A GLIMPSE OF THE ORDAINED WOMEN OF THE IGLESIA FILIPINA INDEPENDIENTE (IFI)

Excerpt of the paper delivered by  Reverend Erah during an Interfaith Women Gathering in celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) where  feminists from the Philippines gathered together on March 10, 2007 in a forum titled “The ‘P’ Dialogues: Politikal, Peminista, Progresibo (Political, Feminist, Progressive) – Conversations on Social Movement Building”, ESI Building, Miriam College, Quezon City. 

 

My friends and sisters, it is an honor to be part of this weeklong celebration of recognizing the women struggle in all aspects of life: political, economic, social or cultural —- either in the family, in the church, in the community, in the society or in the world focusing on the challenges: violence, discrimination, oppression and others alike. My task this afternoon is to share with you the role of women in the church especially among the ordained, the women clergy particularly of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or Philippine Independent Church (PIC) or commonly known as the Aglipayan Church or the unknown Filipino Catholic Church.

BACKGROUND

In the Philippines, only the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or the Filipino Catholics) and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP or the Filipino Anglicans) who call their ministers as priests either male or female addressing them Fathers and Reverends. Both the IFI and the ECP are of Catholic traditions. Historically, both churches do not ordain women to deaconate and to priesthood in the early part of their ministry, like the rest of the churches with Catholic traditions, priesthood are exclusively for males. In my church it was only in the late seventies that discussion on the inclusion of women to the ordain ministry surfaced as few IFI progressive male priests and bishops brought the issue on their meetings. Women ordination that time was becoming an issue in the international ecumenical arena. To date there were already denominations who ordained women to priesthood like:

  • Christian Connection Church. An early relative of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, this body ordained women as early as 1810. Among them were Nancy Gove Cram, who worked as a missionary with the Oneida Indians by 1812, and Abigail Roberts (a lay preacher and missionary), who helped establish many churches in New Jersey. Others included Ann Rexford, Sarah Hedges and Sally Thompson.

Women were commissioned as deacons from 1935, and allowed to preach from 1949. In 1963 Mary Levison petitioned the General Assembly for ordination. Woman elders were introduced in 1966 and women ministers in 1968.

  • Community of Christ. A revelation was approved at the church’s 1984 World Conference which called for the ordination of women, and granted women access to all the offices of the priesthood. Although this caused many congregations to break off from the main body of the church, forming dissident congregations and in some cases new denominations, women have been ordained in many nations since then.
  • Church of Sweden (CoS) started to ordain women to priesthood in 1960. That in 1993, there were already a 700 women priest serving in thirteen dioceses throughout Sweden.

From the point of view of the Church, women ordination is regarded through diverse interpretations, understanding, explanation and reflection vis a vis to the biblical teachings. Many churches the world over from Church of England to the wider ecumenical communion had undergone long debates on the question of women ordination to priesthood and some are still on the process of studying and reflecting upon theological, biblical, sociological and cultural issues arising from the question of the ordination of women to priesthood.

Other churches take a revolutionary step by ordaining women to priesthood while argument/debate or study on the ordination of women to priesthood is ongoing. In other words, churches mentioned above had already overcome the varied issues pertaining to the ordination of women such as:

•The biblical underpinning inspired from the letter of St. Paul to the churches of Galatia:

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”. (Galatians 3:27-29, NRSV)

It was through baptism that we become equal to the eyes of the Creator God as children and heirs. This is reiterated by St. Paul to his letter to the churches in Corinth:

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink one Spirit”.   (1 Corinthians 12:13, NRSV)


•The physiological difference between male and female either affected by cultural conditioning to a greater extent than determined by innate difference is much debated.

While there are accepted biological differences between males and females and an interconnection between them, the differences may not always be as clear or marked as sometimes was held in the past. Every individual inherits both male and female tendencies: sex is determined by the tilting of the balance one way or another. There is recognized and recognizable anatomical and physiological difference between male and female other than those concerned with primary and secondary sexual characteristics and with conception and childbirth. (The Ordination of Women to Priesthood, A Second Report by the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England, pp. 11-12))

•Women and men are human beings sharing a basic human nature and sharing the same potentialities, desire and fears.

This manifests the story of creation giving 2 equal tasks and opportunities to both men and women as created in the image and likeness of God.

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air… So God created humankind… male and female he created them.”    (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV)

•Ordination of women should not wait upon its recognition either by the whole Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Churches.

