Helen Manalac-Cunanan, Pampango Philippines Annual Conference
Speak Out, Stand up and Reach Out for Christ. This was the theme for our UM Clergywomen Convocation of the Manila Episcopal Area (MEA) held July 1–3, 2015 at the UM Mission Camp in Tagaytay City. “This is a much awaited gathering,” said the Rev. Leslie dela Cruz, one of our participants, who is assigned in one of the Aeta churches in the Pampango Philippines Annual Conference. “Much awaited” is indeed apt because this is the first time we had such a gathering of clergywomen in the Manila Episcopal Area since the national gathering in Baguio City more than four years ago.
Gatherings of clergywomen like this one address that desire within us to meet with sisters in the ministry. It also satisfies the hunger to meet with kindred spirits coming from the wider United Methodist connection. Such opportunity confirms the reality that we are not alone, that we have fellow women working with us for the furtherance of God’s kin-dom.
It was in 1985 when I was accepted into the itinerant system of The UMC. I was the second woman who entered the ordained ministry in our province of Pampanga. The first was a deaconess who later became a pastor, and who retired the same year I entered the ministry. To our family, my decision to enter the ordained ministry did not come as a surprise because our family has been known to produce church workers: my four aunts and five cousins are deaconesses of the church. So, everybody in the family was rejoicing when I announced that I want to be a pastor. But a male pastor, who was a family friend and who happened to be assigned in our church for many years, was not too happy about my decision. He gave the following reasons why I need to be a deaconess and not a pastor: (1) the pastoral ministry is a man’s world, (2) women clergy will never be successful pastors, and (3) women clergy will never become administrative pastors of big and mega churches. It was then that I realized that the church need to work more on teaching our people that Adam and Eve were both created in God’s image (Gen 1:26a). Male pastors need to learn this lesson, too. With my firm conviction that I am called to the ministry, I stood up and told him that I do not dream of becoming a successful pastor, assigned in big congregations. All I want is to be a pastor in God’s vineyard. I encountered the same comments from members of the conference’s board of ordained ministry (the super body called BOOM). But I thank God there was a woman who gave affirmation to young women like me who are called to the ministry. Her presence and words of encouragement gave me inspiration to pursue my calling.
It was not an easy beginning, but thanks be to God there were people like her who believed that we, too, are called by God to serve the church. This clergywoman encouraged me to attend gatherings of women, not only in the district but in every level of exposure. In her own words she told me, “So that you will see that you are not alone in your faith journey. There are other women called to the ministry, too.” Later on I discovered that she was the Rev. Paz Macaspac, director of Immanuel Bible School (a training school for indigenous Filipinos called Aetas) and the first clergywoman from our province. She was one of the women who helped me find my voice so I can tell the world that I am called by God.
This difficult beginning of my pastoral journey helped me to commit myself in organizing and facilitating clergywomen gatherings with the hope that, through these events, we will be able to give encouragement to clergywomen. This advocacy brought me to the leadership of the Manila Episcopal Area’s Clergywomen and later brought me to the Design Team for Speak Out 2015.
The Design Team officially met together in May 25 at the conference room of our UM headquarters in Manila. Although a prepared program proposal was drafted months before, it was only at this time that the team came together face to face. We wasted no time, and went straight to our task; we brainstormed, came up with the issues we needed to address and the objectives we wanted to attain, and selected the topics to be discussed; even the resource speakers were considered as we polished the original proposal. This exercise made us realize that our brains can work wonders, even under pressure.
We called the gathering the UM Clergywomen’s Convocation (MEA Clergywomen: Speak Out, Stand Up and Reach Out for Christ ) because it was our hope to formally gather all United Methodist Clergywomen in the Manila Episcopal Area (MEA) in one assembly. Invitations were distributed to twelve annual conferences, and we targeted attendance by at least 70–100 women. When the day came, we had 81 delegates, excluding our visitors and observers.
Speak Out is an attempt to assist us to express our feelings, thoughts, dreams, hopes, and fears out in the open. It is also an attempt to gather our voices and present them as one voice so that the church in particular will listen to us as we speak. It aims to strengthen our ranks and help us stand up and claim our rightful place in the body of Christ. It invites us to take into serious consideration our great accountability, that is, to reach out for Christ. The greater objective of this event “is to provide a venue for UM Clergywomen of MEA to engage one another in love and fellowship for their healing, strengthening and empowering for their disciple-making within and without The United Methodist Church.”
The convocation started with opening worship that invited us to look at the experience of the bent-over woman whose 18-year long disease was healed by Jesus on a Sabbath. The gospel says to us:Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:10-13 NRSV)
There are times that we, clergywomen in the Philippines, see ourselves as being affected by spirits that tend to cripple us and do not allow us to talk, work, and walk freely. These spirits often grip our whole being and make us not only immobile but also unproductive. These spirits take the form of inequality in appointments, educational privileges, voting representations, and others that magnify the already big gap between the privileges given to male and female clergy.
Speak Out gave us the opportunity to listen to the meaningful presentations of Dr. Carmen M. Scheuermann, Professor of Christian Education at Union Theological Seminary (Cavite, Philippines); the Rev. Carol Y. Santos, a clinical psychologist and an ordained pastor of the Pampango Philippines Annual Conference; Dr. Daniel C. Arichea Jr. a retired UM bishop and a well-known Bible scholar; Dr. Rudolfo A. Juan, MEA’s indefatigable resident bishop; Dr. Rachel Cabato, a prominent laywoman from Quezon City; and yours truly, president of the MEA Clergywomen Association. We also had opportunities to hear the ministries of COSROW through Dss. Phoebe Crismo and the Board of Women’s Work (BWW) through Sis. Jenny Meneses and Sis. Emma Cantor-Orarte.
These presentations and workshops gave us opportunities to
The workshops also helped us to identify our past, conquer our fears, highlight our strengths, and learn how can these be used together creatively as stepping stones to a brighter future.
The evenings were used as moments of blessing one another and recognizing one another’s ministries and contributions to our families, communities, and the wider church. We did this through songs, dances, movements, rituals, and even colorful costumes and headdresses. The event made us realize how blessed we are to be part of the group of clergywomen in the Manila Episcopal Area and also that God has prepared for us a future with hope.
One reality that stood out and made us sad is that, since 1944, The United Methodist Church in the Philippines has had only male bishops. We long to see the day when a woman Filipino bishop will be elected during our Central Conference Session. We long to see the birthing of this dream. MEA CWA decided that we will let the church hear our united voice: we will speak out, stand up. and reach out for Christ.