It’s been a seven-year journey for the Rev. Yesenia “Jessie” Alejandro.
The 48-year-old took classes on antiracism, church and child safety, read books about Anglicanism and Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, committed to memory the priest handbook, attended conferences, shadowed a priest, completed a psychiatric evaluation, and stayed helpfully fit — most people wouldn’t think of a minister job as physically demanding, but it is.
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This, after serving 11 years as a pastor in a nondenominational church and 20 years leading the Mothers Mission ministry in Kensington. The Philly Puerto Rican from Barranquitas can now add deacon at St. John’s Episcopal Church to her accomplishments. Should she pursue the priesthood, which can happen within six months of her installment, she would become the first Latina priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
“She helps others because she sees herself in them,” said the Rev. JoseLuis Memba, a vicar for Christ & St. Ambrose Episcopal near Fairhill.
Her installment coincides with Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez’s mission to make the Episcopal Diocese more diverse and inclusive. He, in fact, reopened St. John’s Episcopal Church in 2017, which has a mostly Spanish-speaking congregation.
The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 21, at 23 E. Airy St. in Norristown.
Oh, my God! To be quite honest, what hasn’t!? So many nights without sleep, traveling, reading books, taking tests, and all the time taken away from my kids (4) and my grandchildren (11). Also, deep inside, I know that this is what I’m called to be in life, but how does one tell [someone] the Almighty has called on you to do this work? It has been a very intense process, especially that interview, almost an interrogation. The guidance and encouragement of Father [JoseLuis] Memba and my mentor [Reverend Deirdre Whitfield] have kept me strong along the way.
I was driving on my way back home from Norristown, after a meeting with the Diocese’s Standing Committee, when I received a call from the Diocese office. I felt short of breath and stopped on the highway to thank God, and cried like una nena chiquita [a little girl]. When I received this message I cried this much because I had sacrificed so much to demonstrate that I have been sent to do this service. Still, today, I feel full of emotions, because they have recognized what I have known all my life.
Misión de Madre is going to continue, as other chapters have. I will step aside to give opportunity to more women interested in volunteering for the less fortunate in need of food, clothes, prayers and in bringing hope to our communities. I know that my husband, David [Cruz], will also continue to support the mission and causes in those moments when I find myself short of time.
Kensington [and the greater] North Philadelphia have lots of needs and this general focusing on the opioids and the violence has taken our eyes away from our children, the schools being shutdown, and the lack of funds. It shouldn’t be considered a privilege for our kids to have an education. Right now, I feel strongly committed to empowering and educating our children so that their voices are also heard, and to keep working on social justice issues as I have for years now.