Filipinos to elect new bishops

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Key Points:

  • United Methodist bishops in the Philippines have called for a special session of the Philippines Central Conference in November to elect new bishops.
  • All three current bishops plan to retire.
  • The usual schedule for electing new bishops has been thrown off by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Philippines Central Conference will convene for a special session Nov. 24-26 to elect new bishops. 

Late last year, the Philippines Central Conference Coordinating Council decided to push for a special session to elect new bishops — with or without the General Conference in 2022. The Philippines College of Bishops called this special session in Wesleyan University-Philippines, Cabanatuan City, in accordance with Paragraph 542.2 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. 

The delegates will be those elected for the 2020 General Conference and the Philippines Central Conference.

“This is an expression of our empowerment as a central conference to be able to hold a session even without the General Conference,” said Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan from the Davao area, who also serves as president of the college of bishops.

“This is also an expression of autonomy and regionalization.”

Central conferences are seven regional United Methodist bodies in Africa, Europe and the Philippines that each have responsibility for electing bishops. The Book of Discipline has different rules for central conferences and their U.S. counterparts, the five jurisdictions. However, the Judicial Council — the denomination’s top court — ruled in May that the Council of Bishops has the authority to call for jurisdictional conferences to elect and assign bishops this year.

The Philippines Central Conference typically holds elections for all of its bishops every four years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed both General Conference — the denomination’s top lawmaking body that sets the budget for bishops — and the subsequent central and U.S. jurisdictional conferences. General Conference is now postponed until 2024.

Bishops in the Philippines serve four-year terms before they face re-election or retirement. The three current bishops are set to retire.

Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco, who oversees the Manila area, was set to retire in 2020 under the mandatory age limit, while Bishop Rodolfo A. Juan of the Davao area had announced his plans to retire voluntarily after serving three terms.  

Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. of the Baguio area, who resumed his episcopal duties in January 2022 after his medical leave, told United Methodist News that he applied for vocational retirement, but, if the church needs him to lead and serve, he will obey.  

“Episcopacy is both God's gift and call,” Torio said. “When the church needs me to lead and serve, I will obey. But for the 2022 Philippines Central Conference Special Session, I applied for vocational retirement through the Committee on Episcopacy. Whatever happens, I believe that God will teach us our next steps.”

United Methodist leaders in the Philippines acknowledge that holding the event faces many challenges. They are hopeful as well for a number of opportunities it offers and issues to be addressed by the new leadership.

Francisco said that one challenge is the potential consequence of prohibiting people to gather in large groups.

“Should there be a surge of COVID-19 infection, the government will prohibit us to convene.” 

The Rev. Jonathan R Ulanday, clergy delegate from East Mindanao, foresees the challenge to keep the unity of the church.

“Although the agenda is limited to the election of bishops, the challenges that I foresee include the burden in the leadership to keep the unity of the church. The indications of disintegration and division are already palpable, but the magnitude and the impact may be minimized or may be aggravated by the kind of episcopal leader that we may elect.”

It remains uncertain what the position of the three new bishops will be in relation to human sexuality, marriage and ordination. 

The College of Bishops in the Philippines recently released a pastoral statement sharing its action on resisting same-gender marriage.

“The College of Bishops, both retired and active, does not and shall not support any move that will permit same-sex marriage both within and out of the UMC community. … Any move from the UMC community — by individuals or by couples or by sectoral organizations — that will advocate this move shall be resisted by the College of Bishops,” the letter states.

The Rev. Rodel Acdal, president of John Wesley College, holds onto renewed hope for the future of the church.

“New leadership always carries with it fresh breath, renewed hope and fervor,” he said. “We are at a critical stage in our church where separation is impending.”

Urging people to choose unity, he added:  “Whatever happens to the UMC, it is important that we can unite as a central conference and that starts from a new leadership.”

Ulanday emphasized that the issues on human sexuality or temporal economy are concerns that need to be addressed with courage. 

“Conversely, matters rending people’s lives politically, economically, religiously and socially need to be addressed,” he said. “Nevertheless, it can only be addressed by the new bishops should they take the prophetic courage and witness to include those concerns in their discourses and speak on the public platform in the light of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral framework.”

Jennifer Ferariza-Meneses, executive secretary of the Philippines Board of Women’s Work, looks forward to having central conference program direction for the program agency. 

She said she hopes the agency can expand and strengthen its “collaboration and partnership with the new bishops for the following work and ministries — leadership development, ministry with the poor, social justice ministry and Christian education.”

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Lucille Grace C. Hilario, lay delegate to the General Conference and central conference from the Middle Philippines, said that electing three new bishops is of paramount importance.

“The new bishops will provide leadership and directions in The United Methodist Church specifically in the UMC-owned institutions in the appointment and choosing of board of trustees and leaders,” she said. 

The Rev. Antonio Pacheco, clergy delegate from Central Luzon Philippines, upholds the belief that electing new leaders can provide innovations in carrying out the mission and ministry of the church. He said that addressing the effects and consequences of the possible splintering of The United Methodist Church is one great challenge.

The Rev. Menre R. Mendillo, clergy delegate from the Philippines Annual Conference, is anxious that a COVID-19 surge may interrupt the election. However, he confirms the disciplinary mandate that “leadership is established that can address the needs of the church — spiritual and temporal.” 

Torio said that the Philippines Central Conference special session is significant in its objective to retire the three incumbent bishops and elect three new bishops who will lead the church for the new challenges and opportunities of mission and ministry today. 

“As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, the election of three new bishops signals the beginning of a new era in UMC leadership that continues to be relevant to the call of the times, including the conflicts and controversies that resulted from the 2019 Called Session of the General Conference.”

Mobility of delegates from all annual conferences is one big challenge, Torio said.

He also said other issues to be addressed include:

  • What will Filipino annual conferences, districts and United Methodist congregations do in relation to the current diversity of opinion on the Book of Discipline and the results of the 2019 special session, and how does this impact church unity and mission? 
  • What will be the position of the three new bishops in relation to the pastoral statement of the three incumbent bishops on human sexuality, marriage and ordination? 
  • What will be the political and economic repercussions of an incoming government on United Methodist ministries?
  • How will the church continue to “care for the margins” as the Philippines faces issues related to socio-economic, political and climate justice? 
  • How does the church continue to inspire, empower and equip children and young people for leadership? 

Juan acknowledged that electing three bishops is a challenge. He also noted that the time has come to elect a female bishop.  

“After electing new leaders of our nation, we now face the same challenge of electing new leaders of our denomination,” he said. “We need to unite and courageously rise together to meet this challenge.”

Francisco said that electing new bishops would continue to address the current issues of the church locally and globally. 

“As we continue moving to the future, let’s remain calm, prayerful, united and focused on mission, witness and service,” he said. “Let us strengthen our unity amidst diversity. Let us celebrate our differences and commit ourselves to be united for there is strength in unity.”

Referencing Jesus’ words in the Gospels, he added, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

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.

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