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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 Canadian-U.S. border.

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.

The Rev. Gani Lazaro (right) attends a birthday celebration at a church
member's home.

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.

"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 it brings."

Open doors

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 said.

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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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