When Accompaniment Becomes a Calling
by Vernita Kennen
Santa Maria y Santa Marta is located in the Mission District of San Francisco, in the southeastern part of the city and near Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asis). This part of the city is sunnier and warmer than most; it is easy to see why many people from Mexico and Central America feel at home here. This ELCA congregation began as St. John’s Lutheran, a German-speaking congregation (LCMS) in 1887, founded by St. Paulus Lutheran due to the number of German immigrants who then lived in the Mission District. The large church building was a survivor of the 1906 earthquake/fire, housing a congregation of 600+ as well as a school for 150 students.
Following WWII and into the ‘50’s, the community changed as German, Italian and Irish families moved to the west side and the neighborhood became more African-American and Latino. In 1991, the Sierra Pacific Synod encouraged the congregation to become a “fresh start parish” and it voted to serve the neighborhood’s growing Latino population, moving to a new and smaller church building as a mission congregation and changing its name. The former building (damaged in the 1989 quake) was purchased by the United International World Buddhism Association and is now the Hua Zang Si Temple!
The current sanctuary seats 100 and is a multiuse space. Dolores Street Community Services is one of the tenants of the congregation and runs a homeless shelter for men in the sanctuary and some classrooms each evening. Other tenants include a cooperative preschool and a union representing clerical/office workers. Current work is being done for a LGBT shelter, and classes are held by the congregation on cooking, immigrant rights, and driver’s license requirements. They would like to eventually provide a computer center for youth and the community.
The congregational membership is small and holds worship in both English and Spanish each Sunday with a total attendance of about 50. We met many of the church council members, both Latina and Caucasian, who welcomed us with food & drink and warm smiles. Many of them understood our English but spoke only Spanish to us. The interim pastor, Monique Ortiz, is Mexican and a former TV reporter. She was ordained in the UCC and also serves in the San Francisco Night Ministry.
Each of our site visits included the presentation of a small gift from the ELCA Hunger program - - a small painted wooden cross which all members of the visiting group had signed. The gift was warmly received but even more impressive was the gift FROM the congregation to the World Hunger program! This small congregation presented our group with a check for $2,000.00 - - from a mostly migrant congregation which worships less than 50 per Sunday. This was humbling and heartwarming and surely a way to remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit and our shared ministry in God’s name.