pandemic, for many Hispanic and Latino children these are very special days, full of happiness and joy for all. During these days’ children receive many sweets and warm foods such as tamales and corn atole or hot chocolate at night. During the cold and dark of winter, with its candles or sparklers, people are happy, listening to beautiful Christmas carols while waiting for Christmas.

At San José First Church, in December 2016 we started this beautiful tradition so that the Latinos of downtown San José could remember their traditions and teach their children about Christianity. In their hearts they can revisit the stories about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way Latinos live it in their countries. These days are special for them and their children. The traditions are the same for many countries, cities, towns and villages in Latin America.

I have been thinking a lot about the children of the El Maguey neighborhood and how very sad Christmas time is going to be for them. It’s not that I feel like I can be a super hero and fix everything, nor am I a saint. I’m just a rural shepherd who wants all people to be happy—especially the children, since I was also a child. El Maguey does not have many traditions since it is a 17-year-old colony founded by the Mexican government. They decided to make small houses for some of the people of Atotonilco El Alto, a nearby 480-year-old city that became overcrowded.  They looked for the poorest people from different low-income neighborhoods and populated this colony with all these people. They are often discriminated against, since everyone knows that people were relocated there as a mode of segregation.

My house is located in this colony and serves as the headquarters of my church, Cristo Vive, which provides light and hope for the people who live there.

In consideration of the fact that I still have vacation time from church, and after much praying and asking God for direction, I have made the decision to go to Mexico. Besides taking care of some personal matters there, I can be in El Maguey in time to celebrate the first two services of the year, and broadcast them on Facebook. In this way Latino members of our downtown church can also have their time of worship on those days.

In the last 6 months, the Methodist Women’s organization and the members of First Church have made donations to buy grocery bags for the neediest people during this pandemic. This provides a way for children to have a plate with food at home. During my visit I will be helping the leaders of Cristo Vive to distribute the food. I am looking forward to greeting people with a gesture of respect and love from San José First and to pray for them and for the neighborhood.

I will also be able to carry out the celebration of the Epiphany or the Day of the Magi on January 6, 2021. My plan is to arrange to have three trucks with three men characterized as the Three Kings and to tour the entire colony, visiting all the streets. We will play Christmas carols and deliver sweets and toys to the children we meet on the street. Using this method will ensure that children do not accumulate in one place and will provide them with a surprise, making this a day that is happy and special.

I am very aware that we are in a pandemic, which is dangerous for them and for me. So I will be taking all the necessary measures to keep a healthy distance and follow security protocols. My faith is placed in God, so that I know I can stay well and return healthy and full of joy and have satisfaction in my heart for doing what God asks me to do. He wants me to love every human being with respect and solidarity. From my hometown I will be praying for you and your families so that next year is better for everyone.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2021, sisters and brothers in Christ!

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Christmas Message from Pastor Gerardo

Winter is closer to us every day. The darker days affect people in various ways, some suffering from depression. I do not like short days, because it makes me feel that I have less time. But on the other hand, I like the cooler weather.

This year has been very difficult for many, and we already want it to end. This pandemic is affecting the world with death and worries. Many people are losing a family member or friend or we realize that a neighbor or a relative has contracted the virus. Also, the fight to contain the spread of the disease is greatly affecting economic affairs of many families and businesses. Both large corporations and small businesses have experienced layoffs of employees or closures of their companies. Many are bankrupt because of these closures. Many part-time and full-time employees have stopped working for months, and others have already lost their jobs. Rents, bills and debts do not wait, and many people are forced to get more loans to maintain their businesses. All of our lives are affected by the limitations imposed on hotels, restaurants, beauty salons, barber shops, gyms, shops, and even grocery stores. This is not just in America, it is worldwide.

Apparently 2020 has also been a very bad year for the planet. Fires have devastated at least 5 western states in our country and flooding has caused damage in the central states. Southern Mexico and Central America have suffered with the floods caused by Hurricane Lota. Results of these catastrophes have cost billions of dollars and further overwhelmed hospitals. Populations of many countries across the globe are divided by political and social differences.

