On Sept. 26, the day of his installation as bishop of the La Crosse Area Synod, Felix Malpica experienced a surprising encounter.

“A woman, whose energy could be felt even before she was close, came at me speaking Spanish a mile a minute,” he said. “It was a welcoming and comforting sound to hear my mother tongue on such a momentous day. … She was the only Puerto Rican woman around she knew of and was determined to be present for [the service].”

Given the installation’s limited guest list, she’d volunteered herself and her husband to staff it. “She said [to me], ‘I brought my whole family and, even though I know that my boys aren’t supposed to be here, I made sure that they came and sat in worship. They need to see that a young Puerto Rican man can be bishop!’” Malpica recalled.

Her words moved Malpica, 34, to tears. He is the first person of color and youngest person to be elected as bishop of the La Crosse Synod and only the second youngest synod bishop to be elected in the ELCA’s history.

In this role, Malpica says he aims to listen deeply to his synod, cultivate the gifts of each of its 73 congregations, build bridges between communities, and inspire innovation while “remaining rooted in the gospel and care for the leaders through the transformative power of word and sacrament.”

“I am so grateful to be a beacon of hope for those who have felt marginalized,” he added.

Malpica says his father, Rafael Malpica Padilla, who holds the title as the youngest synod bishop elected to the ELCA in 1981, is a key inspiration to his ministry. “[My father’s] impact on the church has been felt around the globe, and, after 40 years, he has only grown in his fervor for the gospel and accompaniment of those on the margins,” he said.

Malpica Padilla, now ELCA executive director of Service and Justice, delivered the sermon at his son’s installation and presented him with a special gift.

“[My father] gave me the ring commissioned for him as bishop,” Malpica noted. “His ring gives me the courage to live into our calling to be children of God in the world, proclaiming peace, love and justice for all.”

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