Borderlands Protestantism in Santa Ana
Certainly, LGCS is a “newer” church, but there were many aspects of church practice that were “old” as well. An older borderlands Protestantism that had existed in the area for over a century surfaced in various ways at the church. As it turned out, the church’s Wesleyan roots reflected an important borderlands influence from yesteryear. Pastor Solis offered a glimpse into this borderlands influence by describing an older Wesleyan tradition practiced at his church:
For years now I’ve been conducting the Love Feast within our church. In it, we place a loaf of bread at the front by the altar, and everyone comes forward and breaks off a piece of it. But people shouldn’t eat it until they ask forgiveness from anyone they’ve wronged. It’s a beautiful sendee when we do it. People cry, broken relationships are mended ....
Solis explained, “I learned to do [the Love Feast] with the Free Methodists years ago. I’ve seen how well it works” (Tucker 2011). Methodism is part of Solis’ upbringing in the US-Mexico borderlands and from his perspective, “We [the Methodists], were here the longest [in Northern Mexico]. Other groups, like the Assemblies of God, came later. They were the newcomers to me.” As he further explained, “My grandfather was a Methodist pastor in Chihuahua.” Solis’ grandfather became Methodist at the turn of the previous century in Chihuahua, Mexico, anchoring Solis’ generational roots in the movement. Solis’ narrative framed Methodism as a tradition indigenous to his Mexican compatriots, with no recollection of foreign missionaries.
Pastor Solis further asserted his Methodist identity through trumpeting his Wesleyan piety: “I’m Wesleyan, but I’m from the true Wesleyans. We stay connected to the real Wesleyan tradition.” What is true Wesleyanism for Solis? “We focus on santidad,” or holiness, Solis asserted, which is a key marker of Wesleyan teaching. This connection between holiness and Methodism is highlighted by Sanchez-Walsh, who describes “Methodists, of the Holiness persuasion,” as stressing “behavioral modification as a sign of sanctification” (Sanchez-Walsh 2003). The theme of holiness emerged when Solis described the priorities of his church services. On Sundays when the church takes communion together, Solis asked congregants to dress in white to signify that they had been cleansed by God. Leaders in the church were particularly held to a higher standard of holiness. Solis asked that “all of my leaders, as an obligation, come an hour early and dedicate that hour to prayer. What happens? God sanctifies the place where prayer happens.” Speaking further of leaders, Solis stated, “the spiritual life of the leader is very important, teaching others that follow.” Solis anticipated that the church would more fully experience God if those in leadership positions participated in collective acts of devotion. During an interview, Pastor Joel, who had recently been commissioned to lead an affiliate church, echoed Solis’ views on holiness: “We believe that God calls us to be luminaries, as his word says, with holiness of life and to be testimonies of our faith.” Pastor Joel explicitly self-identified as “Wesleyan,” as did Pastor Mirvella.
Solis’ eventual settling in California was largely contingent on the binational ministerial networks of the Free Methodist denomination, a network which Solis was quite adept at describing. In particular, Solis admired the work of Gonzalo Cisneros, a Mexican pioneer in the Free Methodist denomination who established a number of ministry points on both sides of the border; several of these sites in
Sonora, Arizona, and California would become ministry points for Solis himself. Specifically, Solis served at churches and at a Bible training school that Cisneros founded. Velasco (1974) documents several of Cisneros’ contributions, corroborating Solis’ account of Cisneros:
Gonzalo Cisneros, Free Methodist minister, went to Mexico in the early thirties as a missionary from the California Latin Conference. He established churches in the states of Sinaloa and Sonora. A Bible Training School was located at Nogales, Arizona. Here young people were prepared for service in Mexico. The school has now been relocated at the University City of Hermosillo [Sonora, Mexico].
Thus, the work of Cisneros, a Mexican minister moving from Southern California into Northern Mexico, shaped the ministerial pipeline that brought Solis from Northern Mexico to Southern California.
The religious landscape that Solis encountered in California was itself largely produced by a deep well of Wesleyan holiness activity from earlier in the century. Solis’ various appointments in the Los Angeles basin were all in holiness, Wesleyan-based churches. Solis’ accounts echo Dayton’s (2009) description of Los Angeles in the early twentieth century:
The city is often interpreted through its Spanish/Mexican Catholic heritage, but in the early years of the twentieth century, it was a hotbed of the Holiness currents that prospered at the time. Even Hollywood was founded as something of a communal movement by temperance (and probably Holiness) Methodists.
Ethnic Mexicans were influenced by the “Holiness currents” that Dayton describes, some newly joining these churches and others drawn to the region through existing ties to holiness traditions. The latter was the case with Methodist minister Vicente Mendoza, as noted above, who served in Santa Ana. The sonic resonance of Mendoza’s hymn, “Jesus Es Mi Rey Soberano,” had not been lost on Solis. When asked during an interview if he had heard of Mendoza, “Ah, Vicente Mendoza - Jesus Es Mi Rey Soberano!” Solis exclaimed. Solis was aware of the sonic legacy that had been left behind in the borderlands by people of holiness Wesleyan tradition.