Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Sunday in the Village: UU Worship in the Philippines, followed by lunch, face painting, water-buffalo riding, a walking tour, dancing, and too many smiles

After a big buffet breakfast (and brewed coffee, not Nescafe!) at the O Hotel (not named after Ms.Winfrey but her magazine is in the lobby), we took an hour’s van ride out of Bocolod City up the hill to the village of Malignin.  There are 50 families there, about 15 of them UU.   On the ride up one of our group, a doctor, recounted what he said to a friend back home:  “This is depressing:  everyone here is terribly poor and they are all terribly happy.”  And after six hours in Malignin we were all full of joy ourselves.

I also have some envy … of First UU Church of San Diego, which is the partner church of Malingnin.  Rev. Arvid Straube, lead minister, is here for his first time, and he gave the sermon, ably translated by his 61-year-old counterpart, Rev. Miguel Castaneda.   When asked when the service would start, our UUCP organizer and guide, Nihal, said it will start when we get there.  In rural areas, your presence is much more important than a time schedule.   We spilled out of the vans at 10:30 and shook many hands.  The bumpy ride had made myf full bladder even more uncomfortable than it normally would have been.  After greeting a number of women, I asked one of the men to direct me to a comfort room.  He did not get my pronunciation, but when I said “C.R.,” he immediately too me to the unisex outhouse.


The crowd smothered San Diego’s returning pilgrims with kisses and hugs and greeted the two S.D. first-timers (and the rest of us) with great warmth.  Finally we were called into the sanctuary (i.e., the one-room building).  Service began with Joys/Concerns, and then the lighting of a chalice candle and ringing of a little bell three times, by a child.  Another child read the call to worship (Psalm 98:4-6).  We sang (they sang) “Ang Iglesia Nga Gintwawag sang Dios.”  I recorded it but by the third singing of the chorus I could have sung along.  The minister’s daughter gave the opening prayer from the pew (a plastic chair, the kind we see all over US back yards).  The next song was “Ginmanduan Ako Sang Dios.”   The most charming sight was a little boy, Renzo, sitting next to and looking up at 73-year-old Al, singing along with him, and Al watching the boy’s lips to sing along with him. 

Then we had a responsive reading, also led by a child, also in Hilagainon.  Scripture reading was Gospel of John 15:11-17, read in both languages.  Next on the program was “Message through a Song,” and the song we all sang was “Spirit of Life,” which all knew.  Arvid gave the sermon, saying how moved he was to be here, and to finally meet them, and how much he loved this beautiful country and its people.  He gave some basic information about family life in San Diego and the U.S., illustrating how material good fortune does not mean universal happiness or security for Americans, and noting that we have an epidemic of loneliness.   Yet in spite of our different lives, we are all the same inside, and we all have the seeds of godliness in us.  We can cultivate and water those seeds and live lives that blossom in love and service.   He cited William Ellery Channing’s “Likeness to God.”   He expressed surprise at how fitting the Gospel reading was for his sermon, even though he had not known it had been chosen.   Rev. Mike translated after Arvid finished each paragraph.  Then he gave his own message, in both languages, but mainly said that Arvid had said basically the same thing he had planned to say in his own sermon.  We sang “From you, I receive, to you I give; together we share, and from this we live” over an over as the offering was taken.  Most everyone put money in the small bowl as it came around; 20 Peso notes spilled out (that’s about 45 cents, which is about 1/4 of the average daily income of a Philippino.)   The closing hymn was “Kalag Balik Sa Dios,” which was written by UUCP founder, Rev. Toribio Quimada, and which can be found with a hard-to-sing western tune at #142 in the UUA’s hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition.   Rev. Mike gave the closing prayer (with mention of the people suffering in the Middle East and in Japan) and all recited words together, which I assume was the prayer that Jesus taught.  They sang the Doxology, but the tune was not the western version.  After Mike’s benediction, the service ended with endless shaking of hands, “good mornings,” and personal introductions.   As at every other church, kids squealed and cried now and then, a few scrawny dogs wandered in and out, and chickens and roosters wandered outside the windows, which had yellow-painted metal bars on them, allowing for a nice breeze.  Through the windows I could watch the fowl and also see more folks gathering outside on benches to listen to the service. 


