Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let me Tell you About the ECP

Let me tell you about the Episcopal Church in the Philippines...

I’ve realized over the past couple of years that even though I’ve been an Episcopalian basically my whole life, I don’t know much about the actual history of The Episcopal Church. Maybe you feel the same way?

After meeting with the ECP National Office staff with Buck and Emily in late March and then again with the JCPC (Joint Committee on Provincial Companionship) in early April, I’ve been awed and inspired by the journey and history of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. Unfortunately, I cannot tell the same story with as much passion and gumption as Attorney Floyd, the Provincial Secretary of ECP and National Development Officer of E-CARE, who lived through and had an influential hand in the process. However, I’m going to do my best.

When I say “The Episcopal Church,” I mean the Episcopal Church of the US or legally known as the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of PECUSA” (DFMS). Its headquarters reside in New York City, NY with staff working all around the globe. Although, you can’t even call it The Episcopal Church (TEC) of the US because of the inclusion of Province IX which includes Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. In addition, there is Haiti, the largest diocese in TEC, which is part of Province II.

And then we can’t forget that Mexico, Cuba, Liberia and the Philippines previously were part of The Episcopal Church. Mexico and the Philippines were former missionary districts of TEC and have since become autonomous provinces in the Anglican Communion.

Confused yet?

What I’m getting at is the Episcopal Church in the Philippines used to be a district within The Episcopal Church. In the late eighties and early nineties TEC made major budget cuts and decided the Philippines, Mexico and Liberia would become their own autonomous churches. Thus, the Joint Committee of the Philippine Covenant was born. The JCPC, made up of representatives from TEC and ECP, worked together to assist the ECP throughout the time of transition.

{Group shot from JCPC April 2014. I'm not pictured because I was ill}

1990 was the year autonomy began when the sources of revenue for ECP were 60% from The Episcopal Church and 40% from the ECP. The phasing into autonomy was a shared responsibility. First, the plan was a “10 year capital resources” plan to build up 272 million pesos in capital funds from 1990 to 1999. However, for whatever reasons it failed to materialize. In 1992, JCPC came back to the drawing board and conceptualized the 15-year step reduction plan. The annual subsidy of TEC would be reduced every five years allowing for a gradual phase out.

Throughout the gradual phase out, ECP landed in a financial crisis. They faced recurring budget deficits and salaries were constantly frozen. Everyone in the ECP began questioning the autonomy asking, “what have you led us into?”

With 10 years left in 1997, they stated their Vision to refocus efforts and energies - “by the year 2007, we envision the Episcopal Church in the Philippines to be a RENEWED Church, full SELF-SUPPORTING and REACHING OUT to proclaim God’s love in the far reaches of the nation.”

Although by 2003 they thought they had reached their limits with a 6.5 million peso deficit. Then the next year 2004 with only 3 years until the end of the phase out, they saw local income overall had increased from 40% to 86% with the subsidy of TEC being only 14%. However, that 14% subsidy amounted to 10 million pesos. People were still asking, “where will we get 10 million pesos in 3 years?”

People saw the only answer to be returning to the JCPC to ask for an extension past 2007. Then someone tossed out the unthinkable. What if the ECP did away completely with the subsidy of 10 million pesos? It became a contentious issue. In the end, that’s exactly what they did. Starting the 1st of January 2005, ECUSA subsidy, for the years 2005, 2006, and 2007 would no longer be used for budget operations but would be added to the Endowment Fund.

{The JCPC meets every 18 months and switches between meeting in the USA and the Philippines}

As Floyd explained, “we needed to stop looking to others. We needed to start looking at ourselves and start appreciating what we have.”

Filipinos love basketball. You’ll find basketball courts everywhere. Recently you could find the NBA playoffs on any TV of a restaurant or bar. When explaining the decision of 2004, Floyd equated it to the last two minutes of a basketball game. For any basketball fans, you know you can sleep through the whole game because it is really only the last minutes that count where the whole game can change. Teams can feel a surge of energy, a surge of brilliance in order to win the game at the sound of the buzzer.

According to Floyd, 2005 was ECP’s last two minutes. They felt a surge of renewed energy. They felt a surge of brilliance. And at the sound of the buzzer, they won the game.

In 2005, they saw a series of miracles. First, they had their first budget surplus in 15 years and were completely autonomous. Second, the ECP built the largest number and most beautiful churches throughout the country in ECP’s history. And third, they saw their biggest enrollment in seminary.

It’s a story of Faith.

It’s a story of Trust.

It’s a story of nothing short of a Miracle.

The ECP took a leap of faith and found the full Glory of God, the full Glory within their own church, within their own people. Now it’s a thriving church, but not without its struggles. They are a glowing example of successful development and relief projects. They look outside the four walls of their churches to serve those in their communities who don’t necessarily fill the pews on Sunday. They realize they are part of something bigger than themselves. The ECP truly follows the new commandment Jesus said in John 13:34-35:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will now that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

“The ECP realized that it can actually achieve as a community of faith whose local congregations must survive, grow and mature from the gifts and labors of its members.”

The ECP isn’t the only church that has struggled with financial burdens and decreases in support from outside parties. Many others are facing the same challenges especially as membership declines. However, they looked inside themselves and outward to their brothers and sisters in Christ to find the gifts of God they already had among them.

Let the story of the ECP be held as a shining example that when one takes a leap of faith, God will catch them.

Thanks for reading!

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