Written by Rev. Sophia Lizares, Minister Kalamunda Uniting Church and St Martin’s Foothills Uniting Church
Troubled by cyclones and mounting authoritarianism in their home country, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic both there as well as in Australia, Filipinos are charting a distinctive path as members of the Uniting Church.
Using the Filipino practice of “Damayan: Community blessing community” as its theme, the Filipino National Conference recently met online to reflect on how they are navigating the pandemic and other concerns.
“Damayan as charity is good, but not good enough,” Dr Eleazar Fernandez, President of the Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines told participants.
In his keynote address, Fernandez remarked that “charity provides crumbs but social justice offers a place at the table. Damayan therefore enables others access to resources that support life for common flourishing.”
Contemplating the Filipino concept of kapwa (fellow human being), Fernandez pointed out that pwa, the Filipino word for space, refers to the matrix of all life in the cosmos. Kapwa therefore means someone with whom one shares space.
In damayan, “everyone flourishes in a womb-like space where the pains and struggles are one,” Fernandez told an audience that included Filipino, Anglo-Australian, First Peoples and Fijian UCA members from four synods.
Rather than entering another person’s space, damayan connotes “allowing the other to enter mine. There is a space for you in me,” Fernandez added. “This is unlike the condition of sin where some are indifferent or feel entitled to more.”
UCA President Deidre Palmer spoke of 2020 as a disruptive year which brought anxiety, isolation and a sense of loss and the Church’s response to call on Government to build back better. In mid-October, the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) joined Christian organisations around the world to stand in solidarity against the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.
In break-out groups participants highlighted the modes of damayan in pastoral care and leadership in local congregations, particularly during the pandemic. Discussion also included ways of improving collaboration among congregations and with the wider church and areas for social justice advocacy.
The FNC decided to –
- translate the UCA Basis of Union into Filipino as a project with Filipino theologians in the Philippines
- hold a monthly worship service
- promote integration of the next generation of Filipinos in the UCA
- facilitate collaboration between the First Peoples of Australia and the Philippines
- encourage Filipinos be more involved in UCA Presbyteries and Synods
Driven to gather online by COVID-19 restrictions, the UCA’s first online National Conference opened on 30 October with traditional prayers in observance of All Saints Day.
The prayers of lament and hope featured songs recorded in the Philippines. Discussions in plenary and groups were held the next day. Video clips of activities among the congregations were also streamed.
The FNC aims to hold an in-person kumustahan, kwentuhan, kainan, kodakan (greeting, conversations, eating, picture taking) in October 2021.
Credit: Artwork by Sarah Stephanie Si Billbao