|Canadian church connects Filipino United Methodists|
Children in Surrey, British Columbia, attend Sunday school class at
Samahan United Methodist Church, the only official Methodist
congregation in western Canada.
UMNS photos courtesy of the Rev. Gani Lazaro.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Aug. 7, 2007
Filipinos with United Methodist roots have formed the denomination's only congregation in western Canada.
Named Samahan, for a Tagalog word meaning "a grouping of people with
one purpose or a common interest," the congregation is located in
Surrey, British Columbia, southeast of Vancouver and near the
The church is part of the United Methodist Pacific Northwest Annual
Conference in the United States. A formal charter will be presented
during a "Fiesta Metodista" celebration hosted by Samahan on Sept. 30.
Bishop Edward Paup, the conference's episcopal leader, said it was a
"great joy" to connect with the Samahan church. "This congregation,
which includes several members who were United Methodists in the
Philippines, petitioned our conference to become an official United
Methodist church," he said.
Canada has not had official Methodist congregations since 1925, when
the United Church of Canada was formed by Congregationalists, Methodists
and about three-fourths of the country's Presbyterians. The United
Church of Canada is Canada's largest Protestant denomination.
The Rev. Isagani "Gani" Lazaro, a recently retired minister of the
United Church of Canada, leads the new congregation. He served for 28
years in Ontario before he and his wife, Cynthia, moved in 2006 to
Vancouver, where two of their three children live.
An outgrowth of small group fellowship
What started in 2004 as an informal gathering of friends who attended
different Canadian congregations grew into "the desire to go back to
the United Methodist traditions and practices," according to Lazaro.
He understands that desire. Lazaro was a United Methodist pastor in the
Philippines for 10 years before moving to the United States to study. He
attended Iliff Seminary and continued on to Ontario.
The Rev. Gani Lazaro (right) attends a birthday celebration at a church
"When I moved to British Columbia, I was told that there was a group
of Filipino United Methodists who wanted to have a pastor who could lead
them in their activities," he said.
After the group threw a welcoming party for the Lazaros, a pattern of
fellowship and Bible study soon developed. "The interest and enthusiasm
that the people showed in response to these studies were overwhelming
and inspiring," he said. "I knew it was the spirit that was in our midst
and the people were responding to the leading of the spirit."
As more people joined these gatherings, "we started thinking about
getting a bigger space, preferably a church which we could rent," Lazaro
added. Whalley Presbyterian Church in Surrey became available and the
first Sunday school and evening worship took place there on Dec. 3,
2006. "From that time on, it has been an experience of an exciting and
amazing journey of growth for Samahan."
Paup introduced Samahan representatives during his Episcopal Address
at the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference meeting in June. "Then he
prayed for me, my wife and the congregation," Lazaro recalled.
"This action has been fully supported by the leadership of the United
Church of Canada, for which we are very grateful," the bishop told
United Methodist News Service. "We look forward to the certification of
this congregation as a United Methodist church of the Pacific Northwest
Conference and for the new opportunities for mission and ministry that
An average of 60 people now attend Sunday services. Although most
have a United Methodist background, "we as a congregation are open to
anybody," Lazaro said.
"The style of preaching that we nurture in our congregation is one
that is Gospel-based, grace-centered - evangelical and prophetic," he
One mechanism for growth is small-group Bible study, according to
Lazaro. One group currently meets at a member's home in Vancouver and
another group will begin in Richmond in September.
The Sunday school program averages 15 to 18 children a week and
supports local mission projects through "penny piggy banks" containing
pennies collected each week. Last year, the children raised $95 from
October to December, which was donated to a local program supporting
unmarried, pregnant teens.
Lazaro said he tries to listen, respond and make himself available to
his congregants and the community, which includes participating in
activities that are part of the Filipino culture, such as the blessing
and dedication of homes and vehicles.
The church will host a "Fiesta Metodista" celebration for the
conference on Sept. 30, which will include Paup and Bishop Benjamin
Justo from the Baguio Episcopal Area in the Philippines.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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