Commentary on the ECP-IFI Concordat

The Episcopal Church in the Philippines and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente celebrated their concordat on February 21, 2013.  Part of the celebration is a lecture on the concordat.  Below is the paper delivered by Rev. Rex Reyes, Jr., NCCP General Secretary.

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The late Dr. William Henry Scott once described the 1961 Concordat between the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) and the PECUSA, including the PIC-PEC Joint Council for that matter, as one of the ecclesiastical accidents in Philippine Church history.  Somehow, this points to the historical beginnings of both churches and the particular context when the Concordat was signed.  It is still a fascinating subject to talk about.  It could be a good thesis for theological students given that to this day there are varied opinions about this 1961 Concordat.  Equally a fascinating study is one of the implementing mechanisms of that Concordat – that creature called the PIC-PEC Joint Council which gradually fizzled out simply because there were no more funds to talk about or to be more precise to haggle for.  There was no proper closure of the Joint Council.  What remained after that were a mixture of good memories, resentment and those pesky joint properties that became a constant pain in the neck for both the PIC-PEC and of course, its lessons.

Very Rev. Terry Revollido, at our celebration last year, gave a historical sketch of the Concordat.  What I’d like to do now is to recall some of the highlights of the work towards the signing of the 1997 Concordat and then go on to submit some proposals to both churches.

As it is, a window of opportunity was opened in 1990.  At its Primary Synod as an Anglican Province of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines in May 1990, the ECP approved the resolution sponsored by Bishop Artemio Zabala mandating the “Commission on Mission & Ecumenical Relations to initiate ecumenical dialogue with the IFI equivalent body and seek definition of new terms of relationship appropriate to the two ecclesiastical bodies under present circumstances”.  The mandate says a lot about where we were at one point, and of an intention to build on a historical relationship given the autonomous status of the ECP and therefore a relationship between two independent and self-determining churches.  At that time some of the comments were “Anong makukuha natin diyan? (What benefit is of to us?)  Or “Would the IFI be interested?”  On hindsight much of the reactions were due to experiences in the Joint Council.  There were neither theological nor missiological debates on the merits of doing so.  In any case, both churches went on to form their respective panels.  The ECP panel was headed by Bishop Robert Lee Longid while the IFI panel was headed, if I am not mistaken, by Bishop Tom Millamena.  Much of the work of the joint panel was followed through by designated panel staff members from both churches.  Ms. Carmencita Karagdag-Peralta was IFI panel staff during the first half until Fr. Ephraim Fajutagana took over.  Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr. was the ECP panel staff, from the start.  At the core of the panel discussions at least within the ECP panel, was reviewing how the concordat was lived out by the PIC and the PEC if only to learn its lessons.  One thing was clear the Joint Council was history and can never be a structure in future concordats.  Then discussions ensued on the context of both churches and the theological and missiological challenges imposed by this context.  A second thing was clear there will be no more funds to talk about – For all the good the funds did the panel had an air of being freed from it.

In short, the joint panel recommended the adoption of the PIC-PECUSA Concordat in toto, but with the addition of a fourth term that places premium on unity in mission, ministry and witness, thus:  “Full communion seeks to proclaim and manifest more fully unity in the mission of God, the ministry of Christ and the witness of the Holy Spirit.”  It is obvious there is an expressed determination to hold high the lessons of the past and make the Concordat focus on mission, ministry and witness sans the funds from the U. S.  The Concordat between the IFI and of the church in Melanesia also adopted this term while adding two more.

To add more emphasis on what this Concordat between the IFI and the ECP mission should be, both churches agreed to set the signing of the Concordat at ceremonies to be held at the St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary on February 17, 1997, both place and date bearing significance to both churches.  St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary as we know, has sought to live out the spirit of the Concordat a few years after it opened.  February 17 is of course the date when the three Filipino priests were martyred.  The testimony of SATS reminds us of the theological reasons for Concordats and the date puts the churches squarely on the fact of the continuing revolution (social and national transformation or renewal if you don’t like the term revolution) and of which the IFI is among its enduring signs.

The 1997 Concordat called for an Advisory Council.  Still a sore thumb was the matter of joint properties especially in Mindanao.  At one point the staff persons recommended that if no solution was in sight, it might be a better option to get rid of these and give the same to some people’s organization or give the undeveloped real estate to farmers.  The Regional Advisory Council was a way out where affected dioceses in the IFI and the ECP were encouraged to meet and come out with mutually agreed settlements.  This was what happened in Mindanao.  For the first time, they also had a joint clericus and were able to produce a joint statement of how they looked at the Mindanao situation at that time.  During the crucial years of the Estrada presidency, the Prime Bishop and the Obispo Maximo issued a joint statement denouncing the all out war policy and joining the groundswell for the president to resign.

It has been 16 years since the signing of the IFI-ECP Concordat.  Within that period, both churches have demonstrated a certain level of maturity in their relationship and much of the bitterness of the Joint Council years are now but a chapter as both churches take on the greater issues of mission.  I do not underestimate the liturgical services held at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary year after year in observance of the Concordat.  But, it might be worth our while if the Advisory Council can be convoked again to look more proactively into common ways of proclaiming and manifesting unity in mission, ministry and witness in these trying times.    I submit some proposals that the leaders of our churches can hopefully consider.

1)       That the Prime Bishop and Obispo Maximo appoint to the Advisory Council, persons who have the passion for cooperation in mission and who can hold high the Concordat churches in these difficult times.  We have lived out the first three terms.  Equally crucial is the fourth.  That Advisory Council can meet every 18 months to assess its work and be a continuing body to encourage both churches.

2)      There are things that become more effective when done together.  The tradition of the IFI and that of the ECP do not necessarily clash.  They could complement each other in our continuing discernment of how we may proclaim God’s mission, ministry and witness.  Members of both churches are active in the ecumenical movement in this country.  When the NCCP was inaugurated 50 years ago, the Chair and Vice Chair were the Obispo Maximo of the IFI and the Bishop of the PEC, respectively.  Today, as we close the first 50 years of the NCCP and begin the next 50 years, the Chair is the Obispo Maximo of the IFI.  There are four Vice-Chairpersons now but the current General Secretary is a member of the ECP.  Our churches are located in the centers and in the margins.  Being churches in the centers we can challenge power relations and issues that oppress – systems that continue to disempower people.  As churches in the margins, we are continually reminded of our responsibility to protect and preserve human dignity.

3)      The IFI and the ECP have also shown leadership in the Asian region.  We are able to hold an Asian Anglican Conference on Migrant Workers in Hong Kong.  And there were visions of a bishops’ or clerical institute for Asia in the Philippines to provide space for our young clerics to understand more fully what it means to be an ordained minister or bishop in this country or in Asia.

The Concordat can yet be a relevant institution for the benefit of both churches and a great opportunity for service in our country.  Theologically and pastorally, the Concordat impels us to be churches for others more and more, just as our Lord was a person for others.

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Post Script:  After the presentation, I was reminded by Bishop Delfin Callao of the IFI Diocese of Davao that a year or two ago, the Concordat churches observed the signing at a gathering in Koronadal.

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