Certainly it is a very dark and difficult year. One of my brothers posted a question on Facebook asking why do we celebrate Christmas if we are not together. That made me sad, and surely others think the same. My mother used to say that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that there is no evil that lasts forever; however, nobody can resist it.

christmas lights in the shape of a christmas tree

I have noticed that many people are already putting up their Christmas lights and decorations. I’m glad to see this, since we must not lose faith and hope that we will soon come out of this crisis. We have to start thinking about what we have done wrong. What does our planet want to tell us regarding the circumstances that we are going through? Also, we need to value our family more, since life is very short. We need to rethink our values, since living with vanity is useless; youth and money are fleeting. We must focus more on God, love Him above all things, and allow His will to enable us to love one another as He loves us.

This Christmas Eve we must prepare ourselves with prayer and meditation to do things better for ourselves while still thinking about others. We can ask God that on Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus will be born in our hearts and transform us from within. We want to become more like Him, full of light, humility and compassion for others. But above all we pray that we never lose the hope, peace, joy, and love that God offers us.

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Thanksgiving / El Día de Acción de Gracias

Thanksgiving is one of the holidays in North American culture that I like the most, because it is a celebration of gratitude to God for what was received during the year. Or as they say, it is the harvest of what is sown.

I am not going to write about the history of this tradition; you know it well, because it is yours. I will write about how we Hispanics live it in this great country. For me it is very satisfying to hear that people share with those who do not have what is needed: the pumpkin pie, the corn bread, the champagne, and above all, the baked stuffed turkey. The whole family gets together. Members travel from different states to be present that day with their loved ones, and everyone prays and gives thanks to God.

Painting of the first Thanksgiving meal

Hispanics/Latinos are embracing this celebration with great respect as God is present in united families. Some Mexicans do not know how to cook the traditional delicacies, so we use our own recipes and cook foods such as pozole and tamales, and our beverages are punch and tequila. We do not try to change the traditions, but because we don’t know how to cook turkey in the oven, it turns out very hard and dry. So, in order not to fail, we eat our own dishes. The important thing about this date is not the food, but rather being together, and, united as a family, giving thanks to God for what we have received from the fruits of our labors.

The pandemic has changed our lives. For everyone’s safety many families will not meet this year, so that the virus does not spread further. We want to be healthy and alive for next year. So, traditions will be set aside. I know that many will call their families by phone or video to greet each other or visit during virtual dinners. It is sad, but we should not be discouraged; instead we should thank God that we are alive. We can be heartened by sharing with those around us.

This year I want to thank the members of First Church and the Methodist women for their donations, making it possible for the families in El Maguey to have food on their tables in these difficult times. For them it is a blessing and also for you, since they are doing what God likes: helping and loving our neighbors as ourselves. On Friday November 13th in El Maguey, Cristo Vive distributed 120 grocery bags for families in need. It is a blessing and a reason to thank God and you.

This coming Thanksgiving Day I recommend that you do not stop celebrating, either alone or in company. You have to thank our Lord Jesus Christ for His love, protection and blessings.

Today we celebrate that God is good and always will be. We thank God for being our Heavenly Father, He has provided bread in the home and has given strength to each one in the family to continue achieving dreams. Thank God for being the light in the midst of the darkness of hardships. In difficult moments He has been our comfort. Thank God for his blessings and for the happiness He brings to our hearts.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.”

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note: Advent – One Good Word

Advent words Hope Peace Joy Love

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

~ by David Whyte

“People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.” Advent is the season for one good word. Along with many churches all over the world, each of the four weeks of Advent we will light a candle and welcome one good word in anticipation of the coming of Christ – Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Surely, these are good words and can illumine even, and perhaps especially, the darkest night.

Throughout this Advent season, I invite us to receive each Advent word as a gift, welcome each word as we would a guest, return to each word when we feel lost or depressed or overwhelmed or angry, and offer each word as a prayer or blessing for ourselves and others.

This kind of prayer is less about talking to God and more like allowing each word to set a gentle intention of the heart, to give our lives direction, to open our lives to the fullness of God’s presence, who is closer than our breath, closer than our thoughts. This kind of prayer begins to take us beyond conversation with God to communion with God. May we be generous in our prayer and share one good word with a world that hungers for the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that Christ brings.

