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Pastor Jeanelle Ablola

Biography

Jeanelle Ablola serves as the lead pastor for Pine United Methodist Church (UMC) in San Francisco, California. Born in 1981, they are the child of Filipino immigrants and grew up in southeast San Diego, California. Ablola’s parents came from a religious background, their mother being a pastor’s kid from a Methodist tradition and their father coming from both a Catholic and Methodist tradition. This laid the foundation for Ablola’s own upbringing, with them attending a Methodist church mainly composed of other Filipino immigrants for the majority of their life. As they grew older, Ablola found themselves faced with a bit of cognitive dissonance surrounding them dealing with unkind people in their youth group. This left them feeling disconnected from their church home, though they would eventually make their way back to the faith of their youth. 

Ablola attended Southwestern Community College before going to California Polytechnic University to obtain their BFA in graphic design with a minor in art history. They graduated in 2004 and began working as a graphic designer. It was during this time that they found themselves wanting to find a church home and Christian tradition that best suited them. With the encouragement of a friend, they ventured through evangelical, nondenominational churches, took on the clobber passages of the Bible, and eventually came out to themselves and this same friend as queer. Unfortunately, Ablola faced more cognitive dissonance from sitting through anti-LGBTQ sermons and found themselves at a loss for what to do. 

Though they continued attending churches that preached that same message, the tipping point came during a service in 2004. While in the pews of an evangelical church in Fullerton, California, the pastor made mention of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop. This elicited a negative response from the congregation and cemented Ablola’s resolve; they left that church and would turn to seminary as a way to further explore their faith and what it meant to them. They enrolled in Pacific School of Religion in 2007 and graduated with their Masters in Divinity in 2010. 

After seminary, Ablola served as the minister of Youth and Community Outreach at Buena Vista UMC for two years. It was through their position that they were able to develop a program aimed at advancing the relationship between church and community. The program, JAMS (Justice, Art, Music, and Spirituality), created a space for a variety of topics to be discussed without fear or shame. They were later appointed as lead pastor for Pine UMC in July of 2011. 

Pastor Ablola considers one of their greatest accomplishments to be the relationships and community they have built, especially with other activists, community organizers, and people they consider their chosen family. In contrast, they consider their greatest struggle to be constantly trying to find others who understand and can relate to their unique intersections of identity. 

For Pastor Ablola, faith and identity do not exist in opposition to each other. Because of the wounds inflicted upon Filipino people and other immigrants by Christian colonizers, Ablola has had to find ways to connect the two in a way that allows for liberation where there was originally oppression. They refuse to allow their faith to be co-opted by those with an agenda to harm. 

Pastor Ablola hopes to be known for continuing the legacy of those who have bravely fought against oppression to make the world a better place. They hope to contribute to the liberation and healing of all marginalized peoples. Ablola finds strength within all of the intersections of their identity (Filipino, queer, and trans), and works towards instilling that same strength and confidence within others. They currently reside in San Francisco Bay, California with their spouse.  

(This biographical statement was written by Dorya Mason from an interview with Jeanelle Ablola and was edited by Ablola.)

Biography Date: December 2023

Tags

Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Clergy Activist | Asian American | San Francisco | California

Citation

“Pastor Jeanelle Ablola | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 30, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/jeanelle-ablola.

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