Makayla Grijalva | News-Bulletin photo

Joe MacDonald and Cazandra Campos-MacDonald, music educators turned Methodist pastors preach about the importance of music and community by helping to host a performing arts camp for local children.

RIO COMMUNITIES — Two music educators turned United Methodist Church pastors who preach about the importance of music and community are hosting a performing arts camp for local children.

“I’m grateful that we are able to go beyond the church walls and offer a performing arts camp for the community,” said Joe MacDonald, the pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Belen in Rio Communities. “It’s something that as a former educator, I know the value of what the arts can bring to the kids and all participants. It’s my honor to offer this.”

MacDonald and his wife, Cazandra Campos-MacDonald who is also a pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist is Socorro, transplanted to New Mexico from Houston, Texas, after he got a job as a full-time choir director. They both relocated to Belen in June 2020 following a stint in Truth or Consequences.

Both music majors, the pair met while in college through a mutual friend with Joe describing Cazandra as the “wonderful oboist” and himself as the “crazy vocalist.”

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald said her sons, Julian, 25, and Caeleb, 16, who both live with hemophilia, inspired her to become an advocate for those dealing with rare bleeding disorders and other chronic illnesses. She even conduced a TedxABQ talk about her experience in 2015.

Before being called to the ministry, they both worked in musical education with Joe as a high school choir teacher, and Cazandra as a middle school band director.

“My first love is musical theater and performing,” Joe said. “I was doing that in Houston and started teaching high school, but always felt like the odd duck out in school. I was, and my kids were very successful, but I knew that it wasn’t in my heart what I really wanted to be doing. I wanted to work for the church.”

Shortly after moving to Deming, Joe went on to earn a master’s degree in seminary from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo., and later a doctorate at the Austin Presbyterian School of Theology in Austin, Texas. He pastored his first congregation in Truth of Consequences.

MacDonald organized his first performing arts camp when still living in Texas while working as the musical theater and curriculum coordinator at a Jewish community center. The program grew from about 35 youth participating the first year to more than 80 in his last.

“It just gathered so much momentum in the community. Wherever I went to pastor, I would offer these camps as well,” he said. “No. 1, they let me to get to know the kids, but also it let me keep that performing, teacher thing alive.”

Joe said he hosted a camp in December just for members of the church, where they put on a rendition of the biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale written by himself, but this upcoming camp is to reach the broader community “outside of the church walls.”

“We decided, let’s go a little bit bigger with this, let’s get the community involved,” Joe said. “What better way to get a community involved than getting these children together to focus on a goal, which is to promote the arts as a form of healing, as a form of community — just gather these things”

For Cazandra, ministry through the United Methodist Church is a third career.

“I’ve always known music is what I was going to do, and I thought I would retire from being a band director,” Cazandra said. “… I’ve never dreamed I would do any of this, but you know music is that thing that is within us. I think for everybody, that just ties us to something even bigger.”

After working in music education, she went on to become an advocate for those with rare bleeding disorders, inspired by her sons — Caeleb, 16, and Julian, 25 — who both live with hemophilia.

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald, left, is the pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist is Socorro, and her husband, Joe MacDonald, is the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Belen in Rio Communities.

She said through her time as a patient care advocate at a specialty infusion company, Cazandra traveled across the country educating people on rare blood disorders and doing other motivational speaking, including a TedxABQ discussion on her experience caring for a loved one with a chronic illness.

She began moving towards her ordination four years ago, earning her master’s degree in divinity. She is now a provisional deacon through the church, but plans on being ordained after earning her doctorate degree.

“But again, I think my biggest ministry has been in speaking to the rare disease community,” Cazandra said. “…For me it’s every time we can share something about our story that helps somebody else, again tying that spiritual aspect of it, is just redeemable in so many ways.

“To see both of our sons doing so well and where we are at in this world, I never would have dreamed it would be like this.”

Although Cazandra is working part-time as a pastor in Socorro, she still helps out with the performing arts camps wherever she can, serving in many different capacities.

For this camp, Joe wrote the script, which will take the audience on a trip around the world through music made popular by Walt Disney Studios. The production is appropriately titled, “It’s a Small World.”

The camp, sponsored by the Rio Communities Optimist Club, will run from Feb. 8 until the first week of May, with performances on that Thursday and Friday. Registration is free for children ages 8 to 18 to participate.

“I think it blends beautifully into what our performing arts camp is. It’s a free camp offered to our community to educate them in the arts, but also to educate them in what it means to be part of a community working towards a common good, and that is our production.”

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.