Advent Blessings,
Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note: Generosity of Spirit

In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with Douglas Abrams, include a wonderful chapter on the importance of generosity. In it they note generosity is an outgrowth of compassion and is important to many of the world’s religions because it expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and need for one another. Citing the 2015 World Happiness Report, they explain generosity was so important for human survival that the reward centers of our brain light up when we give as when we receive. Adding, “…one of the strongest predictors of well-being worldwide is the quality of our relationships. Generous, pro-social behavior seems to strengthen these relationships across cultures. Generosity is even associated with better health and longer life expectancy.”

James Doty was a neurosurgeon and made a fortune as a medical technology entrepreneur and had pledged stock worth $30 million to charity. At one time, his net worth was over $75 million. When the stock market crashed, he lost everything and went bankrupt. What was left was the $30 million pledged to charity. His lawyers told him he could wriggle out of his promised charitable contributions and that everyone would understand that his circumstances had changed.

“One of the persistent myths in our society,” Jim explained, “is that money will make you happy. Growing up poor, I thought money would give me everything I did not have: control, power, love. When I finally had all the money I ever dreamed of, I discovered that it did not make me happy. And when I lost it all, all of my false friends disappeared.”

Jim decided to go through with his contribution. “At that moment,” he said, “I realized that the only way money can bring happiness is to give it away.”

“Give the world your love, your service, your healing, and your joy,” write the authors. “When we practice generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

(Admittedly, this last sentence is an aspect that requires some attention in my life.)

Hands form a heart with a rainbow cover overlay

“There is an acceptance of life in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need.” As the Dalai Lama put it: “Taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is a way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”

Or, as the Apostle Paul is recorded as saying to the earliest Christian communities: “In everything I did, I showed you by this kind of hard work we must help the weak. Remembering the words of the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Dear friends, consider making one or more of the following sentences your blessing or prayer this month. Perhaps set aside time every morning as a way of orienting your heart and return to your simple prayer throughout the day. These words can be offered as a blessing for yourself, someone else, and/or group or community, such as the church.

May I (you) (we) know the truth of our interconnectedness and need for one another.

May I (you) (we) know the happiness and well-being that accompany a generous heart.

May I (you) (we) see others with deep compassion and a desire to help those in need.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

All Saints Day / Day of the Dead

In many countries like in the United States we celebrate All Saints’ Day. Many Mexicans celebrate All Saints Day and El Día de Los Muertos. For many it sounds scary, because some literal Christian churches think that we are celebrating death and not life. This misunderstanding is unfortunate, but over the years that belief has grown. In my opinion it is important that other cultures know more about our tradition, since we celebrate the lives of those who left before us.

Mexicans especially celebrate that day by painting their faces with skulls, dressing in black, and participating in many types of activities. For example, in Mexico City people prepare for a parade by creating floats with large altars full of orange flowers. That special flower is called Cempasúchil, which is Marigold in English. Altars are set up in town squares and in houses, where photos of deceased loved ones are placed, along with flowers, candles, and favorite foods of the deceased. Of course the deceased are not expected to come to eat it, so only a little of that food is placed on altars. Some families, like mine, eat that special dish that day and go to cemeteries to decorate the graves with flowers to honor their loved ones. This tradition is carried out across many borders.

There are many families in the United States who are undocumented or who do not have money to travel to their places of origin. Many of them do not make altars in their houses or apartments because there is no space, since they share living quarters with other families. This special day becomes very sad for them. So, understanding the sentiment and tradition of Latinos and Mexicans, on November 2nd in 2016 our church opened its doors to our neighbors to come in and build their altars. This provided a space to celebrate that day of mourning so important and cultural for us Latinos.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken away many things from us, and this year Latinos will not be able to celebrate in the traditional way. They can’t even send money to Mexico to buy flowers to decorate graves, since the cemeteries are closed for everyone’s safety. The restrictive conditions are very sad for me, too.

Day of the Dead altar during virtual gathering

On Tuesday November 3rd of this year it will be different, since our celebration will be conducted virtually. I am inviting people who visit my FaceBook page to write the names of their relatives in the comments section. I will sound a bell after each name, and I will play praise hymns and traditional Mexican music to help us celebrate together. The usual attendees are from various countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Our Hispanic group has relatives in these countries, and our ministry has already extended to their place of origin. From their homes we all connect via FaceBook in love and unity in Jesus Christ .

