The tragic incident happened just west of the small town of Guadalupe around 10 a.m. Benito Flores, 43, was helping baptize a man when a rogue wave pulled him and two other men into the ocean.
The two other men managed to get out, but Flores did not. His cousin, who is the pastor, says he tried to grab Flores but could not save him.
"I tried to take him out, but he was heavy, and then another big wave came and threw him," said Pastor Maurigro Cervantes of Jesus Christ Light of the Sky Church.
Searchers scoured the area but could not locate Flores. The search was called off around midnight, and Coast Guard officials say there were no plans to resume it.
Fire Capt. David Sadecki said Monday that it would be difficult for anyone to survive more than 30 minutes in the cold water.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.