On the 1st Meeting of the IFI’s Obispo Maximo and the UCCP’s General Secretary
Inspired by the prayer of the Lord Jesus, “that they may become completely one” (John 17:23), we, the Obispo Maximo of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and the General Secretary of United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), convened for a warm and cordial meeting today, February 15, 2021, at the IFI National Cathedral in order to pray together, to review the Covenant of Partnership between the IFI and UCCP signed on November 28, 1999 by our predecessors, and to discuss possible common measures to move the partnership forward and to keep the mission and ministry of our two Churches jointly address the issues and concerns that affect the lives of the Filipino people.
Our meeting started with a prayer and with the address of the Obispo Maximo formally welcoming everyone to the National Cathedral before we proceeded to the IFI CPE Centre for the meeting.
In the review of the 1999 Covenant of Partnership, we, as head of our Churches exchanged information and experiences on the status and progress of the partnership based on our personal and collective knowledge, and took notice of the following affirmations and recommendations.
- Reaffirm the value and gravity of the Covenant of Partnership in the corporate lives of the IFI and UCCP as it has been expressed in various forms at the regional and local levels of the two Churches. Reviewing however on the four points of commitments stipulated in the document, we accept that much have been left behind and need to explore to keep the partnership vibrant and dynamic.
- Recognise that among the factors of indifference is the lack of deep knowledge and understanding of the tradition, history and polity of each other as Church, hence, spaces for joint theological and doctrinal discussion or dialogue should be given importance in the immediate future.
- Understand that on the regional and diocesan/jurisdictional levels there are programs, projects, services and activities in which our two Churches have been closely or jointly worked with, especially on advocacy and witnessing. In this regard, we see the need to have an inventory of existing program/partnership in the local levels.
- Aware of the importance of working together in the development of and sharing of educational materials, theological formation, and leadership training, justice, peace and integrity of creation, partnership between and among the lay and ordained leaders of the two Churches; such as
- A joint clergy fellowship and immersion program and inter-seminary exposure programs for seminarians
- Gathering of church workers (virtual or physical) for theological and doctrinal discussions.
- For our two Churches to have a common expression/partnership, e.g. on the ministries to children to fight OSEC, to indigenous people to advocate for their right to self-autonomy and protection of their ancestral lands, and on other pressing issues and concerns that the vulnerable sectors are faced with.
- Active participation in the Wednesday Forum (virtual) as one of common activities where clergy and lay from both of our Churches can regularly meet.
- Sharing of online resources in website and cross-posting of church statements, as expression of support to both Churches.
- Maximise online platforms or media of both Churches to pursue common work and mutual concerns of mission and ministry.
- Work on existing relationship built among bishops, clergy and lay of our two Churches through various ecumenical networks and formations established all over the country and overseas.
As form of concrete measures to move ensure the moving forward of the Covenant of Partnership, we agreed
- To create a Partnership Council to serve as coordinating body and perform as secretariat whose main responsibility is to plan and look for means on how to further give flesh the four points of commitment stated in the Covenant.
- To organize a Youth Committee taking responsibility to maximize the participation of young people of the two Churches in building up new generation of ecumenical leaders and in promoting common mission and ministry.
- To publish a Joint Statement on the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines giving emphasis on NRMs.
In this meeting, we reaffirm our commitment to ever serve as voice shouting in the wilderness, working for unity among the ecumenical churches. We continue raise our prophetic voice and denounce the red-tagging of our Churches and the harassment and vilification of our church leaders and members. We will persist to heighten our prophetic ministry, social witness and pastoral advocacy, stressing our partnership, working together for peace that is based on justice.
We set another meeting to take place on March 9, pushing forward the initial agreements we mentioned in this document.
Our Prayers and Hope
We bind ourselves to undertake all the matters that we have discussed and agreed in this meeting and offer them to our Lord Jesus for his blessing in the culminating Evening Prayer, which the gospel lesson from John 1:1-18 inspired us to pursue a deeper sense of commitment to make the Word become flesh in the struggles of God’s people in the midst of injustices, oppression and repression.
We likewise take inspiration from each other as heads of the two Churches in the Closing Messages we give during the Evening Prayer.
We receive the words of the Obispo Maximo with so much hope as says that: “As we end this meeting today in prayer and worship, we further state to continue to uphold the desires and aspirations of the Filipino faithful for meaningful worship and service to God. We have a fresh opportunity today wherein the two heads of Churches come together with the strong aspiration to continue the joint work of the two Churches by virtue of the covenant that was signed in the year 1999. The partnership between the IFI and the UCCP continues to be forged both by its common faith on the Lord Jesus and common experience of repression and tyranny under the current Duterte regime which aims to silence the two churches in their prophetic ministry, social advocacy, and in their pastoral witness with the Filipino people. We started this meeting with a prayer, and now we undertake this evening prayer as formal closing prayer, with the hope and intention that our blessed God and gracious Lord in Christ, will continue to bless the undertakings of the two Churches towards a relevant faith and meaningful service. May the whole membership of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, joining in this virtual worship via livesteaming, uphold, support and give life and meaning of the Covenant of Partnership.”
We rejoice with the words of the General Secretary as he greets “the members of the IFI and of the UCCP in the grace and peace of God and thank the Obispo Maximo for the warm welcome and cordial meeting to discuss the partnership covenant signed more than twenty years ago. On November 28, 1999 our two churches signed a covenant of partnership putting into writing our work of cooperation in the work for justice, peace and integrity of creation which have begun against the Martial Law regime. This Partnership joins together our ministries already inaugurated by Christ. The test of real partnership is faithfulness to God’s invitation to immerse ourselves in
the crucible of people’s hopes and struggles. It also affirms human dignity, human rights, and the integrity of God’s creation. Yesterday, we celebrated “Transfiguration Sunday” our partnership can be liken to that the disciples experienced in that mountaintop. Conversion is the synonym of transfiguration. Thus, this partnership converts us from our denominational divides into unity in action, from exclusivity to inclusivity, from individualism to collective struggle for peace based on justice. However, like the experience of the disciples, Jesus commanded us to come down from that mountaintop experience to immerse with the people. We are partners in God’s saving and liberating acts of love, justice and peace in the world. Partners in solidarity with and accompaniment of each other. As partners in the common calling to join Christ’s liberating acts in the world, we will be common witnesses and advocates in situations and places of need and want, of vulnerabilities and deprivations, of exploitation and oppression, as much as in situations and places of hope and joy, of inclusion and affirmation, of abundance and sustainability. We bid our partnerships to become instruments of transformation for the healing of nations and the empowerment of peoples and communities. As our Gospel reading tonight reminds us: ‘And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us’. So be it.”
We end with the Evening Prayer by reciting the concluding versicle taken from Galatians 1:3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Signed before the presence of the following: UCCP Delegation: Bishop Emergencio Padillo, Bishop of UCCP Middle Luzon Jurisdictional Area, Revd Jesse Pagalan, and Keith Arleigh Quebral; Staff of Obispado Maximo: The Very Revd Julius Ceasar Barrameda, Dean of the National Cathedral; The Revd Ramil Aguilar and Mr. Hercules Asido, National Office Staff, and The Revd Aileen Aguilar, Junior Canon of the National Cathedral.