I journeyed to the home country, the Philippines, in December to complete the sabbatical leave granted me by Local Church Ministries. The journey was made possible with grants from the Western Reserve Association (Ohio Conference) and the UCC Brown Scholarship.
On the two Sundays I was there, I worshiped at my hometown church and then at my wife?s home church. Just can?t get away from church on any given Sunday, I guess, or I don?t want to. Local church life is that important to me.
My home church was where I grew up and attended until I finished seminary and began fulltime ministry. There, during those years, I worshiped (singing hymns mostly from memory—we had few hymnals), attended Sunday School, sang in the choir, joined youth fellowship, and taught Vacation Bible School. I performed janitorial work for five pesos a month ($2.50 then, a dime with today?s exchange). It was the church of my parents, a family of 10 children.
I reflected that morning on my life in that church, thankful for pastors, parents and mentors, and moved by the felt presence of Dad and Ma. The Calamba church nurtured me in the evangelical faith and challenged me to consider the ministry.
The next Sunday I worshiped in the church by the sea where my wife, Bennie, grew up, which nurtured her gifts. In this church, she learned the joy of singing and started directing a choir. She would eventually graduate with a sacred music major in voice and choral conducting.
It also is the church where I spent a year of seminary fieldwork teaching a youth group on Sundays. We didn?t have classroom space or materials then, so I would take the group to the beach where we would sit on a banca (outrigger canoe)—just as Jesus did—and talk about Jesus and his parables. This same church was the setting of our wedding, 43 years ago come April, where we began an exciting partnership in marriage and ministry for us.
The Sunday I was there, the worship theme was human rights. The service featured a youth group dramatization of injustice and violence perpetrated by paramilitary units victimizing peaceful barrio dwellers. The churchmen?s basketball team sang an anthem, "Let There Be Peace on Earth." For me, the Amlan church celebrated love, justice and peace making.
I visited these churches purposely to rediscover a connectedness to my spiritual roots, to link my present ministry to my past, and to see where God has been leading me through the years. The experience was wonderfully affirming and powerfully renewing, thus bringing the appropriate closure to my sabbatical time.
Thanks be to God, indeed, for local churches where faith is nurtured, love is celebrated, and justice and peace are lifted up.
The Rev. Jos? A. "Joe" Malayang is Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries and one of the UCC?s five-member Collegium of Officers.