The inspiration for the theme of this year’s Convention, drawn from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles [20:24] is part of the sad farewell of Paul to the elders of the Church in Ephesus who he sent for when he stopped at Miletus. From the Book of Acts we are told that Paul undertook three missionary journeys preaching about Jesus and teaching His word. The first two missionary journeys [Acts 13:4-15:35 and Acts 15:36-18:22] start in Antioch, Syria to parts of Europe and Asia and end back in Antioch, Syria. In the cities visited during these journeys, in spite of oftentimes violent opposition, many carne to accept Jesus and churches were established.
Like on his first two missionary journeys Paul starts again his third missionary journey from Syrian Antioch revisiting some of the cities he had earlier preached at and the churches that were established as a result of his preaching arrd teaching. This time though Paul is not returning to Antioch but he was proceeding to Jerusalem, hopefully in time for the feast of Pentecost. And towards the end of his third missionary when he was in Miletus, Paul sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus. As we read Paul’s farewell [Acts 20:17-36] we note something, it tells us how intensely focused Paul was in his mission. He did not allow hardships and threats to his well-being and life to distract him from pursuing and accomplishing what the Lord has laid upon him [Acts 20:18-19]. Even in the midst of uncertainty and imminent danger Paul remained steadfast in his mission.
“Ngem saan a nasken no agbiagak man wenno matayak matungpal ko la ketdi ti nakaibaonak ket maileppasko ti trabaho nga inted kaniak ni Apo Hesus – ti panangiwaragawag ko iti Naimbag a Damag maipapan iti parabur ti Dios.” (Acts 20:24)
We must draw away from the temptation of putting Paul in a pedestal, Just like us, Paul was an ordinary person who was empowered by God. But he did something to the power given him. He did not dilute it with many priorities but focused all the power given him towards accomplishing the mission the Lord has laid on him.
This focus gave him the intensity and clarity of purpose. I am sure all of us have used a flashlight at one time or another. There are times when we switch it on and its light is so diffused. Sure it lights a wider area but it is very dim. Then we adjust it until the light beam is focused lighting a smaller area but more brightly and clearly. As we reflect on our theme may Paul remind us to be focused on doing the mission the Lord has laid upon us and to do it more intensely even in the midst of issues and priorities competing for our attention.
In 2014 we reached the 25th year of our existence as a Diocese. As I reflected on this many things came to mind. I remembered our early struggles as a diocese and the difficulties we had to go through. Our institutional issues and insecurities were compounded by two major disastrous events – the earthquake of 1990 and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo a year later. Even with these much had been accomplished. New missions were established in Zambales, Pangasinan, La Union and in the Baguio-Benguet area. Churches have been constructed in many places around the Diocese. More and more congregations are taking the responsibility of bearing the cost of local mission and ministry. From five parishes in 1969 we now have 13 including one each in Pangasinan and La Union. This does not include those congregations taking care of 100o/o of their expenses but have yet to be accepted as full-fledged parishes. Other congregations are exhibiting various levels of financial sufficiency through sustained stewardship education and by their participation in the 10% Solution Program.
It also dawned on me that as we grow and expand our energy and resources are getting so diffused among so many congregations spread over an ever widening area. It was this realization that prompted me in my address to the 2015 Convention to raise the possibility of dividing the Diocese as a way of regaining focus and strengthening mission and ministry – as was our experience when we became a new diocese carved from the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines. At an appropriate time a resolution to this effect will be presented to us. I urge Convention to pass the said resolution. And we continue to grow. Tonight two resolutions will come before you. One is asking for the admission of the congregation in San Carlos Heights, to be named St. Basil, as an organized mission in union with Convention. The other seeks to admit St. Peter Episcopal Church in Cabacab, Mankayan to be admitted as an aided-parish in union with Convention. Both congregations meet the canonical requirements for the status they seek so I ask that Convention pass these resolutions.
We are also on the verge of gaining additional territory and two congregations in Ilocos Sur. We received a resolution from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Luzon on their intention to cede Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Lidlidda, Ilocos Sur and St. Chad Episcopal Church in San Andres, Candon, Ilocos Sur. This has been a subject of discussion and agreement between the late Bishop Esteban Sabawil and myself. The concerned congregations have consented to the late Bishop Esteban Sabawil and myself. The concerned congregations have consented to this in accordance with Article VII Section I of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church I urge Convention to give consent to this intention. I see no reason why this will not be ratified by Synod in May so with the permission of the late Bp. Sabawil we invited the resident deacon and observers from both congregations. Yes, in May the Episcopal Church in the Philippines will hold its Synod. We need to elect the appropriate number of delegates to represent us. Aside from electing our delegates Convention needs to express its mind to two proposed amendments to the Constitution and Canons. Both proposed amendments were approved on first reading at the last Synod. The pertinent document will be laid before you, if it has not been inserted in your kits. There is no doubt in my mind that most of you are already aware that among the agenda of the coming Synod is the call for a new Prime Bishop as the incumbent is due. We have appointed representatives to the Nominations Committee as well as to the Elections Committees.
The same power that was working in St. Paul is at work in us as individual believers empowering us to be devoted to Christ and to each other. It is also at work in the Diocese enabling us to reach out to others with the love of Christ. I have asked that we revisit the Five Marks of Mission. The Five Marks of Mission have been developed by the Anglican Consultative Council from 1984 to 1990. They were affirmed by the Lambeth Conferences in 1988 and 1998.
Since then they have been adopted as an understanding of what contemporary mission is all about. They are a summary of the mission of Jesus and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines adopted them as the very reason for its existence. Yet how many of us have taken the Five Marks of Mission to heart and seriously and purposefully studied them, taught them to our people and used them to guide our mission and ministry.
Here they are: to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; to respond to human needs by loving service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation; to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. If the mission of Jesus is the very reason for our existence then all our spiritual energy, all our power, all our resources must be focused on fulfilling them. That is the lesson we learn from Paul. And we should learn it well. Without focus and sincerity we cannot expect to proclaim the good news in the midst of life in the 21st century.
(Bishop’s Address during the opening service of the 29th EDNCP Annual Convention at the Cathedral of the Resurrection on February 21, 2017)