Updated: Apr 13
The Rev. Dr. Ben Ngaya-an
Delivered homily during the 118th ECP Founding Anniversary October 2019
Two days ago, I have attended the 35th anniversary of the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) which is of one of our field education partner organizations. And one of the highlights of the celebration was giving recognition to the founding members which included 2 Roman Catholic nuns. One of them was able to come on a wheelchair. She was presented with a painting of herself as a gift. In her acceptance speech, she thanked God’s faithfulness first of all. Then she went on to thank the collective efforts of everyone who in their limited ways has contributed to the comparative success of the organization despite the challenges which rendered it almost impossible for any group to survive 35 long years of struggle.
Being inspired by the way collectivism is highlighted in the said celebration, let me also focus my sharing today to the collective efforts of our forebears in faith as we celebrate the 118th Founding Anniversary of the ECP. Oftentimes, we concentrate on the contribution of the greats in History. Filipino Episcopalians are not exempted from this tendency. If you ask Episcopalians in the Philippines to name people they know to have contributed in the success of the mission work of the church, then they would easily mention Brent, Staunton, Clapp, and other individuals who have obviously left many legacies in the Philippines. We often fail to mention ordinary people who have significantly helped in the mission of the church.
Top-down historiography or history of the greats tends to mute the voices of the ordinary people and so there is a need to deliberately avoid it and advocate history from below or history of the ordinary people, instead, in order to amplify voices of the voiceless. In the history of Sagada, for example, the role of the sagada people in identifying the current location of the Church should be highlighted. The people of Sagada collectively decided to assign the Episcopal Mission in the said location purposely to serve as a buffer zone which was to keep the Bontoc people from attacking the people of Sagada. Although the choice was primary made out of security reason, this collective decision has certainly had a long lasting impact on the mission of the church in the area.
Another example of a successful mission due to the support of ordinary people was the Episcopal Mission in the then Upi, Cotabato - now Upi, Maguindanao. The Tedurays offered free labor in the construction of buildings, while the Ilocanos and the Visayans in the area have offered to contribute money.[i]
The best example of ordinary people taking the lead in mission is the case of Balbalasang Episcopal Mission. I have here a photocopy of the petition which contributed a lot in the opening of the Episcopal mission in Balbalasang. Let me read the whole letter for you to appreciate the collective efforts of ordinary people in the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It says:
To Whom it may Concern:
We, the undersigned residents and authorized representatives of the different sitios composing the Barrios of Balbalasang, Inalangan, Talalang, and Sesec-an, Municipality of Balbalan Mountain Provinces, do hereby voice and present the desires of our constituencies to wit:
1. That as a body wish but one religious denomination to establish a mission in our midst and that particular religious denomination is the “ANGLICAN”.
2. That the Anglican Mission may send a representative and establish among us any undertaking to which we pledge our full support
3. That we as parents of all Children studying in Balbalasang Public School give our fullest permission to our children to be given religious instructions by any representative or missionary workers of the Anglican Mission.
4. That School authorities are hereby requested to allow our children to attend and receive religious instructions from the Anglican Mission anytime of the day when they are freed from regular school hours.
5. That we wish it to be known by school authority that the dormitory or rest house constructed by us for our children may be used to house temporarily Deaconess Massey wo is being sent among us to establish medical health and mission work, while the mission home is under construction.
Done in the Bario of Balbalasang, municipality of Balbalan, Mountain Province, this eleventh day of November, nineteen hundred and twenty five.
Division Superintendent of the School
The Anglican Mission
The salient points of the letter are:
1. The people of Balbalasang and the nearby villages wanted just one religious group in their area and they wanted it to be “Anglican”. This was due to the unhealthy denominational competition prevalent at that time.
2. They pledged their support in the form of helping in building the necessary infrastructures. This was because the church was having financial difficulty partly due to the adverse effect of World War I as well as the centralization of funds since the 1919 General Convention.
3. They ensured that the authorities would allow the children to receive religious education from the Episcopal Church. This promise was necessary because at that time, the general policy of the Government was to free public schools from any religious influence.
This letter is so loaded with information that it could actually be used as a main source to write a full academic paper but it suffices for us to use this to highlight the role of ordinary people in the success of the Episcopal Mission in the Philippines.
Therefore, as we celebrate the 118th founding anniversary of our church, we are enjoined again to give thanks to the faithfulness of God, who through the risen Jesus Christ according to our gospel today, has promised to be with us always as we participate in His mission. We are also enjoined to remember our heroes and heroines in faith including the ordinary people who as individuals did not have much impact but as group of people have left permanent marks in our history. May we all be inspired by the fact that together we can also help usher the kingdom of God here on earth for our children and for our children’s children all for the Glory of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
[i]Circular letter of Leo Gay McAfee, 28.08, ATEC, 76.9.13.