Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

TERM PAPER PART 5: Unitarian Universalism in the Philippines: An Overview

The religious message of Universalism arrived accidentally—or providentially—on Negros Island in the 1950s.  As explained below, thanks to the dogged efforts of the man who discovered it, spread the message and recruited ministers, all but two of their 27 congregations can be found on the small, forested island of Negros.  The island includes two national provinces:  Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.  Located between Luzon and Mindanao in the cluster of islands called the Visayans, bordered by Cebu and Panay, Negros is approximately 125 miles long and on the average about 40 miles wide (Negros is about 390 miles south of Manila).  The island’s interior is hilly to mountainous, and dramatically slopes to the sea within short distances of the coastline.[i]  Most of the population lies in cities near the coast, but most of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines (UUCP)[ii] churches I visited were in the mountains, well more than a half hour’s drive from sea level, on dirt roads.

The national headquarters of the UUCP is in Dumaguete City (Negros Oriental), a small college city on the coast.  It has fewer cars than motorbikes, including motorcycle taxis with sidecars, known as  pedi-cabs.  Most congregations are in mountain villages, with a few in coastal villages.  For money and food, the people grow rice, sugar cane, corn, root vegetables.  Some have livestock. On the coast, they fish.  Most of their ministers have no more than a high-school education. They learned their ministries on the job, with mentoring by elders.  There’s no salary, so they have other jobs too:  farmer, teacher, school principal.  The national headquarters helps with a little money and a clergy uniform—a shirt with a flaming chalice logo (it’s been the logo of the Unitarian Universalist denominations in the U. S. and Canada for several decades).  The main—but not only—dialect on the Island is Cebuano, rather than Tagalog (also called the Filipino language).  Given that most villagers have not completed high school, most do not speak English.  Translators come in handy on visits to the villages.

[i] Frederick John Muir, Maglipay Universalist:  A History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines (Annapolis:  Unitarian Universalist Church, 2001), 25.

[ii]While the initial Negros Island contact with my tradition of North American liberal religion was through the Universalist Church of America, the present “UU” name in the Philippines reflects the merger of the North American denomination with the American Unitarian Association in 1961.  UUCP changed its name to add the “second U” in 1985.


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