Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz is currently serving two congregations: Trinity Las Americas UMC and Wesley UMC. Both are inner city parishes in Des Moines, IA.
I served as the pastor of Las Americas Faith Community, a Latino congregation, for three years, until last December when Trinity UMC and Las Americas decided to officially merge into one congregation, becoming the first multicultural congregation of the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC. There’s only one worship service and it is completely bilingual (English and Spanish), we pray and sing in different languages (in addition to Spanish and English).
Alfaro-Santiz describes Trinity Las Americas UMC (TLA) as a social justice-oriented congregation. It was the first Reconciling Congregation in Iowa, during the 1980s. It was also a sanctuary for people fleeing war from Central America. Many people in the congregation support interfaith relations, the fight for $15 per hour campaign, and efforts to stop homeless camp evictions in Des Moines. He also says that many in the congregation support immigrant and refugee rights, environmental justice, prison reform, asset based community development, [and] faith based community organizing. He gives a lot of credit for the strength of the merger of the congregations to Rev. Barb Dinnen. She was the pastor at Trinity and now serves full-time at Trinity Las Americas. Alfaro-Santiz is grateful for her leadership and mentorship.
There is a lot of activism at TLA! After the election in November 2016, we held an event called “Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Body.” We invited the community to lament and express their concerns. Forty-five people, from four different continents, Muslims, Christians, immigrants, refugees, Latinxs, Asians, African Americans, white people, school teachers, and neighbors all came together. It was amazing to see a Salvadoran Christian man start to develop a relationship with an Egyptian Muslim man and think about how to organize for the benefit of the community. We are a very diverse congregation, we are black, brown, white, different sexual orientations, have different levels of formal education, different citizenship/immigration statuses, different physical and mental abilities, different socioeconomic classes, and people identify as Catholic, Methodist, Buddhists, Unitarians, agnostics and spiritual seekers. We have babies, children, teenagers, adults, and seniors.
Alfaro-Santiz sent the following picture, created by Alyza, one of his young parishioners.
About her and the picture, he said:
She is a 12-year-old, African American, very sharp young girl. What she wrote captures the radical hospitality of TLA.
There’s always something happening at the church building, which is known by its big, red doors, from Sunday to Sunday. An estimated 300 people go through the doors of the church on any given day. Besides worship on Sunday, there are ELL classes, citizenship classes, we give away produce twice a week, and there’s donated bread everyday that people can come get whenever they need it. There’s also a prison van ministry that drives people every two weeks to different prisons in Iowa because there is no public transportation for people to visit their loved ones who are incarcerated. Children and Families Urban Movement, CFUM, is a non profit that operates in the church building. CFUM started in the 70’s as a ministry of the church offering breakfasts, after school programs, and a community dinner meal that is open to anyone from Monday to Saturday.
Alfaro-Santiz provided this 3 minute YouTube video to help describe TLA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzLNfgzwEwc
Alfaro-Santiz also has great hopes for his other appointment.
Wesley UMC has a lot of potential to replicate the work being done by TLA. Right now we are on the early stages of working with the congregation to be in relationship with the neighborhood. The church hosts the neighborhood monthly meetings and have started to host a weekly meeting of Latino students from East High School called “Al Exito.” Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meets monthly at Wesley and every year in February the UMC Advocacy Day starts at Wesley UMC before heading across the street to the Iowa Capitol building.
I’m incredibly blessed to be serving in such a progressive and social justice minded congregation that focuses on doing ministry with people instead of for people. When I preach on Sunday I can share my understanding of who God is and what it means to follow Jesus, without having to hold anything back.
Alfaro-Santiz views ministry as both within the congregation where he is appointed and throughout the state of Iowa.
In the UMC I serve as the Iowa Annual Conference Peace with Justice Coordinator, I’m part of the Conference Operative Team for Spiritual Leadership Inc., as well as part of the Central District Operative Team. I am the Dean of the Spanish School of Lay Ministry for the IAUMC. I’m part of the Do No Harm group in Iowa (Reconciling Ministries in IAUMC). I’m also part of the design team for Route 122 in 2017.
Outside the church I’m the vice chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, I’m a member of the Iowa Clergy Allies of Immigrants, I’m involved in the Des Moines Workers Alliance, and I’m a member of Concerned Citizens of Iowa. I believe that as a follower of Christ (not just as clergy) I need to be on the ground working with people for justice and helping everyone realize that we are all interconnected. Iowa has been a great place to be a follower of Christ.
My time at Iliff helped me to understand issues from an intersectional perspective and to do ministry “outside the box” or to do it with the people instead of for the people.