JANESVILLE

Maybe you heard their sweet voices on a spring morning.

Late last month, pastor Felix Malpica led preschool children from the chapel into the parking lot at Janesville’s Faith Lutheran Church.

There, they joyously sang “so the whole neighborhood could hear us,” the pastor explained.

It’s no secret that people of God sing.

But Pastor Felix, as he is affectionately called by church members, is someone with exceptional musical talent.

When the 31-year-old lifts up his voice, “it sends chills down your spine,” one church member declared.

When he plays an assortment of musical instruments, including the conga drums and ukulele, he builds community.

When he chooses world music for Sunday service, people in Janesville know they are linked to others around the globe.

Pastor Felix and music director Cherie Norquay select music for Sunday services from a variety of sources.

Global songs, including Zulu, Korean and Hebrew music, stretch the congregation in good ways, Pastor Felix believes.

“Music from around the world connects the congregation with a broader sense of what their church is,” he said. “We are not just a church in Janesville. We are not just a white church or an English-speaking church. We are a church that celebrates around the world in many different ways and many different rhythms.”

The congregation never really knows what it will hear and sing each Sunday. But the music best reflects the Scripture message, Norquay said.

Most of the world music comes from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal, so it is available to any congregation using the hymnal.

“But Felix teaches the congregation how to sing many of those songs in the original language,” Norquay said. “And we sing those songs more frequently than I believe many Lutheran churches do.”

Donna Herzfeldt, president of the congregation, said she enjoys singing songs from different cultures and in different languages.

“Janesville is not exactly the most multicultural place,” Herzfeldt said. “But we are getting some of that through global music.”

She called music a great way to unite people of different backgrounds.

“I like the feeling of making friends rather than enemies,” Herzfeldt said.

Pastor Felix marked his one-year anniversary as senior pastor May 29. In the last year, church attendance has almost doubled.

“I think people love the worship experience, the message, the music,” Herzfeldt said.

The charismatic minister, who often wears jeans and different colored Converse tennis shoes, talks easily to people of all ages.

“He has a maturity beyond his years,” Herzfeldt said. “Our older members love him, and he emphasizes the welcoming of children. Our congregation needed revitalization. He brought back families and kids.”

Pastor Felix was born and spent his early years in Puerto Rico, where he still has family on the outskirts of San Juan. He traveled to the island in February to see how relatives fared after last year’s devastating Hurricane Maria.

Parishioners donated $14,000 in gift cards for Pastor Felix to give to the Caribbean Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and other reputable groups for distribution.

As a child, Pastor Felix’s father was bishop of the Caribbean Synod.

Later, Pastor Felix and his family moved to Chicago, when his father, Rafael, took another important position with the church. Today, Rafael is bishop for Global Missions for the ELCA.

Growing up under his father’s shadow, people often asked a young Felix if he was going to be a pastor someday. At first, he did not think so.

Then something happened to make him reconsider.

As a teen, he helped serve Communion and chanted some of the liturgy during First Communion Sunday.

“I remember being overwhelmed by the moment,” Pastor Felix said. “I remember feeling that it was such a privilege to be part of those sacred moments in people’s lives. I thought this could be something I do for the rest of my life.”

From an early age, Pastor Felix was involved with the church’s global ministries. He learned a lot by attending summer missionary conferences, where he met people from all over the world.

Pastor Felix earned degrees in music and Spanish literature from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and he also studied abroad in Spain. Later, he attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, on a full scholarship.

At a summer camp in Wisconsin, he met his wife, Jessica. They have a 1-year-old son, Javier.

Pastor Felix calls music a tool that has taught him how to be a better pastor.

“My job as a pastor is to unlock the true potential of a community,” he said. “The point of the church is to open us up so we can see our neighbors with love and to see people around the world with love.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux @gazettextra.com.

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