Iglesia Luterana Santa Cruz is a unique tri-lingual community in Santa Maria, primarily supported by the Central Coast Conference of the Southwest California Synod. This year, Iglesia Santa Cruz is facing a major transition as founding pastor Patricia Muran retires, with Interim Pastor Ron Gieko leading the community while a new developer is sought.
Most of the members of Iglesia Luterana Santa Cruz work in the agricultural industry. Many speak Spanish and some, especially the children, speak English, but most of their members are Mixtecos originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, who speak an indigenous language with many variations depending on the region. Pastoral leadership has had to be adaptive: for example, First Communion class, with an attendance of approximately 20, is in Spanish because most parents attend with their children. Ten junior high and high school students attend Confirmation class, while worship services average 55 attendees, many of those being children. Music in worship is very rhythmic, Latino, and contemporary.
Oaxacan traditions enrich the Iglesia Luterana Santa Cruz community. One of the favorite saints of the Oaxacan people is St. George, a soldier who became a Christian and was martyred in Roman times. Another beloved figure is John the Baptist, whose Saint’ s Day is June 26. Saint’s Days are celebrated in the community with an Oaxacan meal with lots of chicken with mole.
Sacraments that involve families and the entire community are central to Iglesia Luterana, which recently celebrated the wedding of members Moises and Judith. As Pastor Ron says, “there is a sense of dignity and sacredness that we find in the wedding liturgy that unites two people who are so committed and devoted to each other.”
In May, 11-year-old Gomez celebrated his First Communion. Gomez’ s parents had always attended class with him. After several weeks, they admitted shyly that they themselves had never completed the study or requirement for Communion. “Would we be able to celebrate our First Communion with our son?” they asked. Pastor Ron responded, “It would be an honor and a privilege. With God all things are possible.”
One community members has cancer, and despite her frailty, pain and discomfort she makes the effort to attend church each week to be lifted up in prayer. “She knows we are a team, and we are cheerleaders asking God to prolong her life.”
Iglesia Luterana’ s relational model extends into learning opportunities. “Recently,” says Pastor Ron, “the issue of abortion was raised in a political arena. On that very day we had confirmation class and discussed how we apply or interpret the Ten Commandments – being true to the Bible while taking our current world struggle with controversial issues seriously. We decided to split into two groups for a ‘ debate’ about abortion. One girl said she couldn’ t be on the side that was open to abortion. Another girl volunteered to trade places with her.
“I asked the group – what does it meant to have a debate? One young man said that a debate is an argument. I clarified that a debate helps us to explore Ten Commandments deeply to review a controversial issue. It was a learning experience for us all.
“Life at Santa Cruz Lutheran Church is wonderful. We are not the typical Lutheran Church. Our community members are poor and struggling, not middle class. Out of their indigenous roots they hold fast to their version of the American dream, working to make sure their children have a better life than they have had. We struggle, we hope, we try, we pray, and little by little people find a sense of dignity and community here, where strawberry fields go on forever.”