Road Trip to Chicago
By Jon D. Melegrito
July was a good time to leave the city and take a road trip. A friend was kind enough to watch the house and water the plants while we were gone for a week. And another friend – Haniel Garibay, a student at the Wesley Theological Seminary in DC – offered to be alternate driver during our 1,400-mile round trip.
PINOY Columnist Jon D. Melegrito (L) shown with NAFAUM outgoing President Pong Javier after the Filipino-American United Methodist Convocation adopted the resolution July 11 to support the WWII Veterans receiving US Congressional Gold Medals. Melegrito is a veteran’s rights advocate. (PINOY Photo by Anong Santos).
As it happened, the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists (NAFAUM) was holding its biennial convocation in Chicago. It was an opportunity to make connections with friends we haven’t seen for ages. Friends whom I grow up with during my teenage years in Manila, back in the 60s, fellow members of the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF). Some have become pastors and lay leaders of the church. Others are leading successful professional careers. And one of them became my wife. Elvie and I were both working for Dr. Charles Mosebrook, then pastor of Central Methodist Church and Field Treasurer of the World Division of the UM Board of Missions based in Manila.
Elvie and I have attended NAFAUM convocations over the years – in Iowa, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach and Dallas, TX. Some of the friends we had connected with have since died: Tony Palaganas, Miriam Masuecos (Union High school classmate), Glen Bautista, and Rev. Eduardo Cajiaut. We felt their absence in this year’s convocation.
My two sisters from New York, Miriam and Eden, and her husband Len, came with us. It was a happy reunion – renewing connections with fellow MYFers Anong Santos, Pong Javier (NAFAUM President), Fely Macapugay, Ronili Galima and Jun Velasco, whose family of three generations shared their gift of faith and music in a splendid concert.
Just meeting them again transported me back to my days in Central Church in Ermita, especially the Sunday evenings in Luneta where we ventured to after MYF meetings. The deaconesses from Harris Memorial College – our next door neighbor – strolled along with us. One time we got so carried away with our “fellowship in the park” that they missed curfew by a few minutes. My “partner in crime” then was Debbie Hernandez (now Debbie Dillon). She was “leader of the pack” of deaconesses who were only too glad to get out of their dorms to breathe and feel the breeze of the city. Alas, the front gates of Harris were locked by the time we returned. The only way back in was to scale the 9-ft iron fence. But as Debbie started her daring act, the gates suddenly opened. No less than Dr. Prudencia Fabro, the college president, was waiting for her flock that had gone astray. It seemed Dr. Fabro had the same dilemma as the Mother Superior in “The Sound of Music.” Dr. Fabro, too, wondered how to solve a problem like Debbie.
I remind Debbie this every time I see her at these reunions. But Debbie didn’t make it this year, thanks to “Apostolic” duties.
For three days, the more than 200 delegates gathered at the Garett Theological Seminary in Evanston. Through worship and workshops, bible studies and plenaries, we shared our faith journey as laity and clergy. Framed by the convocation’s theme, “Acts and the City,” we were challenged and encouraged to “go out into the ends of the earth” and share our gifts. Among the highlights for me:
The workshops on “Restorative Justice: Reconciling Ministries” led by Rev. Israel Alvaran, one of three openly gay Filipino United Methodist pastors in the U.S. He led a discussion of “Understanding the Basics of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” It was enlightening just learning the different terms applied to gay, lesbian, transgender, bi-sexual and queer people. I was inspired by Israel’s personal story, how he risked losing his ordination when he later admitted to Bishop Rudy Juan that he is gay. “But I don’t want to give up my call,” he declared.
The closing worship service featuring the Velasco family singers.
The Bible Study on the theme. I wish there were more time for discussion, especially when Rev. Zaki Zaki started talking about traditions being “the living practices of dead persons.”
The plenary session approving a resolution I submitted calling on NAFAUM and its members to support “The Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015.” It was unanimously approved.
The “Challenge” to the delegates by Rev. Dr. Lilian Gallo Seagren, Southeast District Superintendent, Iowa Annual Conference. She beautifully summed up the convocation with these words:
“We have been made aware that the Spirit has something to offer to cities and congregations and the Filipino people as bearers of such gifts. This is the season for us, Filipino people, to live generously with the Spirit’s gifts in our places of ministries and living.”
She named four assets of Filipino United Methodists: 1) our cultural expressions of faith and Church; 2) our spontaneous outburst of joy, celebrations, and love; 3) We are everywhere in the world, positioned to be missionaries anywhere; 4) We have experienced connectionalism at its best: an engaged laity in full partnerships with credentialed persons.
On our trip back home, we were loaded with gifts: trays of snacks from Lynn and Anong and the spirit of a faith community encouraging us as we reentered “the belly of the beast.”