Canadian church connects Filipino United Methodists
|The Rev. Gani Lazaro (right) attends a birthday celebration at a church member's home. Photo courtesy of Gani Lazaro.|
By Linda Bloom
Filipinos with United Methodist roots have formed the denomination's only congregation in western Canada.
Samahan United Methodist Church is located in Surrey, British Columbia, southeast of Vancouver, but it is part of the U.S. Pacific Northwest Conference.
Bishop Edward Paup introduced Samahan representatives during his episcopal address to the 2007 Pacific Northwest Conference. During a "Fiesta Metodista" celebration last September, Samahan received a formal charter.
Canada has not had official Methodist congregations since 1925, when Congregationalists, Methodists and about three-fourths of the country's Presbyterians formed the United Church of Canada -- the country's largest Protestant denomination.
The Rev. Isagani "Gani" Lazaro, who recently retired after serving in the United Church of Canada, leads the new congregation. He served for 28 years in Ontario before he and his wife, Cynthia, moved to Vancouver in 2006.
"When I moved to British Columbia, I was told that there was a group of Filipino United Methodists who wanted to have a pastor who could lead them in their activities," he said.
What had started in 2004 as an informal gathering of friends who attended different Canadian congregations grew into "the desire to go back to the United Methodist traditions and practices," according to Lazaro.
|Children in Surrey, British Columbia, attend Sunday school at Samahan United Methodist Church, the only official United Methodist congregation in western Canada. Photo courtesy of Gani Lazaro.|
He understands that desire: Lazaro was a United Methodist pastor in the Philippines for 10 years and then attended Iliff School of Theology in Denver before moving to Ontario.
After the group invited Lazaro to be its pastor, a pattern of fellowship and Bible study soon developed. "The interest and enthusiasm that the people showed in response to these studies were overwhelming and inspiring," he said.
As more people joined these gatherings, Lazaro looked for a larger, more permanent space. Whalley Presbyterian Church in Surrey became available and the first Sunday school and evening worship took place there in December 2006.
Approximately 60 people attend Sunday services. Although most have a United Methodist background, Lazaro said the congregation is "open to anybody."
"The style of preaching that we nurture in our congregation is one that is Gospel-based, grace-centered, evangelical and prophetic," he said.
Lazaro cites small-group Bible study as a mechanism for growth. One group meets at a member's home in Vancouver and another group will begin in Richmond in September.
Sunday school attendance averages 15 to 18 children a week. They support local mission projects through "penny piggy banks" containing pennies collected each week.
Lazaro said he tries to listen, respond and make himself available to his congregants and the community. This includes participating in activities that are part of the Filipino culture, such as the blessing and dedication of homes and vehicles.
--Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service writer, New York