A Cosmopolitan Potpourri

Union Church of Manila

Each Sunday, more than a thousand people of varied ethnicities and languages come from all over metro Manila, the Philippines, to worship in the presence of God’s people at the Union Church of Manila. They come from a range of economic and social backgrounds, but each Sunday morning and during the week they unite to share what they have in common and to participate in the work of God in the Philippines.

The Union Church of Manila was founded in 1898 by American missionaries who arrived when the Philippines was transferred from Spanish rule to the United States. Although the church began with support from predominately Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries, it quickly became interdenominational as it sought to minister to the influx of Americans arriving in the Philippines for military, government, and business work.

Expanding Ministry

In 1914, the mission of the church expanded beyond its ministry to Americans to include both local Filipinos and foreigners from other countries. The church crafted a new vision statement that articulated the need for a diverse, international church in the Philippines. This vision statement has shaped the direction and life of the Union Church of Manila ever since.

The church’s location at a busy intersection in the city of Makati, on the southern periphery of metro Manila, is well-suited for this kind of mission. Because this part of the city serves as the center of commerce, finance, and trade in the Philippines, Makati has become the center of an expanding economy in the Philippines and attracts significant foreign investment. This has brought an influx of business leaders and tourists from all over the world. In recent decades, Makati has become a cultural melting pot of the Philippines—a place where Asians, Europeans, and Americans converge into a cosmopolitan potpourri.

The church reflects the diversity of the city. Filipinos constitute the majority of the congregation, but members of the church also include people from other countries in southeast Asia, along with people from Great Britain, China, India, the United States, and numerous other countries. Dozens of flags adorn the sanctuary, each representing the country of origin of someone in the congregation.

The church’s staff of twenty-four also reflects this diversity, including staff members from the Philippines, Latvia, New Zealand, and the United States. Steve Ruschle, originally from Seattle, Washington, became the senior pastor at UCM at the beginning of 2006. Before that, he was the director of worship at the University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. Although Steve was not looking to move from Seattle, his wife grew up in Asia and they both felt the call to return. He is also an artist and works to integrate the visual arts with his preaching. Steve’s warm presence and clear leadership fit well with UCM’s overall commitment to reach the community of Makati.

Traditional, Contemporary, and More

More than 1,500 people gather each Sunday morning for two worship services, the first contemporary and the second traditional. During the contemporary service, the pianist, guitarist, drummer, bass player, and an ensemble of other musicians play from the side while vocalists lead from the front of the platform. The traditional service is led by the choir, and includes music from both Asia and the West. The sermon, however, is identical at each service, and both services are planned around a shared theme.

In addition to Sunday services, the Union Church of Manila also holds midday communion services. These services provide time for many of the church’s members who work in the surrounding neighborhood to gather for worship during their lunch.

The basement of the church has also been remodeled in order to accommodate a postmodern service. This once-monthly midweek service incorporates simplified music and preaching, and it intentionally leaves space for the visual arts. Ranier Pagcaliwagan, International Students and Young Adult Outreach Director, plans and coordinates this service. He describes this service as an exciting new direction for UCM and a new opportunity for young adults in the church to reach the city of Makati. Although the service is in its early stages, its leaders hope that those who attend will be able to seamlessly integrate with the rest of the church’s ministry. This service also provides the opportunity for Asian voices to contribute to the Emerging Church movement, which, until recently, has been limited to primarily American and European settings.

The church also has a vibrant small group ministry led by Barbara Podmore from Australia. More than sixty groups actively meet each week throughout the city. The groups meet to study Scripture and particular theological topics, and to discuss and further reflect on the previous week’s sermon. These groups meet mostly in homes in order to connect more closely to the neighborhoods in and near Makati.

Since its founding, UCM has endured the transition from a Spanish colony to independence, a world war, economic difficulties, and contemporary challenges of globalization. Yet despite its tumultuous history and its ethnic and denominational diversity, UCM retains a core commitment to the preaching of the Word and celebration of the sacraments. Both the pulpit and the communion table are placed prominently on the platform, reflecting the common calling of a diverse people.

Excerpt

Mission Statement

Union Church of Manila is an English-speaking, self-supporting, evangelical Protestant congregation, established in 1914, in response to the needs of the growing American population. We welcome people of all nations and denominational backgrounds as we continue to fulfill the unique calling to serve the needs of the international community. We seek to be a worshiping, praying, studying, caring, servant community, centered in Jesus Christ as Lord. We preach and teach Christ as Lord. We preach and teach Christ as attested to in the Scriptures in order that all might become mature in him.

“People of all nations united in Christ, centered in Christ, maturing in Christ.”

From the Website

“Worship is at the center of who we are as a church. Our two services reflect a diversity of worship expressions but keep to the central purpose of joining as a community to worship God, to reflect on his word, and to renew ourselves for service.”

Excerpt

Union Church in a Nutshell

Ministry staff: 9
Support staff: 15
Size of worshiping congregation: 1,500
Number of small groups: 60
Founded: 1914

Kent Hendricks (hendrick@crcna.org) is an M.Div. student at Calvin Theological Seminary and is on the music staff at River Terrace Christian Reformed Church. In the summer of 2006 he traveled to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore with nine other students and faculty from Calvin Theological Seminary (see RW 83, p. 26).