In the fall of 2017, I went to my first multicultural worship conference. Among the people I had the privilege to meet was Alejandra Pizaña. At the time, she was serving in the music ministry of a multicultural church in the south coast of Texas, her home region. She is a faithful patron of DiverseChurchMusic.com and now serves as worship arts pastor at Seneca Creek Community Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We have the opportunity to talk to her about her ministry.
JG: How did you find yourself involved in multicultural worship leadership, and in Texas?
AP: First, I was born and raised in Houston, Tx. So as a Mexican American, Mexico City and Texas are home for me. When I got involved in multicultural worship leadership, I was leading worship at a homogenous church in the North Side of Houston and I connected to the multicultural church through a music school it housed. By January of 2013, I began serving as a worship leader for one of the services at the multicultural church and they began the search for a worship pastor. January to August began a wonderful partnership between me and the interim worship pastor at the time. That partnership was a training ground for me and the start of my love for multicultural worship. In that, I also realized I had practiced some forms of multicultural worship most of my life as a bicultural person.
JG: You have told me several times that Houston is the most culturally-diverse city in the nation. When serving in Houston, how did your ministry acknowledge and communicate to such a variety of communities? Could you give some unique examples?
AP: Leading multicultural worship, hospitality has been a key value for me. Part of communicating hospitality to the variety of communities was sharing leadership with people from those communities. As we led worship with songs from the different communities represented, we were intentional about communicating the values of these communities. When we led worship representing other communities that were not ours, we made sure to communicate that those songs were shared with us. For instance, when we led "Hakuna Mungu Kama Wewe," a West African praise song in Swahili, we made space to teach the Swahili and to encourage the congregation to express their worship with their whole bodies in dance as that is a value in West African worship.
JG: As you know, I spent a month in Galveston last year, and I visited a Mexican restaurant in Houston. I knew it was authentic because I didn't recognize a thing on the menu. And, of course, Houston is much closer to the Mexican border than Little Village in Chicago (considered the Mexican capital of the Midwest). Would you be able to describe the spiritual life of Houston's Mexican community? For example, do they attend Roman Catholic churches or culturally-homogenous churches? Is there declining church attendance?
AP: Well, I can only speak to my experience. The Latino spiritual life in Houston is beautifully complex. As a child of an immigrant, most of my early childhood church experience was protestant and culturally homogenous. The older I got, the more my church experience reflected that of a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, generation immigrant which has its own expressions of worship; a beautiful combination of old “coritos” (small chorus’) we sang with our “abuelas” (grandmothers), Spanish hymns and Hillsong and Chris Tomlin. I have witnessed the trend that the further removed you are from your immigrant roots, the more likely it is that a Latino will attend a White Evangelical church if they grew up in the protestant tradition.
JG: What was it like moving from the Texas coast to the East Coast? Can you tell us about the ministry of Seneca Creek Community Church?
AP: Let me start by saying, I have experienced a peace about this transition that can only be attributed to the Lord. When I left Houston, the entire process, from applying for the position to hauling a U-Haul and my car cross country, was God-ordained. I was praying about what my next chapter was going to look like since 2019 and the Lord opened the right door at the right time for me at Seneca Creek Community Church. Secondly, the move has definitely been a culture shock! While Gaithersburg, MD is very diverse, there is not a large Mexican community here. So I have to adjust to no longer [having] Mexican sweet bread and Mexican horchata.
Seneca Creek Community Church is a multicultural egalitarian church that is dedicated to bringing healing for the whole person, service, promoting reconciliation, and empowering our congregation with purpose. We are intentionally having the difficult conversations that come with leading multicultural churches and hoping to create spaces that are welcoming to all people. We are also actively loving our neighbor through a program called the CARES Hub where we provide food and diapers.
JG: In your experience, what have churches done to acknowledge or celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? Is there anything you are doing or would encourage churches in the United States to understand about or do to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
AP: It is a wonderful place to start to celebrate the Hispanics and Latinos in your communities during Hispanic Heritage Month. And you can do this by highlighting Latino theologians in your services, using worship songs that were written by Latino worship leaders like Christine D’Clario, Jesus Adrian Romero, and Marcela Gandara, and so many more. But I would like to invite churches to honor and celebrate us beyond this month. We are your coworkers, your neighbors, and we are sitting in your pews. When you celebrate our Latinidad, you honor the imago Dei in us.
JG: How can we support and pray for you and your ministry?
AP: Please pray for courage and boldness to truly take ownership of this role that the Lord has called me to. This is the first space that has truly affirmed my gifts and leadership as a woman. It has been a gift but there is a lot of unlearning to do. I am also a seminary student at Fuller Theological Seminary so prayers for good stewardship of my studies.
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