I’ve often shared the fact that my decision to accept the call to become Pastor of ABC in 1972 was strongly influenced by my impression that the leadership seemed to be ready to embrace the goal of becoming a racially integrated congregation, in a community that was struggling to overcome a history of segregation.

In my mind at that time, integration meant the inclusion of Black families in a congregation that had previously been virtually all White. Now that I look back, I realize that was too narrow a definition, and that the congregation had already become multi-ethnic. The 1956 merger had brought the established church together with a formerly Swedish Baptist Church, and those two cultures had melded together. Then, in the 1960s, the Pilpa-Barinaga Filipino extended family had joined and become an established part of the worshiping fellowship.

And there was one woman, Luisa Arjona, who with her two children, had quietly integrated the church in another direction: Latinx.1 In the fifty years since, the Lord has enriched ABC by bringing strategic people from Spanish-speaking backgrounds into the congregation. Many have Mexican backgrounds, but our current congregation is wonderfully spiced by people with heritages in Chile, El Salvador, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil as well.

We’ve celebrated Black History at ABC for more than thirty years. In Committee planning meetings, I’ve often heard members express the desire to be still more inclusive and to recognize the other “minority” groups that have often found themselves on the outside of American society, treated as second-class. This year, I’d like to encourage you to enter into the experience of “Latino Heritage Month” in Pasadena. This Saturday, you can watch a great parade down Los Robles Ave., beginning at 10 am, then join in the festival at Pasadena City Hall beginning at noon.2

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I’ll end this article by sharing a personal experience that was very formative for me. I came as ABC’s Pastor in 1972, and I immediately became active in the IMA,3 the largest group of Black churches in the area. Right away, I was introduced to some hard realities. King’s Village, at the corner of Washington and Fair Oaks, had just been built, with Federal and State funding support, to alleviate the loss of affordable housing caused by the fact that the 210 Freeway was built right through the heart of Pasadena’s Black community. Government agencies were also involved in encouraging employers to establish locations near the new development to provide jobs for the residents. They offered sweetheart incentives to attract potential employers.

King’s Village opened in 1969.4 That was also the year a local Pasadena produce company decided to expand its operations by pioneering in providing pre-washed and cut salads for restaurant and fast-food companies. They took the government financial incentive bait and opened their production company right across the street from King’s Village.

After a few months, it became clear that not many workers were being hired from the affordable housing units. It was obvious because most of the King’s Village residents were Black, while just about all the workers walking in and out of the produce company looked to be Latinos. It turns out that the company was sweetening its pot even more by hiring the people from the cheapest labor pool— undocumented workers.

This became an issue in the Black community, and protests were becoming more and more public. The IMA hosted a public meeting to listen to the community and help steer the reactions in the most positive direction possible. Unfortunately, the conversation became more heated, and remarks were made that demonized the undocumented workers as the problem. Some Black leaders made disparaging remarks about Latino people. Finally, Rev. Stanley Lewis, who was President of the IMA at the time, quieted the crowd and said something I will never forget:


From then on, leaders from the Brown and Black communities began to work together to hold their common enemy accountable — the unscrupulous employer who was playing one against the other. The company soon left Pasadena.

There are a lot of examples in our society of hungry dogs fighting over the bone, while the privileged keep getting richer. At ABC we invite hungry dogs of all colors, shapes and sizes to share together in the bountiful feast of God’s love through Jesus Christ.

– – Pastor George Van Alstine

1 Because the Spanish word Latino is masculine, with Latina being its feminine form, younger leaders in the community have begun using the inclusive term Latinx to describe the entire population. Older generations, however, are uncomfortable with that made-up word, so I’ll use the word Latino through the rest of this article.

2 Check out the Saturday activities listed on the City of Pasadena site:

3 Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Pasadena