By Tafadzwa Mudambanuki*
BAYOMBONG, Philippines (UMNS) — The Rev. Ciriaco Q. Francisco of Valenzuela, Metro Manila, has been elected as a United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Philippines Central Conference.
Francisco was elected Dec 16 — less than an hour before the scheduled consecration service — at the central conference’s quadrennial meeting in Bayombong. On the 25th ballot, Francisco received 238 of 317 votes cast.
Francisco will serve the Davao Episcopal Area, which encompasses five annual and provisional (regional) conferences in western and southern regions of this multi-island nation. His four-year term of service begins Jan. 1, 2013. “My dream is to make Davao Episcopal Area a model episcopal area in its financial resources and wring out from its lay and clergy ranks passion to make disciples of Jesus Christ that transform lives and transform communities,” Francisco said.
To overcome the old entrenched challenges of financial resources, Francisco said he plans to make overtures with the business community of his area and persuade businesses to develop vast acres of virgin land owned by The United Methodist Church.
“We will develop nonperforming assets of The United Methodist Church by a model we call ‘build, operate and transfer,’” he said. “This means forging partnerships with local investors to construct buildings for income generation and creating jobs for local people in those communities targeted for development.
“It’s high time we lift the church out of penury because our Lord Jesus Christ came to make himself poor so that through his poverty, the church (church people) can be rich,” he added, citing 2 Corinthians 8:9.
Francisco, 60, was the third bishop elected when 317 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, met Dec. 12-16. The election fills the position formerly held by Bishop Leo A. Soriano, who is retiring after serving the Davao Episcopal area for 12 years.
San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. and Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck co-presided over the proceedings.
With skills honed over decades of experience in pastoral ministry and education, Francisco said he would consult his laity and clergy leadership to devise ways of training church leaders for effective discipleship.
“Continuing education gives people opportunities to reset their buttons in their area of specialization and serve with confidence without fear of being overwhelmed by emerging technology,” the new bishop said.
He was born to impoverished Methodist parents, who depended on subsistence farming and his mother Clara’s peddled wares to eke out a living. Because of limited means, Francisco learned very early in life to fend for himself.
“My election today reinforced the notion birthed during my formative years at my parents’ subsistence farm that the difference between the impossible and possible is hidden in self-determination,” Francisco said.
Francisco shared that his parents influenced his values for manual labor, discipline, persistence, courage and love. “All these virtues have helped me in my ministry all these years, and the episcopal office will be no exception,” he said.
At his father’s farm, Francisco watered the carabaos — animals that have similar features to oxen and are used in the rice fields of the Philippines. From his mother, Clara, Francisco also learned business skills and relationship skills.
He paid his own school tuition by working from 2 to 10 p.m. in factories, at the end of a school day that began at 7 a.m.
He has faced rejection in his ministry. Francisco recalls that when he was appointed district superintendent, the district leadership rejected him as unfit for the office. On his first day in office, the district officials wore black armbands as a sign of protest for his appointment. Instead of being vindictive to the district officials, Francisco said he wore his own black armband.
Francisco said he took a cue from the Apostle Paul who wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:20, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), to win those under the law.”
Impact of church dispute
Francisco said hopes to join efforts with colleague bishops in the Philippines to reclaim church assets now used by former United Methodist bishop Lito Tangonan and a small group of former United Methodists.
Tangonan, who formerly led the Manila Episcopal Area, was suspended as bishop in 2009 and, under complaint, was replaced in January 2010 by retired Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr. The complaint accused him of misconduct under Paragraph 2702 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. That provision lists chargeable offenses of bishops under church law. No details were released about the complaint itself.
Tangonan left The United Methodist Church in 2011 to form his own church, called Ang Iglesias Methodista Sa Philippinas (The Independent Methodist Church of the Philippines).
The church has created factions in the Philippine Central Conference, Francisco said. The dispute over church property is now under litigation in Philippine courts.
Addressing other needs
Francisco said another problem he would like to address is the lack of standardization in pastors’ salaries in the Philippines Central Conference. The salaries are not sufficient to meet a pastor’s family needs, Francisco said.
“It is my sincere prayer that the Lord Jesus will use me to engage investors who will bring hope to their desperate situation by establishing income-generating programs for the common good,” the new bishop said.
Francisco said he wants to build a reputation for channeling the church resources in winning souls for Jesus instead of spending more time on church programs.
“There is need for United Methodists to have a revival fear of God by a thorough grounding in the word of God, what John Wesley called consulting the ‘Oracles of God,’” he said.
The United Methodist congregations in Davao operate in a spiritual environment riddled with Islamic insurgency, he noted.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the Philippines government has waged a decades-long struggle against ethnic Moro insurgencies in the southern Philippines, including intermittent peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Francisco said he plans to engage leaders of other Protestant denominations and other faith leaders on how they can work together to promote sustainable peace for spiritual development of their people.
As in the United States, local United Methodist churches around the globe are organized into increasingly larger groups: numerous districts, dozens of annual conferences and seven central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe. Three bishops lead the 24 annual and provisional conferences that form the Philippines Central Conference.
Unlike in the United States, United Methodist bishops in the Philippines Central Conference are not elected for life. A bishop is elected for one four-year term at a time. If the bishop continues to be elected every four years until reaching retirement age, then that bishop becomes a “bishop for life.” If the bishop is too young to retire, the bishop returns to the annual conference as a pastor and surrenders the “episcopal status.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church” and to “lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world.” Bishops also are to be “prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people.”
Francisco is married to Restetita Victoria Francisco, a university professor in the field of guidance and counseling in Manila. The couple has three grown children — one girl and two boys. Francisco is pursuing a doctoral degree in educational management and is now doing research to complete his dissertation.
*Mudambanuki is director of Central Conference Communications for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.