A New Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines ~ and we were there!

Many congratulations from St. James’ Church, Taiwan – to Bishop Dixie on his retirement, and to Bishop Rex on his installation – YES!

A group of 6 of us from St. James’ Church, Taichung, Taiwan had the honour of attending the installation service of Bishop Rex Reyes as the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines (EDCP) on Thursday March 14, 2019. Thanks be to God!

And I had the fun of taking photos from all angles and heights…

Manila this past week was definitely THE place to be! And more specifically, Cathedral Heights, Quezon City, where a huge compound owned by the Episcopal Church in the Philippines houses their provincial offices, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Trinity University of Asia, St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary (SATS), and the National Cathedral.

And the place was packed with busy people as EDCP were holding their 47th diocesan annual convention in the provincial offices from March 12-14…

The convention culminated in the installation service of the new bishop, held at the diocesan ‘pro-cathedral’ at St. Stephen’s Parish, in the ‘China Town’ area of Manila – not to be confused with the National Cathedral, which is for the whole province of the Philippines. Yes, it’s kinda complicated having both provincial and diocesan buildings in the same city, especially when getting from one to another may involve long hours in traffic. This was us arriving on Wednesday evening and driving from the airport into the city…. hey, it’s all part of the experience; even traffic jams are ‘more fun in the Philippines’ as the advertising slogan goes!

For historical reasons, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines is strongest among the indigenous Igorot people in the mountainous provinces of the northern Philippines, but many have moved south, looking for land to farm and settle on, and some have settled in the EDCP area around Manila (they, together with the 2 Chinese-speaking Episcopal churches in Manila, form the backbone of the EDCP today). The partnership between St. James’ Church, Taichung and EDCP started in 1998 when Bishop Manuel Lumpias wrote from Manila to Bishop John C.T. Chien in Taiwan describing how groups of Igorot Episcopalians gather to worship under mango trees due to lack of church buildings. Mango trees are everywhere in the Philippines, big and broad and shady; great for groups to meet under them on a temporary basis, but not much good in the rain!

Bishop Chien gave that letter to Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, then rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung, and Charles was deeply moved. He remembers how St. James’ itself started through the generosity of Christ Church, Greenville in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina (USC) and the United Thank Offering (UTO) way back in the early 1970’s. As Charles said, when he read Bishop Lumpias’ letter, “In Taiwan, we had nothing and we were so poor; now we have everything, so it is time for us to help others. Just as Christ Church and the UTO gave so willingly to us in our early days, so we want to express our thanks by sharing our wealth with others.”

And so Charles sprang into action, and within a short time, St. James’ Church had raised US$ 6,000 to build a church in EDCP. Then, on finding out that the village had no water supply, they raised a further US$ 3,000 to install a permanent water supply for the whole community. That church was Christ the King, Sandeline, Nueva Ecija, consecrated on July 27, 1999. But it was only the beginning, and through succeeding EDCP bishops, Bishop Benjamin Botengan and then Bishop Dixie Taclobao, the partnership expanded from that one church to eventually become 12 churches, all built with money raised by St. James’ Church. In many cases, it was individual donors from St. James who wanted to express their gratitude to God by building a church in the Philippines, in other cases it was a collective church effort.

As time went on, so the cost of construction increased, but Charles always loves a challenge and he continued undaunted! In 2010, thinking the project was at an end with 11 churches built, a Thanksgiving Service was held at Holy Carpenter Church, Villa Labrador (church No. 8, consecrated in November 2009), and attended not only by Charles and his wife, Maryjo, but also the Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai and his wife Lily. Actually it turned out that one more church was to be built after that, St. Gregory’s, Cogeo, Metro Manila, consecrated in November 2012; one third of the money was donated by a member of St. James, Ms. Hsu Hui-Lan, in memory of her husband, whose Chinese name translates as Gregory, the rest of the money was raised by St. James’ Church. We visited St. Gregory’s Church on this trip, and were warmly welcomed by the church members…

Since 2012, with the official completion of the church-building project, our partnership has developed in different ways. St. James Church, Taichung welcomed Lynn Baguiwet, trusted and faithful EDCP Finance Officer for a 2-week visit in September 2013, followed by Rev. Joel del Rosario who came to St. James for 2 months in the summer of 2015. Both have become great friends of us all, and we hope for more visits from EDCP clergy and friends in the future! This is Lynn on the left, and Fr. Joel on the right with Rev. Lily L. L. Chang, current rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung…

