Philippines Central Conference Holds Clergywomen's Consultation

November 03, 2011

By Vida Grace T. Sison*

Clergywomen are no longer outsiders – instead, they are "inside outsiders," the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape told 206 clergywomen from the Manila, Baguio, and Davao Episcopal Areas of The United Methodist Church in the Philippines, in her keynote address to a gathering of the Philippines Central Conference clergywomen.
 
Cape said that 55 years ago, "We were outsiders...we could serve churches, but we couldn't vote at annual conferences, we had no guarantee of appointment, we didn't have to be paid minimum wages." Cape, general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said things have changed significantly since 1956, when the General Conference voted to grant full clergy rights for women. She noted that there has been no woman bishop in the Philippines yet, and expressed hope that this, too, will change.
 
The theme of the conference, held Oct. 5-7, 2011, in Baguio, was "Clergywomen: Lift Up, Level Up, Lead On!"
 
Citing Queen Esther as an example of being an "inside outsider" in the royal court of Persia during a time when Jews were persecuted, Cape said that clergywomen have become inside outsiders for such a time when there is war, violence, injustice, and consumerism in our world. She reminded the participants that as inside outsiders, Jesus Christ "calls us to follow as his disciples the way down a path that leads to regularly being crucified."
 
"God help us if we do not lose our lives for Christ's sake in order to create a world that is softer, kinder, a more peaceful place where swords are beaten into plowshares," she prayed.
 
Planning for the Consultation
 
Rodolfo A. Juan, resident bishop of the Baguio Episcopal Area, saw the need to organize the clergywomen in the country and to hold a consultation. He called on all the women district superintendents of the Philippines Central Conference to meet and brainstorm with the assistance of Rev. Dr. HiRho Park, GBHEM's director of Clergy Lifelong Learning [in UMNS file photo at right], and Dr. Priscilla Viuya, president of Tarlac State University and an elected board member of GBHEM. Former district superintendent Rev. Nerissa S. Palafox led the planning team, which included Rev. Ester Nasayao, Rev. Irenea Respuesto, Rev. Joshana Aben, Rev. Nehemia Allera, Rev. Ednalyn Guillermo, Rev. Luz B. Dado, Rev. Elizabeth Bautista, and Rev. Flora Pajarillo.
 
One of the topics discussed by the planning team was how to work toward the possibility of electing a Filipina bishop. They also talked about the need for professional development opportunities, improved technology, and self-care. Preparations prior to the consultation were to gather information about clergywomen and to conduct a survey to determine what particular issues the UMC clergywomen face in the Philippines.
 
Bishop Juan said the gathering of clergywomen was a time for "bonding and fellowship, learning and equipping, and most of all, spiritual revival."
 
GBHEM provided financial support to allow more clergywomen to attend and participate in the consultation.
 
Learning at the Consultation
 
The consultation was first-ever national gathering of UM clergywomen in the Philippines – from local pastors and provisional elders to ordained deacons and elders.
 
Park gave the first lecture about church administration and polity, and also reported on legislation that the Study of Ministry Commission will submit to the 2012 General Conference.
 
Daniel C. Arichea Jr., interim bishop of the Manila Episcopal Area and translations consultant of the Philippine Bible Society, discussed the differences between literal and meaning-based translations, and defined ways of interpreting biblical texts. Bishop Arichea pointed out that biblical interpretation is the process of carefully studying the biblical text in order to understand its meaning and relevance.
 
Dr. Dorcas Lumba, a medical doctor, advised the clergywomen that they should take good care of their physical wellbeing, as well as their spiritual wellness – referring to 3 John 1:2: "My dear friend, I pray that everything may go well with you and that you may be in good health – as I know you are well in spirit." She mentioned ways to lead a lifestyle of physical and spiritual wholeness and wellness.
 
The Rev. Dr. Benoni Silva-Netto [left], a faculty member at the Union Theological Seminary in Cavite, and a former district superintendent in the United States [in the California-Nevada Annual Conference], encouraged the clergywomen to debunk myths such as men's ordination, sacred vocation, and missionary condescension that still pop up in the Church.
 
He urged them to design new paths, and said one of the means to do this is to identify some areas of specialization in ministry that can support more adequately the mission of the church – which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Furthermore, he said, by developing special ministries that are complementary to the traditional functions of ministry, the clergywomen will be empowered to discover God even in places where God is not expected to be present.
 
Garlinda Burton, general secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, told Filipina clergy to "claim their place as Christ's ambassadors to the whole world, as agents of change in the name of Jesus Christ." She requested that the delegates pray with her about leading more people to Christ, and taking the lead in bringing all women to speak out the truth boldly and to support each other. She said she hopes to see a woman bishop in the Philippines someday.
 
The Rev. Nizzi S. Digan, chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Clergywomen Association (AAPIC), delivered the morning worship message on the second day. She expounded on the theme of the consultation by defining what clergywomen should do to "lift up," "level up," and "lead on." She urged the clergywomen to always take a Sabbath rest and be in constant communion with God as exemplified by Susannah Wesley, who, even in the midst of busily mothering to a big family, found time to pray to God by covering her head with her apron.
 
A Future with Hope for the Filipino UM Clergywomen
 
In his message in the closing service, Bishop Juan challenged the clergywomen to "rise above our difficulties and struggles and try your best to aspire for greater things." He prompted them to lift one another through prayers, to combine discipline and compassion, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, leaving no one behind.
 
Palafox said the next step is to organize the clergywomen by episcopal area and then formally organize at the national level, so that they will be able to make an action plan for the next quadrennium (2013-2016).
 
The Rev. Maritez Cruz, an elder from the Manila Episcopal Area, shared her thoughts on the consultation: "Finally, United Methodist clergywomen in the Philippines have found their collective voice through their shared inclusive experience. With a big sigh of relief, I realized that I was never alone in my struggles as a clergywoman. Now, we can begin the even more daunting task of reaching out to more of our clergywomen who were not privileged to attend the gathering, and developing the inroads we have achieved at this consultation. Glory to God for the clergywomen who hold up half the church!"
 
*Sison is executive secretary of the Philippines Central Conference Board of Christian Education and Communications.
 
Photo (above, left) of the Rev. Ben Silva-Netto, at his 2010 retirement from the California-Nevada Annual Conference, by Paul "Spud" Hilton.