Mission + message =
|Some of Manila's poorest residents live in shacks made of scrap metal and wood built above the tombs in the city's North Cemetery. They make their living tending the graves. Photo by Kathy Gilbert.|
Filipino United Methodists
By Kathy L. Gilbert
North Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, is where the city's poorest residents are buried. It is also where many of the poorest residents live. To the Rev. Allan D. Casuco it seemed the perfect place to start a church.
Casuco started Sta. Mesa Heights United Methodist Church outside the walls of the cemetery and has built a congregation among the people of Manila North Cemetery.
"We are a very mission-minded congregation," he said.
One woman said one of her six children is being sponsored by the church -- which means he receives food and clothes, and can go to school.
"The pastor came here to visit and he was so happy he made us want to join him," she said.
In the Philippines, evangelism and church growth are based in congregations, and all are expected to start new congregations, said Rebecca Asedillo, executive for Asia/Pacific church relations with the General Board of Global Ministries.
"Every Filipino pastor, district superintendent and bishop is a self-conscious evangelist. There are currently 410 United Methodist preaching points in the Philippines, many of which will develop into congregations," she said.
|A makeshift baby cradle lies beside a tomb in the North Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, where some of the city's poorest residents live and make a living caring for the graves. Photo by Kathy Gilbert.|
Knox United Methodist Church, the oldest Filipino United Methodist congregation, is today a strong, multilingual congregation with five pastors. One of Knox's most recent starts is Knox Lemery United Methodist Church.
Church members set up clinics for medical, optical, dental and legal services, because the role of laity is to "embody the Christian message through evangelism and service in neighborhood-based ministries," Asedillo said.
"The holistic evangelism is directed toward persons who have no church, and those people are very often the poor and marginalized," she said. "Baptism and church membership bring true new life."
The Philippines Central Conference has an official membership of about 600,000, but it serves a much larger community of close to 1 million. From six annual conferences in 1968, The United Methodist Church in the Philippines has grown to 19 annual conferences located in three episcopal areas.
In his 2008 episcopal address, Bishop Solito Toquero reported that from 2001-2006, the Manila area has added 270 preaching points and started 70 new churches.
"Whatever growth we have achieved, we have done it by the grace of God and with the cooperation and sacrifices of church workers, clergy, deaconesses, lay people, and countless others, the nameless heroes, in the grassroots," he said.
--Kathy L. Gilbert, news writer, United Methodist News Service, Nashville, Tenn.