Filipino churchgoers minister amid COVID-19

The Rev. Marvin Sulayao De Leon of Manena United Methodist Church in Bulacan, Philippines, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at San Miguel Bulacan Vaccination Center. United Methodists in the Philippines have worked with the government to fast-track vaccinations for church leaders, who are not categorized as front line workers, so that their ministry with the community can continue safely. Photo courtesy of  Glessie Yambot De Leon. 
The Rev. Marvin Sulayao De Leon of Manena United Methodist Church in Bulacan, Philippines, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at San Miguel Bulacan Vaccination Center. United Methodists in the Philippines have worked with the government to fast-track vaccinations for church leaders, who are not categorized as front line workers, so that their ministry with the community can continue safely. Photo courtesy of Glessie Yambot De Leon.

Key points:

 • In the Philippines, more than 2.6 million people have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with over 500,000 cases and 4,400 deaths in the past 28 days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

 • Churches have responded with prayer vigils, outreach to those affected, fast-tracked vaccinations for church workers and ongoing information sharing.


As the Philippines grapples with the surge of the COVID-19 delta variant, Filipino church leaders find new ways to minister amid the devastation brought by the pandemic.

“This is very sad,” said retired Bishop Leo A. Soriano, a physician. “More and more are getting infected, and more are dying.”

He mentioned friends and family members who died of COVID-19. Earlier this year, retired Bishop Daniel C. Arichea died of complications related to the disease.

Acknowledging that an immediate end to the pandemic is only “a remote possibility,” Soriano noted, “We must learn … to adapt to this situation.”

In the Philippines, more than 2.6 million people have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began early last year, with over 500,000 cases and 4,400 deaths in the past 28 days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The Rev. Cristine “Tintin” Carnate-Atrero, Zambales District superintendent, stressed the magnitude of COVID-19 devastation.

“The whole life of the church has been seriously affected,” she said. “Insufficient or no salaries have been a struggle. Mental health issues are raging; income has decreased.”

Through it all, however, her district has shown remarkable strength.

“The effect of 17 months of continuous lockdown revealed the district’s untapped creativity, loyal commitment and persistent resiliency,” Carnate-Atrero said.

House worship and various life-sustaining ministries have survived and thrived. Local churches adopted the district’s COVID-19 action plan, approved in August 2020.

Rommuel S. Flores, lay leader from Bulacan, Philippines, noted how the surge attacked the congregations, “at our doorsteps” and “inside the homes of congregants.”

Measures the church has taken include prayer vigils, outreach to those affected, working with the government to fast-track vaccinations for church leaders, mapping the vaccination status of church members, and ongoing information sharing.

“In this pandemic,” Flores said, “it is but right to the UMC faith collective to claim their rights on vaccines and other services with the government, for it takes a church to protect a community.”

The Rev. Fely Dela Cruz, Metro District superintendent, described how affected families receive assistance.

“We extend financial help,” he said, “and provide groceries, referrals, regular communication and prayers, strict compliance with the health protocols — no mass gatherings, virtual visitation — and promoting vaccine awareness.”

Friends were a special blessing when the Rev. Renelyn Mari-Fajardo, Metropolitan Nueva Ecija District superintendent, contracted COVID-19. They pooled their resources and extended whatever help they could, she said.

She expressed hope that The United Methodist Church would devise a coherent plan to address the pandemic and assist members. “I fervently hope that a system may be devised,” she said. “Had we been more prepared before this crisis, had we been more alert in coming up with a coherent action, there would be less devastation.”

Almost every local church in the North East Central Luzon District has reported COVID-19 casualties, according to the Rev. Noel B. Alfonso, superintendent.

Church members steadfastly look after one another, he said, by “communicating through (social) media, supporting through prayers and contributions, reminding everyone on health protocols and emphasizing the need to be vaccinated.”

The Rev. Antonio P. Pacheco, whose daughter survived the virus, said many church members and their relatives have contracted COVID-19 and emphasized that church leadership is imperative.

