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United Methodists in the Philippines move toward autonomy

 


United Methodists in the Philippines move toward autonomy

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Bishop Solito Toquero
Dec. 8, 2004

By Elliott Wright*

NEW YORK (UMNS)-- United Methodists in the Philippines have re-elected three episcopal leaders and moved closer to setting up an autonomous Methodist Church in the island nation.

The Philippines Central Conference, made up of clergy and lay delegates from 19 annual (regional) conferences, met in late November and re-elected and reassigned to their current posts Bishop Benjamin Justo of Baguio, Bishop Solito Toquero of Manila, and Bishop Leo Soriano of Davao. Each presides over several annual conferences.

All three bishops were initially elected four years ago and all support an autonomous, affiliated relationship with the United Methodist Church. The Philippines church is now an organic part of the United Methodist denomination.

United Methodist bishops outside the United States serve a "term episcopacy" that requires an election every four years at meetings of "central conferences," which are comparable to jurisdictional conferences in the United States.

Convened in Manila, the 2004 Philippines Central Conference took no definitive action on the autonomy issue, which has been under consideration for many years. However, a procedure was laid out that clearly moves in that direction and plans made for the conference to meet in 2006 to consider the issue.

"The sentiment for autonomy was very strong," said Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., of Denver, who presided at the Philippines Central Conference on behalf of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, in a telephone interview.

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Bishop Leo Soriano
Methodism was introduced in the Philippines by Americans more than a century ago. The church today has a membership of more than 600,000 and serves a constituency of about one million people.

"The Church in the Philippines is an integral part of our global mission network," said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. "It is a mature Church that continues to be remarkable in its evangelistic zeal and its social ministries. Our mission partnership will remain vibrant whatever structures exist in the future."

Day also extended his congratulations to the three returning bishops. Justo, re-elected on the 6th ballot, is a former college president and theological seminary professor. He served as an exchange pastor in Tarzana, Calif., in 1997. He and his wife Elizabeth have two grown children. Justo is a director of the Board of Global Ministries.

Toquero was re-elected on the 13th ballot. He is a former pastor and educator in the Philippines and was a missionary in Hong Kong. The bishop and his wife Alegria have two grown children.

Soriano, who was re-elected on the 17th ballot, is active in ecumenical affairs and is also a medical doctor. He has done medical mission work in the Davao region. Soriano and his wife Denia have four grown children.

Support for autonomy has increased in recent years. The process of becoming autonomous is guided by the Book of Discipline, the United Methodist book of law, and rulings of the Judicial Council, the church’s highest court.

This year, 16 of 19 annual conferences presented petitions for autonomy to the central conference. Nine were accepted and seven were ruled out of order on technical grounds, according to Brown. Two new annual conferences were created this year in Manila.

Delegates decided to hold an "adjourned session" of the central conference in 2006 to consider autonomy. This will provide time to correct the technical flaws of the "out of order" petitions and to let the other annual conferences vote on the autonomy question.

*Elliott Wright is the public information officer for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom·(646)369-3759·New York· E-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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