I’m a farm boy from North Dakota and value my roots, but I love living in cities – Minneapolis, Washington, DC, Cleveland for 17 years, Denver for 14 years, and San Diego since October 2021.
I love being a pastor – starting from my first pastorate during college in South Dakota at age 20. I’ve been preaching almost every Sunday ever since. I received my degrees at Dakota Wesleyan University, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and earned my Doctor of Ministry at Wesley Theological Seminary. My research resulted in a study entitled Open Gay and Lesbian Pastors Called by Predominantly Straight UCC Congregations. I also studied in a program focused on the intersections of theology and public policy. I worked on a range of social justice issues with the Office for Church in Society in DC and Hunger Action in Cleveland. Hunger ministry has a been vital part of my life, including annual stints in the church steeple in Cleveland. I was a 24-hour “hostage” for 14 years to collect food and raise money for our hunger center. That’s how I met my husband Art in 2001. He was a reporter for a local TV station, interviewing me following 24 hours in a cold wet open-air steeple. We married in 2007.
When we moved to Colorado, we discovered a passion for hiking and snowshoeing. I tried cross-country skiing but couldn’t stay upright long enough to enjoy it! I’ve climbed two 14,000 foot mountains and am now discovering new trails in California.
Travel is another passion. If I couldn’t be a pastor, I’d love to be a travel writer/blogger/photographer. I’ve been in 25 countries and 49 states (fingers crossed: Hawaii one day). Travelling is spiritual to me. I got my first taste of international travel when I was 17 as part of a US/Canadian choral group touring Europe (where I had my appendix out in Paris!). Then a mission trip to Haiti, college exchange to Japan… I couldn’t stop! I have a special affinity for Southeast Asia where I have spent time in nearly every country.
If you would like to get together for coffee, I’d love to hear your story too.
Pastor Portia has served the past 10 years as a hospital chaplain and lay church leader in Texas and California.
She sees her calling as one who has courage and compassion while taking the initiative to meet people in their joy, pain, and suffering. Committed to extending agape love to a world that may never step through the doors of a church, synagogue, or mosque, she therefore steps through the door of a person’s sacred space being available, approachable, and non-judgmental. Still representing “The Divine” by title and mere presence is a necessary tension that she aspires to daily.
Prior to joining our team, Portia earned her bachelor’s degree in Theology and her Master of Divinity, and she has plans to remain a lifelong learner. She has served as a chaplain in the following specialties: Emergency Medicine, Oncology, Palliative Care, and Adolescent, Adult, and Senior Behavioral Health. She is originally from Virginia but has fallen in love with the state of California. She is a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.
She is a former tiny house owner, a diehard tennis lover, and a Frasier television show fan. One of her life’s verses is Romans 5:4, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.”
Director of Ministry with Children and Families
Artcel Ruiz was born and raised in Manila, Philippines, and came to San Diego when she was 15. She has been married to her husband, Frank, for 26 years. They have two children, Justin, 25, and Jianna, 17. Artcel recently graduated from Claremont School of Theology with a master’s degree in Divinity. The next goal is to pursue a Doctor of Ministry.
Artcel has been leading life groups, chairing various ministries, working with children, and occasionally preaching at her church for years. She is passionate about empowering and being an advocate for children. Her desire is for the kids and their families to experience and personally know God.
Wearing so many hats–mother, wife, employee, friend–can be a lot, so having “me-time” is a non-negotiable for Artcel. Getting lost in a book, taking walks, having hot cocoa, or unwinding with favorite tv shows or a play is vital.
Kris was raised in central Illinois, and after living in Chicago for several years moved to San Diego. He studied organ under Dr. Lorraine Brugh, Dr. Sally Cherrington-Beggs, Dr. David Christiansen, and Dr. Alison Luedecke. He held organist positions at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Addison, Illinois; Bethel Lutheran in Palatine, Illinois; and Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and worked for several years as a freelance/substitute organist.
When not playing the organ, he works full time as a computer network engineer.
Angelica has been a lover of music since early childhood. She sang her first solo in church when she was 2, began taking piano lessons at 4, joined her local church choir at 7, and started conducting her church’s children’s choir when she was 14. After graduating from college, she directed orchestra, handbells, and choir for over 20 years. Since moving to San Diego county in 2003, Angelica has had the privilege of singing with many local ensembles, including Sacra Profana, Bach Collegium San Diego, and the San Diego Women’s Chorus. She also owns and manages Full Measure, a professional holiday caroling group.
In recent years, Angelica has joined a growing number of Americans who are searching for ways to make a difference in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ community. Inspired by the leadership in her faith community at MHUCC and her fellow music lovers in SDWC, it is her hope that she can learn to be a force for social justice and change in our world.
Angelica currently resides in Escondido with her girlfriend and MHUCC Worship Technology Coordinator, Saige Afalava, and their dogs, Apollo and Marshmallow. When not making music together, they enjoy cooking, eating, Netflixing, and spending time with dear friends.
Elizabeth began working at Mission Hills UCC in 2015. Before that, she worked as program manager for The Tomorrow Project, a job-readiness program for homeless women within Catholic Charities.
Elizabeth has a wide range of skills, isn’t afraid of new technology, and is enjoying getting to know our congregation. Elizabeth exudes warmth as soon as you enter the door. It’s clear she is not only skilled but truly loves people. Her goal is to make every person feel welcome!
Fiona’s background as an educator includes teaching general chemistry at the University of Vermont, 10+ years directing and teaching professional education courses on nanotechnology, and extensive volunteer work in the classrooms of Grant TK-8 here in Mission Hills and as a coach for the First Lego League. She has been leading the MHUCC Youth Group since October 2021.
Fiona is dedicated to serving our youth, nurturing their impulses for service and outreach, and enabling a program of activities that will allow them to grow spiritually, take on leadership roles, and become the source of positive change in our world. And also to have a lot of fun!
When she is not being a youth leader, Fiona is a science writer and journalist. Some of her open-access work is on the Case Scientific blog, and her press clips are on Muck Rack. Her professional bio is on LinkedIn.
Saige has been the Worship Technologies Coordinator at MHUCC since December of 2021.
She currently resides in Escondido with her girlfriend and MHUCC Director of Vocal Music, Angelica Eclar, and their dogs, Apollo and Marshmallow.
Social Media Coordinator
Sexton and Nursery Attendant