The affirmations made by various churches around the world of the blessings those women ministry has brought are overwhelming and very encouraging.

HOPES, ASPIRATIONS and CHALLENGES

One of the enduring traits of the IFI is her commitment to freedom and unity in Christ. It is this character of the Christian community that enables members to be free and open in permeating changes that would help enriches the experience of the Christian faith (Foreword, IFI 1977 Constitution).

The inclusion of women to the sacred ministry is the IFI manifestation of her commitment to freedom and unity, equality and justice. The IFI as a church has overcome theological, biblical and cultural issues in relation to ordination of women, although there are still segments among IFI members who are yet fully resolved to the above mentioned issues but no one ever questions the decision made by the Supreme Council of Bishops (SCB).

Looking back in the early sixty’s and seventy’s, not all members of the Supreme Council of Bishops (SCB) of the IFI considered that women have a place in the altar. The uncertainty to discuss women ordination during SCB meetings and making it part of the SCB agenda became obscure and “non-issue” when the bishops deliberately disregarded women ordination issue during meetings. One of the bishops admitted that whenever the issue of women ordination came up, the usual comments were: “discuss it later” or “it is under the table” or just “silence”.   However, a glitter of hope was sensed when the SCB began to discuss women ordination in their meetings in the late eighty’s. Perhaps the ordination of the first woman deacon in the person of Reverend Juliet Taclobao of the Philippine Episcopal Church brought some encouragement to look into the issue.  Either that was a turning point of the SCB to confront the issue on women ordination or not (need to be confirmed) but one thing the SCB had to deal with was: what to do with the ladies entering the seminary to study theology.

In 1989 May, during the Supreme Council of Bishop’s meeting, a decision was reached to ordain women to deaconate the First Order of the Ordain Ministry. Seven years later, in 1996 October, during its meeting, the SCB approved ordination of women to priesthood, the Second Order of the Ordain Ministry. However, as early as 1972, the St. Andrews Theological Seminary (SATS) in Quezon City had already accepted female seminarians. Since then women entered and underwent seminary training and formation the same with their male counterparts. Both men and women from the IFI and the PEC, now ECP study theology in SATS. To date, in 1979, Reverend Perla Omandan Cajote was the first IFI female seminarian to graduate with Bachelor’s Degree in Theology.

In 2004 May, during the SCB Meeting held at Bp. La Verne Mercado Ecumenical Center, NCCP Compound, the SCB passed and approved a resolution allowing women priests to receive the Third Order of the Ordain Ministry, the Episcopacy. That was why, in the preceding years women priests were already part of the nominees to episcopate search.  The process involved is the same with the male priest.  Each nominee comes with the approval of one’s local church or diocese he/she belongs. Meaning the nominees had been endorsed by the clergy of the diocese.

Today, there are already fifteen women priests, three deacons, two are preparing for their deaconate, more than ten seminary graduates and less than ten seminarians. We are looking forward that our tribe will increase as we continue to advocate and inspire women to enter the seminary.  (See the updated women priest profile at the end)

The inclusion of women to the ordain ministry is a big leap forward among women and advocates especially among Christians who firmly believed that in Christ, we are one and equal through our baptism (Galatians 3:28) as St. Paul has taught us:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

It is an affirmation that male and female are created in the image and likeness of the Creator God (Genesis 1:27). In other words, male or female are of equal footing in responding to God’s call and in living out his/her commitment to serve God through the people, the least of our brothers and sisters especially through ordination.

The calling to priesthood is no longer exclusive to men as some churches open their doors to women to undergo seminary training and formation and to receive the sacred order of ordination. But male ordination remains an accepted norm in the wider society especially in the Philippines where majority of Filipino Christians are only aware that priesthood are for males only. It is understandable for Roman Catholic Church comprises the highest number among Filipino Christians.

Despite of the inclusion of women to the Ordain Ministry, yet, women priests in the IFI still confront some issues like:

  • A number of constituents still express they are not familiar with a woman priest celebrating the Holy Mass. In other words, not all IFI constituents are fully resolved and ready for women priests.
  • Many are still uncomfortable with a pregnant priest in the altar, although IFI priests can marry and constituents no longer have question on married priests.

However, beyond the above issues there are more prevalent issues being confronted by female seminarians, seminary graduates, deacons and priests such as: less/ lack or no appropriate support (moral and financial) from the diocese, bishop and parish priest during seminary days; usual church assignments are remote, “dying church” or newly established churches; male counterparts “seemingly” question women’s  capabilities in handling any church assignment.