Each time I complete the transmission of my service and message, I make the production available for people to watch later. These videos have been viewed 1200 or more times; however, in the last month that number has decreased by 60%. I think this is because some people have already returned to work or are looking for work. Also, many do not have access to the internet. These people remain in our prayers. The most beautiful thing about all this is that communities come together in these difficult times as brothers and sisters and children of God.

Now I want to share news from the communities of El Maguey and Atotonilco. The state of Jalisco is already on red alert again, since there are more people every day infected with coronavirus. In the cemeteries of Atotonilco, according to what I have been told, they take two to three bodies to be buried every day. One of the main problems is that there are no tests to detect the virus, and there are no hospitals in the area. Also, there is no medicine nor caregivers available, so the state government has closed all activities again.

In these difficult times let us pray for the people of El Maguey and Atotonilco and for our little sister church Cristo Vive. Thanks to your donations this week, Juan Carlos, the lay minister of the church of Cristo Vive, distributed bags with food to 65 families. Thanks to God and to you for your generosity. Cristo Vive is a small light in the middle of the mountains that supports the neediest families in the area.

I also want to share news of the local Hispanic ministry. At this time none of our members is infected with the virus. Some people are already working part-time and have full-time jobs. Since they cannot stop working, they are taking precautions not to contract this contagious disease; however, like all of us, they continue to run the risk. These two Latino congregations are merging as they are connected most nights and on Sundays during the service on FaceBook. We all pray for San Jose First and its multiple communities.

I am going to share with you a poem by an unknown author:
“I have not died. I only left earlier and I don’t want to be remembered with tears as one who has no hope. I have not died; although my body is gone, my presence will always be felt. I will be the silence of our home that we shared so much, I will be the breeze that kisses their faces, I will be a sweet memory that attends their memory, I will be a beautiful page of their history. Sorry everyone, I only took one of the previous trains and I forgot to tell you … I haven’t died, I just left earlier.”

Pastor Gerardo Vazquez-Padilla
Blessings

Being a Pastor During a Pandemic

When I felt my calling to become a pastor, I knew that I would be available to the Lord 24/7, but I never thought that a pandemic would happen during my time as a pastor.

I was very concerned about my congregation, and I was afraid that the Latinos would disperse. But that did not happen. We united more, as we were in contact every day through my pastoral message on FaceBook.

It never occurred to me that this pandemic would last so long, keeping me from being in contact with all of you. I know that Rev. Jeffrey is taking care of the English-speaking congregation, and that gives me peace of mind. But I know that you want to know what happens with the Hispanics in San José and El Maguey, and I decided that it would be a good idea for me to inform you. I want you to know that you are also important to me, and that you are in my prayers every day. Latinos are also eager to return to the Church. They are in constant prayer for you and your families.

The Latinos in San José First Church are fine at the moment. I have not heard that anyone else has the virus, and the lady who had it is already fully recovered. Little by little some part-time employees are returning to their jobs, and they are surviving. They receive good quality food from the Open Pantry program. The youth of the church are more active at this time, since they participate as volunteers on the days of distribution.

Irma Navarro is very grateful for all your prayers for her and for Nancy who is in glory. We hope that when the doors of the Church open again, we may have the celebration service of Nancy’s life. All of you are invited to accompany Irma and her family. Please continue to pray for Irma, because she is very vulnerable and depressed about Nancy’s departure.

Mariel Cornejo, Horacio’s stepdaughter is passing through difficult times. Rev. Jeffrey and myself are keeping an eye on the family. Jennifer Hall is supporting Mariel with her company, friendship and prayers.

Children and mothers of families are very frustrated with online classes. Children do not want to be in front of a computer for so many hours. This causes a lot of stress for mothers, who call me requesting that I talk with their children. They want me to tell them to do their homework and sometimes even to urge them to take a bath, since they don’t even want to do that. The good thing about this is that the children pay attention to me, since in the Latin tradition they have to respect and listen to the pastor of the church.

