By Tafadzwa Mudambanuki*
BAYOMBONG, Philippines (UMNS) — Bishop Rodolfo Alfonso Juan, who presently leads the Baguio Episcopal Area, has been re-elected as a United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Philippines Central Conference.
The conference re-assigned Juan to serve the Manila Episcopal Area, which encompasses 11 annual (regional) conferences, beginning Jan.1, 2013.
His new episcopal area has faced its share of controversy in recent years with the suspension and eventual departure from The United Methodist Church of former bishop Lito C. Tangonan.
Tangonan 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).
“We will call for dialogue and prayer in a bid to reach out to people confused by Tangonan’s activities,” Juan said.
Juan, 51, was re-elected Dec. 14 at the central conference’s quadrennial meeting in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines, more than an eight-hour drive north of Manila. On the fifth ballot, Juan received 335 of 481 votes cast. The 481 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, met Dec. 12-16.
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.”
“My dream and prayer is to help establish vital congregations and build more church buildings in the Manila Area,” he said. “In the Filipino culture, people treasure well-built church buildings as assets for the church.”
Besides this, Juan said he intends to facilitate the equipping of church workers through continuing education so that United Methodist pastors will get better skills in preaching and evangelism.
“Every United Methodist counts and is precious and important. There is need to care for their spiritual needs in an intentional way,” Juan said.
More than 80 percent of the Philippine population is Catholic.
Addressing the departure of Tangonan, Juan stoutly defended the church’s position to pursue the matter through the Philippine courts.
The Philippines United Methodist bishops are pursuing litigation against Tangonan over disputed church property.
That is not the only challenge Juan will face in his new assignment.
Juan argued that some Filipino United Methodists have deserted the denomination because they are not receiving enough word of God and have not had their spiritual needs met.
“We have to take care of those church members that back slid and the unchurched in our communities now that the Philippine Congress has approved the (United Methodist) application to have a franchise to operate radio and TV stations,” Juan said.
He said he is relying on initial financial support from the collective partnership of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and United Methodist Communications to jumpstart the Philippine Central Conference radio ministry.
Juan went through a catalog of programs the radio ministry will amplify for the common good. He said the following programs will benefit from the radio ministry: Christian education, youth ministry, mission work and evangelism, responsible parenthood, efforts to fight incurable diseases like HIV/AIDS and reaching out to farmers to promote integrated agriculture.
Population growth in the country has posed serious problems for family incomes and sustainability, the bishop said.
Juan said he strongly feels The United Methodist Church has to complement the Philippine government’s efforts to address responsible parenthood. The nation’s congress on Monday, Dec. 17, approved the debated Reproductive Health Bill, which calls for government-funded contraception and sex education. President Benigno Aquino is expected to sign it.
The issue of galloping population growth has seen the erosion of sustainable resources for various communities around the Philippines, Juan said.
“To curb this, I have and will be lending my support as bishop of The United Methodist Church, drawing my conviction from the UMC Book of Discipline’s Social Principles that clearly state advocacy for responsible parenthood, protection for the rights of women and children and promoting quality health for childbearing women,” he said.
In the past, some United Methodists in the Philippines had advocated breaking away from the global denomination to become an autonomous church.
Juan pointed out that he had seen support for such a move dwindle in the last couple of years.
“There was a time when the numbers statistically were convincing and fueled the debate for the need for self-determination in the church, but now the embers of fire for it are weak,” Juan said.
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.
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.”
Juan is married to Dr. Lurleen Lapuz Juan, an optometrist. The couple has two children, a boy and a girl.
*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.