It was Rev. Lily Chang who organized this visit to EDCP; it was actually her first visit, she became rector of St. James in 2015. Rev. Charles Chen and Maryjo came too of course, they are both so amazingly full of energy at 84 years old, and intrepid travelers still. They couldn’t wait to get to the Philippines and meet all our old friends once again! And we were accompanied by Rev. Sam C. S. Cheng and his wife, Julie, such great supporters of this whole partnership. Sam is former junior warden of St. James from way back in the late 1990’s, and so it was Charles, Maryjo, Sam and Julie who had made that first visit from St. James to EDCP to see the first church, Christ the King, Sandeline; we think that visit was in the summer of 1999. That was just after I arrived at St. James. Since that initial visit, there have been 7 visits altogether of St. James’ people to EDCP with a grand total of about 20 church members from St. James having visited one or more times. Charles has been on 6 of the visits, with a gap of one in the middle, I too have been on 6 of the visits, excluding the very first one. Thought you might like to see one of the early photos, from my first trip in 2003, when we visited one of ‘our’ churches, St. Mark’s Church, San José, Nueva Ecija – when were all a bit younger!

In 2017, when we heard that Bishop Dixie was going to retire, we had originally planned to come to the consecration of the new bishop, really as a way to say goodbye to our beloved Bishop Dixie and to thank him again for all his support in our partnership. But it wasn’t possible to come to the consecration due to timing, so we resolved to come instead to the installation. Thus it was that we arrived on Wednesday evening, March 13, after a 1¾ hour flight from Taipei. Two very helpful seminarians, Fray and Go, met us at the airport on behalf of the diocese. When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered that, staying at the same hotel as us and also attending the installation service, were our old friends, Archbishop Ng Moon Hing (Bishop of West Malaysia, Archbishop of the Province of S. E. Asia and Chair of CCEA – Council of Churches of East Asia), and his wife, Siew Lan. They are just so lovely and friendly! And then Archbishop Ng went off for a conference call, and Bishop Dixie, his wife Juliet and assistant Moises all came by to say hello. By then it was quite late, after their full day of meetings, but it was so great to renew our friendships and reconnect once again!

On Thursday morning, Lily and I were up and out ready for pick-up at 6:00 am (yes, EDCP conventions start really early!) We attended the 6:30 am Memorial Service at the National Cathedral, held on the third day of the convention each year, in memory of those of EDCP who have died in the previous year.

Then breakfast with the delegates and reunions with our old friends, especially Fr. Joel!

While the delegates had their meetings, we waited for the rest of our group, and then went on a tour of the compound. First to the National Cathedral. In 2012, we had the chance to meet Bishop Manuel Lumpias, whose letter had sparked the whole partnership (he used to say that it was the best letter he ever wrote, even though he couldn’t remember anything particular about it!) Bishop Lumpias sadly died last summer and his ashes are interred in the columbarium at the National Cathedral. Lynn took us to see his memorial and Charles was delighted to discover that he and Bishop Lumpias in fact share the same birthday, 5 years apart! We had a prayer in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of Bishop Lumpias, it was very moving to remember him on this visit.

We also visited St. Andrew’s Seminary (SATS) with a warm welcome and tour of the buildings too!

And we were delighted to meet up with Bishop Benjamin Botengan, Bishop Dixie’s predecessor, and his wife, Mrs. Kate Botengan. Such a happy reunion, and a group photo – of course!

We met up with Fr. Gerry, such a delight…

And then we visited Prime Bishop Joel Pachao in his office, just above the meeting room of the EDCP convention; ‘prime bishop’ means he’s in overall charge of all 7 dioceses of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines…

After lunch, while the delegates finished up their convention meetings, we were taken to visit St. Stephen’s High School, where we enjoyed meeting the principal, Dr. Judy Tan, and her staff once again. The school is bilingual, Mandarin Chinese and English, and they persuaded me to visit 2 of the classrooms to talk to the students to try to enthuse them to keep up their Chinese – yep, wish I’d had the chance to learn it when I was their age!

And then next door to the ‘pro-cathedral’ for the installation service at 5:00 pm. Also at the service were Bishop Luke Muto and a group from the Diocese of Kyushu, Japan, companion diocese of EDCP, and other bishops of the Philippines, plus ecumenical partners, friends and family of the new bishop. It turns out that Bishop Rex has many friends in the Taiwan Presbyterian Church through his former work as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), and ongoing responsibilities at the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Taiwan Ecumenical Forum. Wonderful!