These issues were part of the sharing during our consultation and meetings. Minor challenges are part of our day-to-day lives, our existence in our church assignments or wherever we are placed by our bishops. In other words, we are yet fully jubilant because IFI ordains women to priesthood. But we are positive that time comes the above issues will become a history, issues of the past.

REFLECTION

The stereotyping of women as “second class” “mahina or weakling” “pambahay, yaya, alalay” or the prevailing notion, women as sex object has not yet changed. Despite there are now women in key positions in all fields throughout the world, including women in the ordain ministry, it is still not a guarantee that WOMEN in the world are liberated, free and enjoy equality among men. Unless the means of oppression, discrimination, marginalization and all types of women dehumanization, defacing the image and likeness of God are still in our midst, women must continue to communicate, to make known and to stand firm.

Women must continue to struggle for their recognition and participation in the church, community and society to make them KNOWN, to become SOMEBODY.

The many issues and problems encountered daily particularly by the women themselves either in home, community, church, and the whole society like poverty, unemployment that leads to modern slavery (OFWs), discrimination, injustices, harassment and all forms of violence in home and workplace are the hindrances of women’s emancipation and liberation. The system that perpetuates sufferings, influences negative notion of women and that hinders toward CHANGE must be dealt, addressed and confronted with, first and foremost by the women themselves.

We are not anti-men per se because we love them. I love my husband and my son, I love my father and my brothers, and I love our male priests and bishops… In short, I love men (like the song It’s Raining men, alleluia…). But loving does not mean tolerating but rectifying our love ones. When Jesus became angry to the merchants and those who made business around the temple, it did not mean he no longer love those people. When we are angry to our kids, students, friends, workmates, and superiors and of course to our husbands/wives, boy/girlfriends, and to somebody that we know, and care of… it means WE LOVE THEM.

And if we make known our love to those in the hierarchy: church, school, workplace, government, and those who plunder our natural and human resources, those who produce armaments and make war to other nations and disrespect our sovereignty as a people, WE MUST SHOW OUR LOVE TO THEM BY EXPOSING AND CONDEMNING THEIR ACTIONS.

WE MUST SPEAK, LEAST, WE WILL NEVER BE HEARD. Thus, the IFI Women priests will continue to speak, to make us known not only within the IFI but to the whole world as well.

This afternoon, as we gather here, I know that we have started speaking already the different struggles of women.  Listening to each other’s share our particular struggle, we hope that our small voices will be heard not only within the corners of the ESI Building or within Miriam College but from where we come from, from where we live and from where we want to make the exodus, our journey in life be shared and be heard, starting from this day to the coming days ahead.  When we can watch the dawning of our hopes, dreams and aspirations.

We will make those women ahead of us who risked their lives for total change be proud of us and be our continuing inspiration as we journey together HAND-IN-HAND with the men towards God’s promised of  ABUNDANT LIFE where peace based on justice, love, and equality reside.

CONCLUSION

My dear sisters, thank you for being part with you this afternoon and for letting me share about us, the women priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Let us continue to speak and be heard as we, the women priests of the IFI will do our share as our contribution to the overall women’s struggle. We pray our tribe will increase. God bless us all.

REFERENCES

Ministry and Ministers, part of document The Church of Sweden in Brief

The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood, a second Report by the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England

IFI Constitution and Canons

The Challenge of Jubilee: Re-claiming the Feminist Principle by Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) General Secretary who is a lay theologian and member of the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches (CPBC)

Faith-Seeking Justice, Inclusion of Women to the Sacred Order in the IFI was the degree paper presented by Erahvilla Menchavez Maga to SATS Faculty as requirement to the Bachelor in Theology (B.Th.) Degree.

Researching the Fragments Histories of Women in the Asian Context edited by Carolyn Brewer and Anne-Marie Medcalf

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Genesis j. Francisco
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 09:47:19

    Rev.Erah we from IFI Sto. Nino, Marikina witness how woman Deacon now priest perform from the alatar and we respect her and of course you as our leader. We already met during Deacon grace now Rev Grace ordination as our priest in RIZPAM Salamat po

    Reply

  2. womanclergy
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 11:35:28

    Thanks for visiting my blog, kapatid. Happy to hear comments from the laity and thank you for sharing. Yup, we met at IFI Marikina during the ordination of Rev. Grace who is our inanak ni Fr. Dionie. Salamat po.

    Reply

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