Hispanic Heritage Sunday a Home Run in Fresno
By Carl Stagner
Major League Baseball playoffs on the radio and TV. Falling, colorful leaves and cooler temps for some of us. Pumpkin spice everything, almost everywhere! In the church, Pastor Appreciation Month. But the beginning of October for the Church of God is actually the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasts for thirty days starting September 15. And for churches harnessing the cultural calendar for God’s kingdom like Westside Church of God in Fresno, California, that’s the real home run.
Maria Hernandez has attended the predominantly Black congregation of the Church of God in Fresno for fourteen years. About eight years ago, the Holy Spirit gave her an idea while in the midst of her quiet time with the Lord. At that time, there were only about eight Hispanic families attending Westside Church of God, but Maria asked Pastor Paul Binion about the possibilities and he gave his blessing.
Today Maria leads the Hispanic ministry at the church, which, in the years since the church’s first annual Hispanic Heritage Sunday, has seen significant growth. As the congregation becomes more and more multiethnic and multicultural, Maria rejoices at the opportunity to set an example of what the beautifully diverse kingdom of God really looks like.
“A lot of churches don’t celebrate each other’s cultures,” Minister Maria observes, “but it educates, empowers, and shows the world that the church stands in unity. As much as you see division in the world today, it’s so important for the body of Christ to rise up in unity and celebrate that unity in Jesus we have despite our differences.”
When asked about where she goes to church, Maria’s response elicits curiosity. “Oh, that’s a Black church,” her Hispanic counterparts respond. “No,” she replies, “that’s a God church!”
After all, Maria understands Christ as the head of the church but sees an opportunity for connection, witness, and a blessed strengthening of “the ties that bind” through intentional celebration of as many cultures as possible.
“Unity and diversity are important in the body of Christ,” she continues. “That unity can come about through deep sharing of relationship through mutual responsibility. Our ministry stands on Psalm 133:1.”
So, what did the special Sunday look like at Westside Church of God? Apparently similar to the ways in which the church celebrates Black History Month each February.
“First, we select a Hispanic that has made a difference in the world, and we talk about him or her,” Maria explains. “Then we proceed to honor a ‘Hispanic Heritage Hero’ from the community, this year honoring Officer Priscilla Muños from Madera, who has overcome much diversity after two tours in Iraq. After the service, we eat!”
Historic Hispanic figures and leaders in government and culture are among those selected each year. This year was a bit different, as they honored the Hispanic who came up with the concept of Flaming Hot Cheetos after asking God to help him out of poverty—his prayer was answered! Finally, the food the Fresno church ate on Hispanic Heritage Sunday consisted of, most appropriately, carne asada burritos and agua fresca.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” —Psalm 133:1 NIV
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.