; charset=UTF-8" /> “Si tu puedes cántalo…cántalo al Señor:” The Installation of SCNC Conference Minister, Rev. Félix C. Villanueva : Connecting Voices
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“Si tu puedes cántalo…cántalo al Señor:” The Installation of SCNC Conference Minister, Rev. Félix C. Villanueva

by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Connecting Voices Editor and member of United Church of Christ of La Mesa

     They came from far and wide:

     … from the national offices of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and thirty-four of its thirty-eight conferences

     …from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); from the Samoan Ministries Table, the Pacific Islander Ministries and the Asian American Ministries of the Southern California Nevada Conference (SCNC)

     …from the Armenian Church, the Islamic Shura Council, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Claremont School of Theology (representing the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders)

     …and, en masse to celebrate and celebrate with the new Conference Minister (formerly their pastor), a crammed-to-the-gills busload of members of the United Church of Christ of La Mesa, CA (UCCLM) – each of whom promptly claimed a hug.

     Making history, they were also, at the venerable First Congregational Church of Long Beach (CA) steeped in it.  An Italian Renaissance building which, as proclaimed at its dedication in 1914, “was designed for worship but built for service,” First Congregational is, in the vernacular, “a beaut.”  Blessed with spectacular stained glass (oh, the rose windows!), a 70-rank Moeller organ with 4,226 pipes (among them a “high-flying” array of trumpet pipes) and rich mahogany paneling and pews, its history neatly parallels the message presented both in the installation of Rev. Félix Villanueva as Conference Minister of the Southern California Nevada Conference (SCNC) and in Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire’s sermon, “That We May All Be One” – liberal theology, deep spirituality and faith in action through service.  Open and Affirming since 1992, the congregation is “a passionate advocate of social justice, serving as a shelter for the homeless, a center for enrichment programs for children in the downtown neighborhoods, a proponent of affordable housing and an advocate of global peace and justice” which seeks “to foster deep spirituality” and places great emphasis on “being a caring and accepting community of faith.”1        

     The Service of Installation began dramatically with a processional of church dignitaries – centered among them Rev. Villanueva in a white alb and beautifully embroidered crimson stole.   Greetings from Rev. Geoffrey Black2, Reverends Susan Gonzales-Dewey and Donald E. Dewey3, Imam Shakeel Syed4  and Rabbi Mark Diamond, who sent a “hearty mazel tov” by letter, followed.  The congregation then joined in the Call to Worship, proclaiming “We are here to be lifted, renewed and empowered to live out the miracle of who we are, by the power of God working among us,” and a spirited rendition of “Cántalo,” long a favorite of Félix and the people of UCCLM.  “Si tu puedes, cántalo…cántalo al Señor” (“Everybody sing it out…sing it out to the Lord”) filled the sanctuary, reaching even to the stained glass skylights high above.  Rev. Black, by the way, set the tone for the celebration, having declared it a “joyous occasion,” a feeling captured over and over again as speaker after speaker gave thanks for this “opportunity to rejoice.”  The mood was obviously contagious!


     The opening prayer by Rev. Dr. Carlos Correa Bernier and scripture readings (Genesis 11: 1-8, Psalm 133 and John 17:11:23) in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Japanese and Samoan were interspersed with music, including “The Church’s One Foundation,” another “Felix favorite,” the music of which is a danza from his native Puerto Rico.  The well-loved words of Samuel J. Stone spoke to the occasion – “Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth.”  As, beautifully, did Rev. Brookshire in her meditation – so beautifully that an awed voice from somewhere in the crowd wondered aloud, “one little church had Félix AND her?  Lucky people!”


     Mary Sue, after noting that Félix (“or, as my children – twin toddlers, Hannah and Isaac – call him, Flix”) hadn’t told her the congregation would run so heavily to dignitaries (a “detail” she promised to “discuss” with him later), segued neatly into that meditation with the story of a friend working in Brazil – and his bemusement when the country all but shut down when it won the World Cup in soccer, this even though the celebrants were waving the national flag, which features the motto “ordem y progresso” (order and progress).  In his opinion, Brazil was much in need of a new motto.

     Inviting the audience to recite them with her, Mary Sue ran through some of UCC’s better known mottos – the ones about who and where you are, periods and commas, a still-speaking God and, excerpted from the Gospel of John and especially pertinent to the day, “That they may all be one.”  A look at the struggle for unity within various branches of Christianity and, in particular, the UCC followed, culminating in a quote from UCC minister Oliver Powell, “who once called our diversity a ‘beautiful, heady, exasperating mix.’” 

     Citing also multiple “signs of hope” within the church, a church which is “shifting rapidly and dramatically,” she moved on to the covenant about to be made “with Rev. Villanueva, with each other, and with God about our mutual ministry together,” stressing the belief that “we can be encouraged and emboldened to commit ourselves anew to the work to which we are called.”    She also reminded her audience, quoting Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on the Tower of Babel story (the first reading of the service) “that the unity that God desires includes – or, actually, requires – multiple voices.”

     Praying for “a unity that transcends the tyranny of like-mindedness,” she concluded with the wish that we all be granted the capacity to listen and that in listening we experience the unity in which we may truly know that we are one.”

     There was more – much more – to come:   the formal Installation and all the ceremony that entails.  Highlights included the music, the presentation of Félix’s Conference Minister medallion, a parade of gifts and the emotion-charged pledge by the members of the SCNC to “receive the Reverend Félix C. Villanueva as our Conference Minister, promising to labor with him in the ministry of the gospel and to give him due honor and support.”


     Communion, the presentation of gifts (among them a stole emblazoned with words from “many of the languages God is still speaking”) and the Benediction followed.

     Then it was time to party – to share food and drink, to converse, to renew old friendships and make new, to congratulate and to celebrate in good company.  The long-awaited day had come – and would soon be but a memory.  But a memory?   No, no…that should read “but what a memory!”  And what a hope and promise for the future it carries.

     Si tu puedes cántalo……cántalo al Señor!



1quotes in this paragraph from http://www.firstchurchlb.org/history.html

2UCC General Minister and President

3Co-Regional Ministers of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church-Disciples of  Christ

4Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California

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