Monday, May 24, 2010

Reflections on Worship at Puno UMC, Manila, Philippines

By Stefany Simmons, Office Manager
The Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to travel to Manila, The Philippines, with The Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church and the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church. I consider my job as office manager of The Connectional Table an honor, and I am blessed and humbled to have been given the opportunity to serve these groups of leaders in the Church.

On Thursday, April 15, I left my home near Corpus Christi, Texas to spend 10 days in Manila providing administrative and logistical support for their spring meetings. I was filled with excitement and anticipation at the experiences this international trip would inevitably entail. While there were indeed countless wonderful experiences, the highlight of my trip was on Sunday, April 18, when I had the opportunity to worship at Puno United Methodist in Quezon City. Here are some highlights…

Passionate Worship
I can honestly say that this worship service was probably the best I’ve experienced in my life thus far. It was life-changing. It lasted two and a half hours! (I wondered what people would say at my congregation at home if the service lasted that long…) There were 300-400 people in the congregation that morning, and I really believe that every single person was genuinely present and truly enjoying the presence of God in that sacred place. They sang; they danced; they prayed; they cried; they sang some more. This was real, passionate worship. I cried, because I was overwhelmed by it.

The Youth
Of the 300-400 people who were there, at least half of them were children, youth, and young adults. The youth had a passion that was energetic and so refreshing! The youth band got to lead a significant portion of the service, and they clearly enjoyed it, as did everyone. The band sang passionate songs of praise, and the dancers danced beautifully in their dresses. At one point, Bishop Christian Alsted of Denmark, a member of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the UMC, invited all of the youth to come to the front of the church so he could offer a prayer for them. It was incredible to see so many young people crowded into the aisles! All of the adults in the congregation raised their hands as they joined in praying for these young people. Talk about powerful.

Real Mission
Pastor David informed us of the many ministries in which Puno is currently involved. We learned that Puno has a daughter church, a Mission Church located in the midst of a very poor community near a dumpsite where families scavenge through garbage to find plastics that they can sell to earn enough food to eat that day. Once a month the people in the poor community come to worship at Puno. Puno is making intentional efforts to break down barriers between the rich and the poor. Puno is also known as a “MODEL” church, which stands for Medical, Ophthalmic, Dental, Educational, and Legal. Once a month, Puno offers free clinics providing people from the poor community with free medical exams, medications, dental care, legal advice, and other services. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other professionals from the congregation openly and lovingly share their time and talents for the good of the poor. Wow… I have never seen or heard of anything like that in any of the churches I’ve ever visited in the U.S.! We (myself included) tend to be so selfish with our time and talents. We worry about not “over-committing ourselves.”

I could honestly go on for pages and pages writing about my reflections on this trip. I was deeply humbled to see the ways in which the people of the United Methodist Church in The Philippines are unselfishly serving each other in Christian love.

Lord, forgive me for my sins and deliver me from my selfish ways. Help me to serve others the way these people do. Amen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keeping Current Across the Connection

April was a busy month this year, with several significant meetings taking place across the denomination. United Methodist groups are on the move as they begin their work in preparation of General Conference 2012.

Here is a recap of action items United Methodists will not want to miss:

Planting Seeds – Celebrating the Harvest

During its April 21-23 meeting in Manila, Philippines, the 60-member Connectional Table (CT) approved an exciting plan to measure local church contributions of making disciples of Jesus Christ in The United Methodist Church. The plan titled “Planting Seeds – Celebrating the Harvest” calls United Methodist congregations to set annual goals for 2012-2015. The five measurable areas include: worship attendance, disciples engaged in mission, professions of faith, mission giving, and spiritual/discipleship formation groups. The vision for this plan was inspired by Bishop Robert Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

In addition, annual conferences will be invited to make specific and measurable commitments in the Four Areas of Focus. The Four Areas of Focus are: Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; Engaging in ministry with the poor; and combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.

Annual conferences are called to gather their 2012 – 2015 congregational and conference goals a as a gift to the ministry of Jesus Christ and present them as a covenant to the 2012 General Conference.

In presentations to both the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops, Bishop John Schol said, “Bishops and general secretaries are called to lead their conferences and general agencies to resource congregations to reach these goals. Bishops will gather and report quarterly the progress toward the goals and evaluate what helps and hinders achieving the results we desire. The 2016 General Conference is called to celebrate the fruit of our church through United Methodist congregations and annual conferences around the world.”

The Council of Bishops voted to support further development of this plan during its May 2-7 meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Four Areas of Focus update

Also during the CT meeting in Manila, the Table of General Secretaries presented a report on the collective work of boards and agencies in the Four Areas of Focus. The report shows denomination-wide collaboration and new partnerships. It can be found at under "resources". General Secretaries are asking for input from readers about the report and current work.

Worldwide Nature of the UMC and Other Working Groups

On Wednesday, April 21 the Connectional Table met jointly with the 20-member Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church. Six members of the Connectional Table serve on the study committee chaired by Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones. CT members learned about the committee’s plan to conduct additional listening posts in Europe, Africa and North America before making recommendations to the 2012 General Conference on structural change to reflect The United Methodist Church’s global nature.

The study committee is one of several groups studying denominational issues that may lead to proposals for change at the 2012 General Conference. The Connectional Table will seek reports from each of the ten entities by October 1, 2010 in advance of its fall meeting. Groups include: the Call to Action Steering Team, the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The UMC, the Study of Ministry Commission, the Commission on Faith and Order, the Sustainability Advisory Group, the Council of Bishops Task Force on Theological Education and Leadership Formation, the Church Systems Task Force, the Connectional Funding Task Force, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, and the Table of General Secretaries and Agency Presidents.

Philippines Ministries Worth Noting

On April 19, CT members visited four mission sites in the Manila area that represented examples of the four areas of focus at work in the Philippines. The sites were: Smokey Mountain UMC located at a dumpsite where more than 1,000 urban poor families live on scavenging; Baseco, an urban poor community where the families of street children are jointly served by the social agencies of the UMC in the Philippines including UMCOR Philippines; Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc., a social development institution of the UMC; and Mary Johnston Hospital, the first UMC owned hospital in the Philippines.

CT Chair Bishop John Hopkins and Bishop Daniel Arichea (retired) led a delegation on April 20 with CT members Rev. Lynn Scott and Ben Boruff, and Mervin Toquero, Human Rights Officer for the National Council of Churches in The Philippines, to meet with the Honorable Leila M. de Lima, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to express concern about the continued reports of extrajudicial killings. Bishop Hopkins led a CT delegation with similar concerns in 2006.

The CT heard from several Filipino leaders on April 22 who gave an overview of the current political, economic and ecumenical climate in the Philippines. Speakers included Dr. Edith Burgos, chairperson of Desaparecidos; Mr. Jigs Clamor, deputy general secretary of KARAPATAN; Mr. Sonny Africa, research head of the IBON Foundation, Inc. and Rev. Father Rex RB. Reyes, Jr., general secretary of National Council of Churches in the Philippines. Dr. Burgos’s son Jonas was abducted three years ago and is still missing. Mr. Clamor’s wife is one of 43 health workers currently held in detention. As a result of learning about the current conditions, the Connectional Table issued a statement in response to human rights abuses in the Philippines and on May 4, sent a delegation to Washington, DC to meet with the US White House and State Department. We ask for your continued prayers and faithful actions on behalf of our Filipino sisters and brothers.

As summer approaches, we look forward to a fruitful season as United Methodist leaders work together throughout the denomination to discern God’s vision for The United Methodist Church.