I’ll admit, I had very little information and even less of an idea what was going to go on when Attorney Floyd called me up a month ago and told me I was going to go to the JCPC conference in Manila. I wasn’t even sure what JCPC was. That didn’t stop me from saying yes to going, of course. If I had to know what I was getting into before I did it, I never would have joined YASC or come to the Philippines. Looking back, even if Attorney Floyd had explained what JCPC was, I wouldn’t have expected this conference.
JCPC, for those not intimately aware of the relationship between the Episcopal Churches in the Philippines and the US, means Joint Committee on Provincial Companionship. It is a group with a nearly 30 year long history, beginning when the Episcopal Church in the Philippines first decided to become an autonomous church within the Anglican Communion, as opposed to a mission church under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church in the US. The JCPC was put together to plan and monitor the transitional period, and as a method of maintaining the ties of friendship between the two churches in the process and beyond. These JCPC conferences occur every 18 months or so, hosted alternately by the delegates in America and the Philippines. This year it was the Philippine Church’s turn, and we in YASC were invited specifically to help boost the American numbers if it came to a fist fight. Well, also because we serve as living examples of the partnership between both churches, but the fist fight idea was more fun.
Aside from my fellow YASC members and I, there were a few other people who were newish to the JCPC, including, I think I heard correctly, both American bishops present. (Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick of Hawaii and Bishop Dave Bailey of Navajoland, both absolutely fantastic human beings.) Therefore, one of the first things that happened during the conference was Attorney Floyd telling the story of how the ECP became financially independent from the ECUSA. I can’t do it justice in this blog post, but the essence is that at a certain point in the proceedings, the ECP took a giant leap of faith, cut the umbilical cord, and started focusing on what they could do for themselves rather than on what they needed to get. Everyone involved thought it was going to be a disaster to cut the funding early, but as they put it at the time, “If we are to die, better to die early and resurrect early as well.” It succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings: the first year they were entirely financially independent they went from a 6.3 million peso shortfall, even with the financial support from the ECUSA, to a 3 million peso surplus.
What American community developers are starting to call ABCD, Asset-Based Community Development, is something the Philippine Episcopal Church developed the hard way, by putting it into practice and developing the theory later. This principle still governs how the Philippine church plans new churches and communities, as well as how it does aid work.
With the reality of the financial autonomy of the ECP as well as the legal/jurisdictional autonomy, the JCPC has found its focus shifting. The common metaphor within the conference was that now instead of being a parent-child relationship, with the ECUSA as a mother providing extra resources and guidance, it is now becoming a relationship of true equals. Part of that relationship is deciding how the two churches are to interact, and whether we should remain so tightly bonded. The fact that we are keeping the JCPC going is now a choice to remain closely aligned friends, a choice that recognizes that the ECUSA will have as much to gain and learn from the ECP as the ECP does from the ECUSA.
And that truly was the main theme of the conference. We were there to tell each church stories of what is going on, to build more bridges and learn from one another. It was just as common for one of the American bishops to start frantically jotting down notes as an ECP member told their story about solving difficulties as it was for an ECP delegate to do the same, especially as the conference transitioned into the storytelling. Both American bishops are from dioceses that are primarily indigenous groups, and the ECP is primarily an indigenous church as well, given where in the Philippines it has its strongest roots, and there was a good deal of discussion of what it means to be a member of a church that has strong missionary roots but still respect the native culture.
There was also the point where all the delegates put us YASC members on the spot. We had very little warning when the bishop from Northern Luzon turned and said that as they were discussing the partnerships between the churches and the focus of YASC, that they’d like to hear a bit from each of us about what our YASC year was about. I have no idea how Andrew and Ashley managed to speak as eloquently as they did, I was trying not to trip over my own tongue as I described the year I’ve had and tried to boil down something so marvelously complex into a few minutes’ worth speech.
And nothing I’ve written so far has, I think, gotten across how fun this conference was. Possibly because there was no need to talk about a budget or finances, or to justify money matters, everyone was rather relaxed throughout, and we spent a good deal of time laughing and enjoying ourselves throughout. And being fed, because this is the Philippines and food is important for fellowship, so every few hours we stopped and ate, having some more relaxed/unstructured time for conversation. Relaxed bishops/upper muckity mucks of two different churches means that there are people with a lot of absolutely hilarious stories, and the long-running friendships in many cases meant that they all had a lot of fun telling them, and coming up with “can you top this” style stories. Bruce Woodcock, in particular, who came as a representative from the Church Pension Group and also because he’s been visiting the Philippines for the past 30 years, had some of the best, mostly focusing on things which happened as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.