After the service, we went to another part of the school for the installation dinner – yummy yummy! We had beauitful music and dancing displays from students of St. Stephen’s High School…

On behalf of Bishop David J. H. Lai, Rev. Lily Chang presented both Bishop Dixie and Bishop Rex with artillery shell crosses

And Bishop Rex presented our group with distinctive Igorot bags from Sagada Weaving… THANK YOU! 😊😊😊

Bishop Rex also presented Bishop Dixie with a special plaque of thanksgiving ….

We met Bishop Rex’s family…

And so many friends!

On Friday, March 15, while Bishop Rex was meeting with his clergy, Bishop Dixie and Juliet kindly gave up their first official day of retirement to take us to visit 2 of ‘our’ churches. At the first one, St. Gregory’s, we were warmly welcomed with coffee and snacks. We sang in English, Tagalog and Chinese, then shared in fellowship with the church members. The plot of land is tiny, so the church has an upstairs, and it was great to see the way it is being so well used for Sunday School, and as a place where seminarians can stay when they come for the weekends.

The senior warden and one of the church members came on with us to visit the second of our churches, St. James, in rural San Isiro, about an hour away from St. Gregory’s. The road has now been paved to within a few km of the church so everyone was delighted. We passed a jeepney with people sitting on the roof, and resolved if we ever come again, then we hope Bishop Dixie’s energetic and adventurous wife, Juliet can take us for a trip on the top of a jeepney! The 15 church members had all gathered at St. James to welcome us and cook lunch, made from their own vegetables, fruits and chickens. It was really delicious! Fr. Ben, in charge of both St. Gregory’s and St. James, is currently in Jerusalem, but his wife, Liz had come especially to St. James to join us, and she had brought a Ugandan friend, Catherine who came to Manila originally to do a PhD and is now doing research. It was great to find myself speaking Swahili with her – in the unlikely setting of the middle of the Philippine countryside! We had brought a box of T-shirts from our St. James’ Language Institute, bearing the name of St. James, for the people of both churches, also boxes of pineapple cakes!

By then we were exhausted and ready to go back to Manila, but hey, there was some shopping to be done, and energy levels suddenly shot up – off to the shopping mall to buy some must-have dried mangoes!

That evening, Rev. Lily Chang (on behalf of St. James’s Church) hosted a dinner in a Chinese restaurant, and it was wonderful to be able to share our gratitude with our wonderful hosts. We welcomed Bishop Dixie and Juliet, Bishop Rex, Fr. Joel, Lynn, Fr. Lendehl (EDCP, but formerly supported by AsiaCMS, we’ve met twice at CMS conferences in Malaysia and Cambodia!), Moises (who organized all our program and answered every question we ever had!), Deacon Ritchie (our amazing driver), plus Emily and Soledad who are members of the diocesan partnership committee. We shared our vision for future partnership and had a lot of laughs and fun, then presented gifts from St. James to everyone present…

And finally a group photo, YES!

And on Saturday early morning, we found ourselves on the way to the airport, driven by Fray – and accompanied by Fr. Joel who had come to see us off. They are all so kind and wonderful! Saturday apparently is even busier on the roads than weekdays, especially it being just after pay day – but we got there so early, we missed most of it!

And so farewell to Manila – the sun was shining as we took off, and as we looked down on the land below…

In fact it was beautiful weather all the way to the southern tip of Taiwan – which you can just see in the distance below…

After that, well, the clouds rolled in, and by the time we reached Taoyuan Int’l Airport, guess what, it was back to the rain that so characterizes the north of Taiwan. The sun was definitely great while it lasted!

A very big thank you to all our good friends in the Philippines, to Bishop Dixie and Bishop Rex and all in EDCP for their warm welcome and gracious hospitality, for their vision and their willingness to participate with us in this great adventure in mission. Thank you too to Rev. Lily Chang for welcoming me to join their group, and to St. James’ Church for their support. And to Rev. Charles Chen (and as always supported by MaryJo) especially, in gratitude for his vision, courage, passion and energy which has inspired so many to give to this project and enabled our partnership to develop over the years. Most of all, we give thanks to our Almighty God for His many blessings and for his enabling. To God be the glory, Amen!

4 thoughts on “A New Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines ~ and we were there!”

  1. Hi Catherine,

    Looks like you had a wonderful visit and it’s encouraging to see the friendship across borders ☺

    Blessings

    Anne

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