Florentino “Tino” Cordova is the pastor of Iglesia del Cáliz-Church of The Chalice. Iglesia del Cáliz-Church of The Chalice is a bi-lingual Hispanic congregation and a joint project of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Watsonville, California.
Tino was born in January 1964 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, but raised in the small village of Mosquero in northeastern New Mexico, a predominantly ranching and farming area. He was raised Roman Catholic and remembers his first connections to religion were through singing old Spanish hymns with his mother at home. Tino is the eleventh child of twelve in his family.
When he was an eighth grader in junior high school, he and his mother helped start a choir at their church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Through the choir he became more involved in the church beyond the required catechism classes of his youth. He stayed involved in the church and the choir throughout his childhood. When he turned 17 he and his brother went to Santa Fe to be trained as medical responders by completing the Emergency Medical Technician’s basic exam. He was the only ambulance attendant in his village and people in his community would call him, “Dr. Cordova”. Tino recalls caring for people while in pain, and bleeding as a transforming experience that deeply shaped his theology and how he cared for people.
Tino had known that he was gay as a child and through young adulthood. While at church and singing in the choir with his mother he felt a tension between his attraction to other boys and what he was being taught in church. He experienced that coming from a large Hispanic family, being Roman Catholic, and living in a rural town were three strikes against coming out as gay. He felt that even if he had wanted to come out, there was no one to come out to and that he did not have a language or vocabulary to express what he was feeling.
He had his first boyfriend in high school and the relationship ended badly. He did not want to go through the kind of violence he had witnessed his mother go through and thought that if that’s what being gay was all about, then he would rather not be gay. At that time he thought being gay was a switch he could flip to off.
In 1983 Tino graduated from high school, ranking third in a graduating class of 10. He joined the U.S Army in 1986 and became an infantryman at Fort Benning, Georgia. He and his cohort unit became very close and still keep in touch. In 1990 he underwent lower back surgery, but his body rejected the attempted disc fusion after the procedure. After this procedure his Veterans Affairs benefits helped him go to school to continue his education.
In 1991 he moved to Idaho with his family and completed a certificate as an information processing specialist. In 1993 he began working for the Department of Veterans Affairs Center in Provo, Utah as an Office Manager for the program that provides readjustment counseling for Vietnam veterans. During this time he also met and married a woman with whom he had two children. In their fifth year of marriage he could feel them moving apart because of his struggles with his sexuality.
Tino then moved to Chico, California and continued working for the V.A as an office manager and benefits counselor. He retired from the V.A in 1996 while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was during this time that he fully realized that being gay was not a switch he could turn on or off. He started building a support system for himself from the LGBT community in Albuquerque, which he first found in the gay clubs (The Ranch & The Pulse).
He had never been to a gay club before, and the first club he went to he saw a woman with a collar on who introduced herself as Reverend Pat from Emmanuel Community Church. She told him God loves you and I hope you join us. She gave him a package.
TIno recalls while in the gay club he would be hit on by men and get his ass pinched or people would want to buy him drinks. But he realized he did not want to be treated that way. After a week or two he opened up the package that Reverend Pat gave him and it had a condom, a packet of lube, HIV&AIDS education information and a small booklet debunking the “clobber passages” in the Bible. The very back of the book said, “God loves you just how God made you”. After reading this packet, he decided to take his sons and attend a worship service at Emmanuel. He saw same-sex couples holding each other in church, praising God and taking communion. He began to participate in reading the liturgy and felt that God was inviting him back to the table—that God’s table was open and inclusive for all people.
In 2001 Tino and his sons Steven and Cody moved to Clovis, New Mexico. He began dating a man and they received phone calls inviting them to come to a church nearby. It was an LGBT church forming in Portales, New Mexico. It was at this church, Llano Estacado Community Church, where began experiencing how to build a church from the ground up and was ordained as a deacon.
By the following January he and several other deacons were helping run the church in the absence of their main pastor who had left because of a medical emergency. During this time the church was physically desecrated and damaged. They responded by taking photographs to put in the local newspaper and speaking out about how this was the result of preaching hate from the pulpit and that they would respond with nothing but love.
Tino decided to pursue further education in religious studies and was accepted to Edgewood College (a school run by Dominican Order Sisters) in Wisconsin in 2007. He graduated in 2009 with a B.A in Religious Studies. He applied and was accepted to five different theological schools. He decided to attend Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, even though it meant the sacrifice of being further away from his family, especially his sons. When asked about sacrifices he has made, he believes that the biggest sacrifices have actually been those of his sons: that he had to be far away from them during some of their most important moments in life, He would pray to La Virgin for them and trust that God’s love and guidance would help protect and see them through when he was not able to do so.
In 2010 he began attending Pacific School of Religion (PSR). He had many doubts about whether it was the right place for him. When he attended the Wednesday night Taíze service he thought, “this is what angels sound like” after hearing his fellow seminarians sing. From then on he continued to meet more people, learn, and grow. He feels that PSR gave him the tools to approach and talk to any one, to boldly build community that is life giving and to challenge theology and spirituality when it is being hurtful.
While in seminary Tino was first contacted by Yolanda Moreno to talk about helping start a new Hispanic church in Watsonville. Under the mentorship of Rev. Elder Jim Mitulski he continued to finish his seminary studies while exploring a call to this idea of starting a new church. He decided, along with with his mentors, that he would finish the ordination process with MCC denomination, and then they would dispatch him to the existing Disciples of Christ Church in Watsonville. He received the formal call to be the founding pastor of the joint church project of Iglesia Del Cáliz -Church of The Chalice in November, 2012.
After graduating from PSR in 2013 he completed his chaplaincy residency at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. In September 2013 he moved to Watsonville to fully begin the project of church planting and found himself connected with the transition process of the current Disciples church.
He describes the Disciples church in Watsonville as an incredible community doing big things. As a faith community they are striving to bring healing of the divisions of racism between neighbors, reconciliation, ministries of justice, and an open and affirming church to all into the community of Watsonville. They are partnering with other congregations, building relationships between the community and the local police department, and introducing programs such as the Teatro del Espiritu-Theatre of the Spirit so youth can speak the truths of their experiences through artistic expression. The church will also house SOMOS LGBT, an organization that raises awareness on equality and acceptance for all in Watsonville. They strive to be a church that is “part” of the community, not “apart” from the community.
Tino is also a certified as part of “A La Familia” as a trainer through the Human Rights Campaign, a member of the Latin@ Roundtable with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, a board member with the Northern California Council of Churches; Impact Board, and a member of ALPHA which is a Hispanic ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Northern California/Nevada Conference.
Tino says that he strives with his communities to not repeat the mistakes of the churches of his ancestors. To not be silent or complacent in the midst of injustices, but to lead boldly as a community that will fight for and celebrate all people.
(This biographical statement written by Sonny Duncan from an interview with Tino Cordova.)