Rethinking the UMC in the Philippines (a reflection from the PCC Interagency Summit)

IN A seminar-meeting I attended early in 2011, I was surprised to see the UMC emblem printed on the liturgy cover of Siliman University’s Cathedral (United Church of Christ in the Philippines). Curious, I asked the pastor after the Worship Service. He said that the person responsible for making the liturgy was tasked to find a beautiful image of Jesus’ cross and when she searched it on Google Images, she found the emblem the most remarkable one!

The UMC emblem signifies a very unique meaning: the Holy Spirit and the union of two big churches in the United States. The two parts of the flame is connected by a very thin line, which I sometimes missed out in my drawings during childhood. This thin line may seem insignificant but it strongly represents our unity as the one body of Christ—a very tiny detail with a very huge impact to us as Christians and as United Methodists.

At some point, the UMC here in the Philippines has also missed out this uniting power. Within the quadrennial, an uprising conflict and brokenness are prevalent. We seem to have focused more on the two big parts of the flame rather than the tiny detail; the work rather than the mission; the personalities rather than the Spirit.

The Philippines Central Conference Interagency Summit last June 13-16, 2012 has been instrumental in reminding us our role and to go back to the basic. It was a time to be reminded of our calling as Christians and fulfilling our mission as parts of the one body of Jesus Christ. It was a time of relearning the tools in becoming effective leaders to revitalize our congregation; a time to evaluate ourselves and the ministry as well as to plan together for the next four or more years; a time to really call upon the Holy Spirit to re-bind us as United Methodists.

Listen ONLY to Jesus

“This is my own dear Son, with whom I am well pleased—listen to Him!” In this story in Matthew 17, God the Father referred to Jesus Christ as He was speaking to the disciples who were pre-occupied and overwhelmed to see two of the great prophets in history, Moses and Elijah, at the summit.

Bishop Daniel Arichea, Jr., during the Opening Worship, emphasized the disciples’ distraction over the two great figures rather than Jesus—they are even willing to build a tabernacle to them that as equally important as Jesus. But the Father in heaven stopped them and commanded them to listen only to Jesus.

Our church is acting like the disciples. With so many things that overwhelmed us, we are now caught into losing focus of our main goal—to make disciples for Jesus! The recent challenges of our church, such as division, losing members, property matters, and the like are becoming more of our focus. In these times, just as the Corinth church were encouraged by Paul to stay together and persevere in faith, we need to stay still and “listen ONLY to Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ demonstrated unconditional love through unity and forgiveness. As His disciples, we are also tasked to do the same. Within the UMC, there is also brokenness and disunity—Boards and Agencies overlapping work and non-collaborative efforts of lay organizations to the PCC level. If we are called by the same God and bound by the same Holy Spirit, how come we still try to do things so separately?

Be today’s Nehemiah, join the team

One of the biggest successes of the Interagency Summit is to bring together Boards and Agencies, and Lay Organizations to redirect our church to its vision and mission!

In the Morning Devotion led by Bishop Jose C. Gamboa, Jr. he challenged each one to look into the current predicaments of our church like Nehemiah. “Nehemiah saw what was beyond Jerusalem’s burnt gates and broken walls.” He saw brokenness among God’s chosen people. As an overseas worker, Nehemiah was burdened with the situation of the Holy City, and with earnest prayers and the help of God, Nehemiah went back to Jerusalem and rebuilt it. “But Nehemiah has to surpass two governors before he preceded with his plan… and so are you (Summit participants)—you need to surpass two major meetings to fulfill your plans, the Coordinating Council and the Philippines Central Conference Session.”

Nehemiah took the initiative to rebuild his beloved city. God has put in our hearts the burden to rebuild God’s beloved church. The programs that were evaluated are enough to show us where we went wrong as a church. The future is indeed bright, we just need to gather the right tools to regain what was lost and reconstruct what was broken.