“Our church must support the government in battling COVID-19,” he said, “by rallying our congregations to strictly follow and implement the health and safety protocols and by supporting the vaccination program. Church leadership must unite in formulating programs to help our most affected members and church workers.”

Soriano recommended two ways to deal with the pandemic: preventive and curative. “Preventive measures,” he said, “are usually what are in the protocol — wear mask, wear face shield, social distancing, wash hands constantly. The other way to prevent it is by the use of vaccines.”

Sharing vaccine information is important, he added.

“It would be good,” he said, “if the mechanism of vaccine could be explained, especially to those who refuse to be vaccinated.”

The Rev. Jestril Alvarado, West Pampanga District superintendent, said 20 of his 34 churches or communities reported positive cases of COVID-19.

“Church attendance and finances dropped dramatically,” he said.

The West Pampanga District called for donations through Facebook and collected $2,694 U.S. Money was sent to selected families through online transfer.

“This situation,” Alvarado said, “is a call for all United Methodist churches and members to show our concerns and love for those affected by the pandemic.”

The Rev. Eda Francisco, superintendent of Zamboanga Peninsula District, commented, “People are taking risks to earn a living, despite the threats of delta and other variants, or even simply getting together with their loved ones. The district’s task force strictly implements health protocols in every local church.”

Some rural churches, she said, are affected by the lockdown implementation of no Sunday worship. Church members have no means to worship virtually.

“Instead of Sunday worship,” she added, “they gather on Saturdays with social distancing and with masks on.”

The Rev. Rodel Acdal, president of United Methodist John Wesley College, said the South Cagayan District is severely affected, particularly Tuguegarao City and the Baggao municipality.

“Our pastors in the city,” he said, “have done several online funerals for COVID-19 victims. What is lamentable is that local churches are not financially stable to provide financial help. What we do is monitor and campaign for financial help.”

Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan, resident episcopal leader of the Davao Area and interim bishop of the Baguio Area, said leaders combined resources to support those severely affected by the pandemic.

“Our church workers held daily memorial services and pastoral care for the bereaved,” he said. “Financial support and groceries, rice and vegetables, were shared by lay leaders for workers and those who have dire needs.

“During these very critical times and in the midst of this global crisis, let us continue to pray and look up to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco, Manila Area, urged “the people called Methodist to continue praying for God’s mercy upon us to end this pandemic and restore wellness.”

“I also pray for all to be strong, steadfast and resilient and continue extending help to those in need,” he added.

Focusing on connectionalism as a gift from God, Carnate-Atrero encouraged adaptability and innovation.

“Our shared resiliency,” she said, “shall make and lead a glorious legacy to the next generations.”

Mangiduyos is a communicator in the Philippines.

News media contact: Julie Dwyer at [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
General Agencies
At its 2021 fall meeting, the General Council on Finance and Administration board made further cuts to the proposed denominational budget heading to the coming General Conference. Faced with the pandemic and expected denominational split, the board proposes cutting the budget by about a third starting in 2023. Photo by Mikern, courtesy of Pixabay.

Church exits, COVID lead to steep budget cuts

United Methodist financial leaders are trying to estimate what a proposed church split and ongoing pandemic mean for the denomination’s bottom line.
Church Growth
Keith Wilson leads the Anointed Voices choir at Ben Hill United Methodist Church in Atlanta where Black Methodists for Church Renewal held a worship service during their meeting in 2019. BMCR is among partners in the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century conference to be held Dec. 1-2 in Houston. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Inspiration, expertise for Black churches

Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century will offer tips on innovative ministries and better use of technology at its 2021 conference in Houston, which will be a hybrid live and virtual event.
Discipleship
Lisa Buffum and Steve Wilke stroll the campus at The Richard and Julia Wilke Institute for Discipleship at Southwestern College, a United Methodist institution in Winfield, Kansas. They work on BeADisciple, an online learning program for Christians that became more popular during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Sara Weinert.

COVID sparks interest in BeADisciple courses

BeADisciple, which offers online courses and certification in many ministry specialties, reports an increase in students and courses that coincided with the coronavirus pandemic