From Pastor Gerardo

Because of your donations and those of the Methodist women’s group, this week 155 El Maguey families will be receiving bags of discounted foods from October 14th to 17th. To help them in these difficult times, Juan Carlos and Eduardo Anaya will be taking the groceries to the families’ homes. For the safety of all, people are not gathering outside of Cristo Vive. The virus arrived late in Atotonilco and El Maguey. There are people sick with the virus and others have already died due to lack of medical care.

The crisis in El Maguey and Atotonilco is affecting the most vulnerable—the elderly and the low-income families—in their health and also their economic status, since there is no work. Your help is of great value since Cristo Vive is an umbrella for people, where they can take refuge for help.

I feel that I am growing spiritually, since my faith is increasing. In these difficult moments a lot of faith, trust, and prayer are required, since there are many people who request my prayers and pastoral care.

Please keep my family in prayer, because my nephew, Pedro Vazquez, died today, Saturday, October 17th from the Covid 19 virus. Because the virus was detected so late, it was not possible for him to be effectively treated. This is often the case for many people who don’t realize they are infected until it’s too late. Because of this the rest of Pedro’s family plans to get tested, so they can determine whether or not they need treatment. They need to be very careful because most people cannot afford expensive medicine and hospitalization.

For the moment this is the information that I have for you, beloved congregation. I will be praying for all of you, so that God protects you while we continue to do good before God.

Pastor Gerardo Vazquez-Padilla
Blessings

Stewardship at San Jose First

Pastor’s Note: Stewardship at San Jose First
Monday, October 19, 2020
Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall

Where would I be if it wasn’t for__________?

In thinking about Stewardship at San Jose First, the story of Roberto Olivera came to mind. Roberto grew up in the 1960’s just outside of Los Angeles. As a teenager, he worked multiple jobs to support his family, but would come home to a physically and verbally abusive stepfather. Roberto tells his wife, Debra, about how his mother helped him escape on StoryCorps:

My stepfather was a cruel man to my mother, my sister and I, and everyone in the family. The beatings? Humiliations? I remember them every day. But my mother was a long suffering, beautiful woman. She was tall and she had radiant, light brown eyes. She made sure I read. She made sure I wrote.

As I got older my stepfather and I were continually at odds and I found my refuge in school. I remember the counselor at the school called me in one day and said, um, “There’s a program at the University of Santa Barbara that will place you there for a summer in preparation for the university.” And I said, “There’s no way I can do that. My stepfather will never let me leave home.” But the counselor, he was persistent.

Then the director of that program showed up and asked to speak to my father. It was not a very pleasant discussion. My stepfather, he said, “No way, he’s not going anywhere.” And then, when I’d been officially admitted at the university, I went to bed that night; I used to sleep on a cot in the kitchen, it was about 12 o’clock at night. And, um, in the quiet I could hear the match and my mom lit a cigarette. She was sitting in the kitchen in her bathrobe. She didn’t turn the light on and she said, “I’ve packed the suitcase. It’s in the garage. Next Saturday, leave, and do not look back. Go.”

So I left. And, you know, I could never go back. The hostility was unbelievable. I don’t think I saw anyone in the family for maybe two years. But I, I thought of her constantly. I left her with that cruel man. The guilt with that still bothers me today. But if you could have seen her smile when I graduated. She whispered to me when I came down from the stage, “The applause for you was louder than for anybody in the room.” And I can look back today and I know she believed I had a place on the other side.

Where would I be if it wasn’t for her?

Person looking at a vast starry sky

Roberto went on to earn his Law Degree from the University of California.

As we think and pray about stewardship, giving, and generosity, I invite us to call to mind and heart – to remember – at least one person who believed we, too, “had a place on the other side” and helped us get there. It could be a parent, teacher, friend, pastor, counselor, you get the idea – you fill in the blank.

Where would I be if it wasn’t for _________?

When you make your financial contribution to San Jose First, be sure to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for that person and, if possible, call or write them and express your gratitude for the difference they have made in your life.

Checks may be mailed to the church office and made out to
“First United Methodist Church at San Jose”
Or “FUMCASJ” Or “FUMCatSJ”

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey