Bishop Leo Soriano’s Episcopal Address to Annual Conference Sessions
Grace to you and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ!
We are embarking on a voyage, challenging and dangerous, through the many tributaries of Christian service on a common boat - The United Methodist Church, Philippine Central Conference - with two additional new bishops, as captains of the ship.
This journey would be arduous, over an ocean beset with challenging and hazardous waters with some areas heretofore unknown, uncharted, and unexplored. Nevertheless, our commitment to proclaim the gospel propels us forward and our unwavering faith in God is an assurance that this journey will be fulfilling and a blessed one as we press on our mission of “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”
It would be proper, therefore, at this time to outline to you the general directions that will guide us in this journey.
Four Areas of Focus
Throughout the connection, there are four areas of focus in doing our mission of “Making Disciples…”
1. Developing Principled Christian Leaders for the Church and the World.
Our denomination faces a crisis in clergy and lay leadership. Our leadership must expand and grow with the demands and expectations of the world. The church must recruit young people for ministry and provide them with the skills necessary to be effective in this new time of opportunity. That includes women and people of color all over the world. Likewise, leadership training must be offered for lay people who are in ministry in various ways.
2. New Places for New People and Renewing Existing Congregations.
This has something to do with establishing new congregations and also to renew those congregations ready to be vitalized and energized with a passion for living out the Good News.
3. Engaging in Ministry with the Poor.
Ministry with the poor will mobilize the United Methodist Church to reduce poverty and embrace the poor as valued members of the family of faith.
4. Stamping our Killer Diseases of Poverty by Improving Health Globally.
Our church has played a significant role in educating others about diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Malaria (especially in Africa) and treating and preventing their devastating effect. This area of focus will mobilize United Methodists to action, strengthen health-care infrastructure, and advocate for health policies and global approaches that promote health for all.
In Davao Area, we continue with our Health Program. Next month we will have another seminar on AIDS/HIV, Dengue and Malaria.
These are communication tools created to help pastors, leaders, and volunteers spread the world about the ministry focus of the United Methodist Church.
We have heard about the 4 Areas of Focus, 3 Simple Rules, 2 kinds of holiness and 1 mission of the United Methodist Church.
If you meet someone at work, at the bus station, or at school and ask, “What do United Methodist teach and do?” These cards provide a simple and attractive way to summarize some important ideas and affirmations and provide talking points about our church and its mission.
The cards read:
We are the people of the United Methodist Church.
We believe in – One (1) mission: Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We live by – Two (2) kinds of holiness
We follow – Three (3) simple rules
- Do no harm
- Do good
- Stay in love with God
We work in – Four (4) Areas of focus
- Developing leaders
- Creating places for new people
- Eliminating poverty
- Improving health globally
As we prepare for the Annual Conferences in 2009, among the items of business that must be considered are the proposed constitutional amendments. There are thirty-two (32) of them this year. Twenty-three (23) amendments are for one purpose, to create regional conferences as a uniform global structure for the church. It may be helpful to understand that these 23 amendments are all part of the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church proposal.
These amendments were approved by the 2008 General Conference by more than 2/3 majority.
These changes are part of a forty-year process of considering how our church should best be organized to reflect our world-wide nature. We are one church united by common doctrine, mission and discipline, with congregations worshipping and serving on four continents. We seek to strengthen the many connections that bind us together for the work of Christ.
Nineteen of the amendments would change the name of central conferences to regional conferences. The world “central” is not well understood and sometimes has negative connotations. “Regional” reflects the idea that different regions of the world need to address their unique issues.
Four of the amendments would both change the name and permit the General Conference to make the United States a regional conference.
To strengthen the ministry of each region such a structure will provide for both the unifying work of the General Conference and the regionally strategic work of each part of the world. The General Conference remains the uniquely authoritative voice of our denomination. The Council of Bishops and the general agencies will continue to serve the world-wide Church.
GCFA (Apportioned Funds)
In the event that the amendments dealing with the world-wide nature of the church is ratified, one of the its implications is that the Annual Conferences in the Central Conferences have to participate in the life of the church the same way the Annual Conferences in the Jurisdiction Conferences do, particularly in apportioned giving. Actually, the Central Conference have already started in this endeavor.
Annual Conferences in the Central Conferences have been given the rights to function on an equal basis. For example, the smallest Provisional Annual Conference has the right to send delegates to the General Conference without contributing a single cent to the cost of it. It is now time for these Annual Conferences to take up the obligations on an equal basis. The economic gap between the Annual Conferences in the Jurisdiction Conferences and those in the Central Conferences may not allow the Central Conferences to contribute to the same extent as the Jurisdictional Conferences do. This, however, must not deprive the Central Conferences from experiencing the joy of giving. Giving is an essential part of Christian Faith. The economic disparity must not deprive Central Conferences from the satisfaction of being part of the church.
