Philippine United Methodist Women Push for Inclusive Leadership, Self Reliance
by Rebecca C. Asedillo
If United Methodist women in the Philippines had their way, two things would happen. In December of this year a woman would be elected bishop. And their church, which is under the central conference structure, would vote to become self-reliant and autonomous.
"We feel that leadership in the church should be inclusive. We want to break the notion that the highest leadership in the church is only for males. We want to increase awareness among our male leaders about partnership, and about the fact that women have the capacity to lead," said Mrs. Pricilla R. Atuel, national president of the United Methodist Women Society for Christian Service, in an August 14 interview in Manila.
The Philippines Central Conference of The United Methodist Church in the Philippines is scheduled to elect three new bishops when it convenes December 14-17. Two of its presiding bishops, Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of the Manila Episcopal Area and Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr. of the Baguio Episcopal Area are retiring. The Mindanao Area has been under the episcopal supervision of retired bishop Paul Locke A. Granadosin.
Of the 484 delegates to the 2000 Philippines Central Conference, 170 are women. In an unprecedented move, at a meeting on November 4-6, 1999, the National United Methodist Women's Society for Christian Service officially endorsed the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth S. Tapia to the episcopal leadership. Tapia, a professor of theology and the academic dean of Union Theological Seminary in Cavite, Philippines, is a widely-acclaimed preacher, ecumenical leader, and educator. She was a Bible study leader at the United Methodist Women's Assembly in Orlando, Florida, in May 1998. She was also a speaker at a global consultation on evangelism sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia, in June 1999.
According to Atuel, the women picked Tapia because of her excellent academic preparation; her past experience in practical church ministry as both deaconess and rural pastor; the inclusive nature of her theology and leadership style; and her support for autonomy and a self-reliant church.
While acknowledging the Philippine church's links with the global church, Atuel asserted, "It is time for The United Methodist Church in the Philippines to move towards an autonomous church where we can build on our resources and mobilize both our local and international linkages to let the world know that we can stand on our own." Atuel said she is convinced that the Philippine church has adequate leadership resources and a church constituency that could be tapped to support efforts toward self-sufficiency. Over 100 years of Methodist presence in the Philippines ought to have made the Philippine United Methodist Church ready for self-reliance and for establishing its identity as a Filipino church, she added.
On July 29, a group of United Methodists organized in Manila to form Philippine Caucus 2000, calling for active participation of all Filipino United Methodists in the election of three bishops, and for promotion of the principle of a democratic style of leadership.
The group also expressed support for an autonomous church structure for the Philippine church, based on its assessment that the church's current relationship with The United Methodist Church in the United States is hampering its growth. The group cited as one example the church's inability to enter directly into dialogue for Christian unity with other churches in the Philippines because of disciplinary constraints. It also expressed its dissatisfaction that the church's membership in various ecumenical bodies like the World Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, and the World Methodist Council is channeled through The United Methodist Church in the United States.
In a statement issued at the time of its launching, Philippines Caucus 2000 challenged the Central Conference to focus its agenda not merely on the election of bishops, but also on developing a program of mission that is relevant to its context. "We are not only Filipino United Methodists; we are Filipino United Methodists whose witness and service issue from and are challenged by the social, economic, political, cultural and religious contexts in which we demonstrate, manifest and make known the love and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ," they said.
Date posted: Sep 19, 2001