As two long tables were carried into the building (whose doorway was open, with no door), and plates of the familiar Pilipino specialities were laid out for us as guests.   Rev. Ann Schranz from the church in Mont Clair was asked to say grace.   Another big meal, but when fresh mango came out at the end, I somehow found room for two pieces of that, and then for a big slice of watermelon.    The S.D. folks brought school supplies–paper, crayons, coloring books, etc.–for the kids, as well as 27 pairs of flip-flops (Philippino village hiking boots, school shoes, church shoes, and casual wear).  I had taken Barbre for a walk to a variety store in Bacolod last night to buy the shoes.   I gave one of the young women a  couple of posters:  pictures of animals and multiplication tables.   Renzo and several younger kids were bringing Al back from a tour, and I expressed disappointment at having missed it, so they turned around and took me on one.  I saw rice fields, homes small and smaller (mostlyof bamboo but one of concrete, brightly painted), roosters, four large hogs (who snorted for their close-up pictures), and a mother duck and its ducklings kept in a pen (though others had been wandering around outside).

Arvid and I sat and chatted with Rev. Mike.  He’s been here 31 years.  He was recruited by founder Toribio Quimada to come to this church.  He said he came only on condition that Quimada train him and teach him about UUism.  He’d said he wanted to learn the doctrine and the Principles.  Quimada’s reply, he said, was “We don’t have any doctrine, only Principles.”  He was struck to find a religion that affirmed so much of what he thought about God and religion.  All religions may speak of different deities, use different terms and descriptions for the divine, but there is only one God, he said. “If you believe in God, then you have to ask, who created everyone, including the people who don’t believe in God?  It was the same God.”  He said: what’s important, if you believe in God, is to praise God and to work for peace and for a better world.    I had met his sons and daughters earlier.  One daughter has a BS in nursing and is getting her board certification.  One son, early 20s, has a degree in marine transportation and works a week at a time in Manila, going back and forth from this island village to Manila.   He hopes to get a more steady job.  Another son, age 15, has a year of high school left. He likes physical education, the outdoors, and Boy Scouts.  He’s going to a jamboree for a week later this month, at Salas National Park, and is raising donations to cover the cost of food and of a uniform.   Philippine villages are clan based, and many of the folks in this church have the same last names as others.  Same thing in other villages:  a few surnames predominate. 

One woman showed a few guests an herb garden, explaining what is used for what illness, and later pulled a couple of leaves, which our doctor friend put on his temples to ease a headache he had.   While grownups visited, wandered and snapped photos outside,  inside the church “Grandpa Len,” age 84 from San Diego and here for his 3rd visit, showed a “Sesame Street” DVD and gave out some colorful UUA flyers showing the UUA Seven Principles for kids.  (The UUCP has Eight Prinicples.)   After that Barbre put on her clown makeup and yellow hair and red nose (in front of the kids so as not to frighten them) and then put stickers and face paint on all who were willing.  Then a group of kids (Renzo was the only boy) led some of our friends in dancing and singing as music videos played on the wide-screen TV that had been used for “Sesame Street.”  The popular song of UUCP kids (here and in Dumagete) seems to be “Don’t Want Nobody But You,” with dance moves to match.  I never heard of this American group of girl singers before,and now I can’t get the tune out of my mind.

Our partings from UUCP village churches remind me of midwestern family reunions:  people say goodbye multiple times, hugging, kissing, waving and taking yet more photographs.  “See you next year!” the kids and parents called out–and rather insistently.  It was a feast of love, and a full Sunday for us.


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