As a young person, I have envisioned myself to grow old in the church, seeing my grand children actively participating in the church—in 20 or more years! But what has happened alarmed me (and many perhaps). Our membership is  decreasing, a number of young people joined other church groups (which is okay but a negative performance for our church), and lesser passionate church workers. Although my term as national president of the youth has ended, I am still privilege to be a part of the Summit to create a future with hope. I enjoyed hearing stories of struggles and commitment of the early Methodists in the Philippines, and I began to appreciate more of our church and its beginning here in the Philippines.

Nehemiah was also young when he heeded the call of our God to leave his job at the King’s palace and go back to his beloved place. God’s message is the same—we need to go back to the grassroots and revitalize it to the extent that we continue to create new congregations and expand God’s territory in the whole country! Young people have a big role in sustaining the church, being the present leaders and church workers. Lay and church workers alike have the same responsibility in bearing one another’s burden, carrying the blocks, woods and other materials needed for rebuilding and repairing.

I, too, want to be a part of the big rebuilding task ahead, along with other brothers and sisters in the UMC! I pray that the Summit will not just be a mere Noun, but a VERB that would create lasting change in the ministry and the church!

Leaders and Managers

With the Bishops occupied with their areas of responsibility, as well as the PCC Treasurer in formulating strategies for our investments and expenses, there is a need to hire a “national manager” to implement the operations of programs and activities of the UMC in the PCC level.

The Administration Workgroup proposed that the PCC should hire a national manager to oversee our programs, especially those presented by the different workgroups, making sure all are well disseminated down to the grassroots or local churches. In the same way, the bishops and the treasurer could focus on their duties and not overwork, which is the current situation, according to the report.

Leaders are different from managers, Bishop Leo Soriano said in his Closing Worship message. He said that the church is equipped with leaders in several ministries and now we also need managers. He cited Moses and Aaron’s field of ministry—Moses was the leader, while Aaron was the manager. Leaders are courageous and are risk-takers of the unknown, while managers prepare things towards the journey that the leader leads.

Whether leaders and/or managers, it all boils down to committed individuals who would take up the cross and follow God’s guidance to reforming the church and redirecting it to its main purpose and mission.

We have a number of young people who are capable of doing both leadership and managerial tasks, trained from the UMYFP. I pray that our participation as young people in the Summit would create a loud appeal to our mentors to entrust us with the responsibilities that could contribute to this paradigm shift.

Now what?

The five different working groups, namely: Lay Leadership, Administration, Clergy, Education, and Finance, have reported ideal plans for our church’s future—programs that would encourage each member to take part of their role in the church and the community they belong!

Overwhelmed and excited, everyone in the Summit can’t wait to get things started, the same reaction the disciples had when they were in the summit with Jesus. But this excitement has to be well-planned and prayerfully thought about. There’re financial and manpower resources that we have to consider—and most importantly Jesus’ voice in directing us to do the right decisions and actions.

The United Methodist Communication released a viral video blogs of individuals sharing their stories why they love the UMC. Browsing through all the testimonies, it made me reflect of my own reason. I tried attending several fellowships back in college but I always end up coming back to the UMC. Well, aside from being brought up in a Christian home, where our mother is a UMC clergy and the rest are UMC members, it is the place where I found my spiritual family who nurtured me well and surrounded me with God’s love! But what about those yet to be Christians? Converts?

As long as our members are having (making) families, we feel comfortable that we could maintain our membership status. However, this trend is no longer effective. We need to go back to our roots and be the prophets and messengers of God to the world–“The world is my parish,” as John Wesley declared. We need to get out of the church and be the church in the society that hungers for love and peace. We need to reach out to the people in their comfort areas. We need to bring the church to the people.

As members of a local church, we can start igniting our fellow lay and our clergy to rethink our church and regain what was lost! We don’t have to wait for the Coordinating Council or PCC to get things done, we just have to shift our mindset to what is really important—to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world—and let others think the same! (Joy Eva A. Bohol)


One thought on “Rethinking the UMC in the Philippines (a reflection from the PCC Interagency Summit)”

  1. I had goosebumps when I came across your article. It confirmed the same burden that I have as a church worker– to go back to the very purpose of our existence. May God’s strength sustain you as He move in our church.More of Him less of us.

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