You know you’re in the Philippines when . . .
I could complete that sentence in countless ways, but for me the most striking is this:
So began our first day.
Seeing as we were staying in a pastor’s home, it was natural for us to go with him to his church, Litex Grace Gospel Church of Christ to be exact. The service began at 9.30 with the lively singing of choruses led by one of the “Bible Women” (in Australia we would call them “Pastor” as we do their male counterparts).
Filipinos LOVE singing, and I could tell church was no exception. Some of the choruses I knew from years ago and others were more contemporary. All were sung by all joyfully and loudly.
Once the preliminary songs, Bible verses and prayers were finished, we moved into the more formal worship service. Surprisingly, the same format was followed then that I remembered being used 40+ years ago: hymns interspersed with Bible Readings, prayers and announcements.
Probably most amazing cultural difference was the offering which seemed to have a much more prominent place than in Australian churches—not prominent in that money was made a big issue, but giving as an act of spiritual service was elevated by the reading of a verse, a prayer, the actual offering collection and then, as if on cue, everyone rose and sang “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
(Side note: I found it interesting to read in the denomination’s Ministry Handbook later that week how that they encourage their churches to charge an annual “membership fee”. Agree with it or not, it seems people place a greater value on that for which they must pay.)
Dad was the guest preacher and I was asked to sing a song before his sermon (they called it “rendering” a song). Following the message was a Child Dedication which was far more a momentous occasion than it is down under. It seemed there were numerous godparents who all had to sign the official church certificate. There was a huge banner with the baby’s picture on the stage. It was a rather elaborate service in itself and quite an honour for dad and I to witness.
After the 2-hour-plus service was finished (with the traditional singing of the fourfold “Amen”), and after the photo taking of anyone and everyone present (“One more, for Facebook“), chairs were pushed to the side and lunch was served. They do this every Sunday so I was told. Rice, chicken, vegetables, sweets, all cooked and prepared in an open kitchen behind the church. Filipino hospitality shone once again and we enjoyed chatting over good food.
Impressed as I was by the excitement and joy of those attending the Litex Church that morning, I was even more impressed by the genuineness of those present. These were mostly young people, and an assortment of singles and families. They had a very real sense of who God is and of their place in God’s mission in their world. They spoke of mission as if it were a given (not an option that is so often the case in Australian churches). This was reflected in the stories I heard about how people came to be together in this congregation and how they came to faith in Jesus.
Whilst I see a high level of professionalism in our congregations and the way we do church here, there is so much we can learn from this grassroots faith community and the way they are the Church in their corner of the Philippines. Certainly cultivating a greater heart for mission/purpose and a greater focus on “coming together” rather than finely choreographing that gathering are key points from which our churches here can take a lesson.
That being said, no church is perfect and I hope to unpack elements of this in a later post.
Now I can’t really see how this all translates into our own context–or if, in reality, it should–but I do know that participating with these dear folk showed me how grace, love and joy can easily cross any national, linguistic or cultural barrier and bring together people under a common banner of being the people of God together.
(to be continued . . .)