Margaret Kimball Cross and the Reverend Wendy Taylor began their working relationship and spiritual connection in 1988, at the Congregational Church of Belmont, California. There they shared both worship and a strong interest in social justice.

They remained friends as Wendy moved to Pescadero to work among the Spanish-speaking farm workers in rural Pescadero. As Wendy built bridges between the Spanish- and English-speaking communities, Margaret supported her remotely from an office in San Mateo. Despite the distance, their heads and hearts worked in harmony. No one really ministers alone.

Wendy was also supported by the love of her life, Ellen. And Margaret leaned on her husband, Peter. Both partners in life were strong supporters of this cooperative mission—one that culminated in Puente: the Bridge Ministry.

Rev. Wendy J. Taylor   

As a child, I did not know the word “stranger.” I talked to everyone.

I grew up in Longview, Washington, where my family had lived since 1923 when our church and community were founded. My life was connected to everyone in town, including those in my high school on the West Side of Lake Sacajawea. I graduated from high school in 1962, delighting in the life to come. Spanish was my passion. The church was my call!

I arrived alone at a Presbyterian college in Spokane, Washington, now known as Whitworth University. Because women could not be pastors, I chose secondary education as my major, with English and Spanish as my teaching areas. After graduating in 1966, I taught English and Spanish for two decades in Washington, Puerto Rico, Colorado, Oregon and California. My advanced certification courses at the University of Washington focused on Spanish and the Bible.

Over those years, I learned what it meant to be a stranger. In 1972, I joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, now known as AmeriCorps), arriving as a newcomer on the island of Puerto Rico.  Since all my Spanish teachers in high school and college hailed from the Southwest US, Mexico and the Philippines, Puerto Rican Spanish was a shock to me. I served in Puerto Rico for several years alongside volunteers of diverse ages, language abilities and cultures, and I learned to live among strangers in that unfamiliar culture.

Almost a decade later, I found myself a stranger again—this time in Lima, Huánuco, Perú. I had been invited to join the Wycliff Bible Translators team to help build a translation center of straw-mud bricks. We translated for nurses there, trying to demystify and explain the importance of vaccinations to indigenous parents in the region.

When I was not traveling, I began serving as a pastor in local urban churches. I moved between Presbyterian, Universal Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Church and the United Church of Christ (UCC), each time becoming a newcomer of a different kind, one who was sometimes sent away to seek a new faith community. I adjusted, finding those who willingly wanted to bring my wife, Ellen, and me into their circles.

Three major groups were instrumental in helping me develop my cultural humility. The first was UCC’s Western Hispanic Ministries Strategies Team. These folks, whose native language was Spanish, conducted border ministries that opened the eyes of UCC members. The second group was the Witness for Peace delegation at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. In 1985 Ellen and I joined sixty women from seminaries across this nation to accompany Nicaraguans safely through a war zone, placing crosses at sites where beloved family members had died.

The third group was a collection of my colleagues in the UCC. On the island of Vieques off of Puerto Rico, we joined hundreds of others, walking five miles across the island, to protest the US Government’s refusal to clean up the military base there. The pollution was killing the fish and spreading cancer among those who drank the water–especially the children. What a committed ministry this was–telling the truth in love and peace! 

At about this time, I began to coordinate the Sanctuary Ministry for our UCC Conference. I also headed up the AIDS Ministry in San Mateo County. Through these ministries, I learned how to love my “families of choice.”

Not long thereafter, I returned to school, and in 1988 I graduated from Pacific School of Religion. But finding a position as a pastor was not easy. It took two years, dozens of rejections, and five close “calls” before I found a position—and that was as a replacement for a pastor on sabbatical. Finally, I was ordained as co-pastor in the Belmont, California, UCC.  That decade—1988-1997—was a tender and grace-filled time.

In December of 1988, I made one more important journey. I joined a delegation that accompanied Las Madres de Los Desaparecidos (The Mothers of the Disappeared) in El Salvador to an international convention on this topic in San Salvador. We toured the university where the Jesuits had been killed, and the cathedral where Archbishop Oscar Romero had been assassinated. We even visited the edge of the sacred volcano where much human killing has happened. This was a country in civil war, and we knew the US had played a harsh role in their history. During our trip, we were routinely stopped by the military who demanded that we step out, show our papers, and wait in a ditch—just as the sisters and laywoman years before had done before they were killed. Even our hotel rooms were secretly searched.

My last decade of service was a surprising call to serve at the Pescadero Community Church on the Pacific Coast fifty miles south of San Francisco. The need for both a teacher and a pastor who spoke Spanish was obvious, and so we became strangers in a community once more. But a gracious welcome from this community—and especially from the Mexican men who worked in the fields–made our move seem like a homecoming. We began the long, arduous task of building bridges that would unite us all.

After retiring in late December 2006, I felt a passionate need to tell our Puente story—as did my co-author Margaret –and so we wrote and edited through the autumn of 2011. In publishing our book, we hope to spread the word: “That they may all be one. No longer strangers!”

Margaret Kimball Cross

I have never forgotten what it was like to be the “stranger,” the newcomer in California. It was in the early ‘70’s when my husband, Peter, and I packed up our life in suburban Chicago and landed in a bungalow just off Alcatraz Avenue in Oakland. Right away I noticed that anything I wore to an event was wrong. Anything I assumed to be “the right way to respond” in a social situation was a misstep. I definitely did not belong here.

But I did find that I belonged at our neighborhood church. When I walked into my first “ladies aide” meeting, the churchwomen were in a flurry of banner-making–and I knew I could do that. In a very short time I had fashioned a five-panel, felt banner depicting Matthew 25. The banner, which featured a loaf of bread, a chalice, and figures encircling the stranger,  represented the idea that we are all one–faith at its heart.

Not too many months later, I completed coursework for a K-8 teaching credential and began subbing in the Oakland schools. In those years, the poorest neighborhoods were mostly African-American, and I was daily surrounded with dark faces and bright eyes. I treasured sharing daily life with those children, many of whom lived in situations no child should have to endure and saw things no child should see.

It was not strange, then, that Peter and I decided to adopt a child from another culture. There were children needing families, and couples like us wanting to have a family. What could be more natural? Through an inter-country adoption agency we adopted a little boy from Korea, and later a little girl.

Bonding with a child from another land is quite a process: it opens up parent and child to a whole range of new experiences–both good and not-so-good. Yet the children do grow into their new homes, new cultures, new lives. Through our children, who are now adults, we have added a daughter-in-law of Philippine heritage. And still, we are one family.

At the time I met Wendy and Ellen, I was in one of life’s valleys. The children were entering high school, I had returned to full-time employment, and Peter was caught up in a chronic illness. I was confident that my best resource was still the Church. I began to look for a church community close to our house, since I could not be away for long. That brought me to the Congregational Church in Belmont on the very day Wendy was ordained!

Not long after we met, Wendy persuaded me to go with her to a family camp organized by the church each fall at a campground north of the Russian River. I actually got away for a day and a half! My spirit was refreshed, and I felt the inclusion and acceptance I craved through the church. When Wendy invited me to be part of a women’s prayer group, I accepted. Those early morning devotional meetings were the start of a twenty-year friendship.

And now we have chronicled the story of how Wendy started Puente Ministry, first by talking to a few guys in the street and then by inspiring dozens of men and women who became eager to carry the message that we are indeed all one. It has been my joy and good fortune to have traveled this process with her, helping out as I was able, and now sharing the experience with you.