Soo Ji Alvarez is currently a participant in the PastoraLab OC Cohort. She is the Lead Pastor of The AVENUE Church, a multi-ethnic church that has a heart for the community of Riverside, CA. Soo Ji is Asian-American and pastors with her Mexican-American husband Joe. They are blessed to have 2 beautiful, Mexirean kids, their son Juaquin and daughter Nayara.
What are some of the unique challenges that you face as an Asian American clergywoman?
As an Asian American woman, it’s hard pastoring a church that is not primarily Asian. I look like I should be a pastor somewhere in LA like in Koreatown or somewhere in China or at a Buddhist temple, but God has called me to pastor a multiethnic church in order to break glass ceilings for women of color who lead and who pastor.
Is it possible for an Asian woman to pastor a multiethnic church? Yes! It can be difficult because for some people, I am the first Asian woman pastor that they have ever seen. Also, with the rise of anti-Asian hate, it’s been even harder to be taken seriously as a pastor and a leader in my community, because too often Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are seen as immigrants and foreigners and not as citizens or as Americans.
What are some challenges unique to your specific stage in ministry?
I’ve experienced challenges and barriers in ministry due to my gender and ethnicity. I also experience these same challenges in the marketplace and when doing hospital visits. Because the majority white American culture holds onto the stereotype that pastors are old, wise, white men, I have to assert my spiritual authority and leadership qualities in order to help people understand that I too am called to pastor a church and minister to communities. I do have to overcompensate sometimes and clarify all the time what my role and position is and what the purposes are that God has called me to in my life. Because I also look young even though I’m in my late forties, ageism and looking inexperienced is also a factor so I continually have to wave my qualifications in people’s faces and have them on paper for people to take me seriously.
How do you form and sustain collegial relationships with other pastors ?
When meeting new colleagues, I use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to connect as well as share my business cards (both digital and paper). I also attend conferences and networking events in order to meet more colleagues that fit within my affinity groups. I also zoom and email regularly with a small group of pastors for prayer and encouragement as well as gather once a quarter or even monthly with a large group of pastors.
What kinds of experiences and opportunities are most important for supporting clergy, as well as their families, and establishing the conditions needed for them to thrive?
Women clergy and their families need extra support. Women wear many hats and those who have kids have to do ministry as well as parent and provide transportation to and from school and childcare when needed for meetings or ministry trips. They need flexibility in their schedules when kids are sick or when school is out or when they have to take their kids to the many doctor and dentist appointments.
Women also need to learn from each other and from other women. I make it a point to attend and often speak at a women’s clergy conference every year where I can meet and network with 500-600 other women clergy. I am also starting up a network within my denomination for just Asian American pastors and women. It has also been a blessing to be a part of PastoraLab and learn from my other sisters and discuss the same books and articles in order for me to thrive.