The following are the apportioned funds:
- World Service Fund
- Africa University Fund
- Black College Fund
- Episcopal Fund
- General Administration Fund
- Interdenominational Cooperation
- Ministerial Education Fund
The only apportioned fund Central Conferences are participating in right now is the Episcopal Fund. Central Conferences need to participate also in World Service Fund, General Administration Fund, and Africa University Fund. Participation in the Interdenominational Fund is only to the extent as it pays for Central Conferences’ participation in World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies or programs in the international level. The Central Conferences may not need participate in payments for the American National Council of Churches. Also, they may not need to participate in the National Education Fund, unless this is opened also for Central Conference students.
Central Conference Pension Initiative CCPI
At present there is no less than 320 beneficiaries receiving pension from the Philippine Central Conference Integrated Pension Fund. This does not include those retirees who did not qualify because they have not reached the minimum requirement of 20 years service.
The benefits come from the Pension Fund which we have invested. We are supposed to disburse only the interest of that invested Fund. The interest last year was Ph 1,082,244 However; the amount disbursed for pension benefit was Ph 6,452,422.00. There is about Ph 5M difference which was taken from the capital. The capital is now so depleted that if the trend continues, our Fund would last only about five years. That would mean that those who will retire five years from now would no longer receive pension.
The 2004 General Conference created the Central Conference Pension Initiative (CCPI.) It authorized the CCPI to look into the needs of the Central Conferences and authorized it to raise funds. This fund would help the Central Conferences until they have established a stable pension plan of their own.
Twenty million US dollars is to be raised. Fourteen million have already been received in pledges, and seven million in actual cash. Two Conferences are now benefiting from this fund. Liberia, in 2006, was the first recipient of this pilot project. Two million US dollars have been allotted to it. In 2008, Mozambique was the second recipient. About two million US dollars have also been allotted. The Philippines could be the next and third recipient if it complies with the requirements of this pilot project. The funds are ready. If we submit the requirements today, tomorrow funds from CCPI will be designated for the Philippines. What delays us in submitting the requirements is the gathering of data about clergy members from the Annual Conferences.
CCPI has also given emergency grants to our pensioners last year.
As a physician, allow me to indulge in my prerogative as a practitioner of the healing arts to guide me in my conduct, decisions and pronouncement as one of the captains of the ship.
After two terms in the Episcopal office, I found that our church is suffering from occasions of cynicism, disunity and disharmony. Therefore, its capacity to respond to the challenges of the present time is refractory because idiosyncrasies and diverse viewpoints prevail over what is best for our church. Christianity teaches us to be like Christ - humble and loving. I know that petty differences in opinions and interests will be overshadowed by the mere fact that we have all accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and heavenly parent. Therefore, we are all brothers and sisters, and “citizens of heaven.”
I speak of a malignant disease in its early stages, an affliction that would eventually evolve into a cancer of intrigues, factionalism, and discord. Early diagnosis greatly improves the prognosis and increases the chances of recovery. One need not be a physician to diagnose what ails our church. Friends, you are aware of these problems.
I shall not profess or boast that it is the bishops alone who possess the ability to cure this malady that has befallen us. There will always be limits to their ability to heal. In all humility, I concede that the task is a Herculean one - that which cannot be carried in the shoulders of the bishops alone. Brothers and sisters, the afflictions confronting our church cannot be left solely to the bishops. It is the collective responsibility of all those who bear the distinction of being called the “children of God,” and therefore, “peacemakers!” Brothers and sisters, we will need your assistance and sincere cooperation in this great endeavor. Each one must paddle his/her own oar; contributing our talents and resources if need be, to insure a safe journey towards recovery and healing! That which is beyond our power, God will complete!
Moreover, the diagnosis and prescription will mean nothing until the teachings of Christ are ingrained in the soul of each passenger setting out in this journey to make real the Kingdom of God!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no holding back. You can now board the M/V United Methodist Church - Philippines, on its voyage into the new quadrennial. Cast off the rope that holds us to the harbor of shortcomings, cynism, and disunity of the past, and fear of the future. We see the strong headwinds of “A Future with Hope” unfurl our sails. Together we sail towards a new horizon of faith, expressed in love, and manifested in good works.
Onward! Sail on!
Leo A. Soriano, Bishop, Davao Episcopal Area