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Philippine United Methodists elect two new bishops

12/21/2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By Rebecca C. Asedillo*

United Methodists elected two new bishops during the Philippine Central Conference sessions Dec. 13-17 in Cabanatuan City, north of Manila.

Elected were the Rev. Leo Soriano, administrative assistant to Bishop Paul Locke A. Granadosin of the church's Davao Area, and the Rev. Benjamin Justo, a seminary professor and former dean of academic affairs at Union Theological Seminary in Manila. The conference was unable to elect a third bishop.

Both new bishops have publicly advocated for an affiliated autonomous relationship with the United Methodist Church. In church parlance, an affiliated autonomous Methodist church is a self-governing body that has by mutual agreement entered into a covenant or relationship with the United Methodist Church.

"We would love to see a Methodist Church in this new millennium whose structure is designed to fit its mission in the Philippine context, sovereign in managing its own affairs, yet in harmonious relationship with other denominations both here and abroad," Soriano told a clergy retreat on the southern island of Mindanao in July.

While presiding over the conference as a newly consecrated bishop, however, Soriano had to rule out of order the petitions from four annual conferences that advocated for an affiliated autonomous relationship with the United Methodist Church.

His ruling was based on previous rulings upheld by the Judicial Council, the denomination's highest court, that matters of autonomy could only proceed if all the 17 annual conferences within the Philippine Central Conference would submit similar petition. A delegate immediately appealed Soriano's ruling to the Judicial Council.

Soriano, who is also a medical doctor, has served as a person-in-mission assigned to health ministries among the poor, rural population of Mindanao. He also has served as the Mindanao Annual Conference secretary and chairman of the conference board of ordained ministry. Prior to the election, he worked with Granadosin, who was reactivated as bishop when the previous Central Conference failed to elect a new bishop.

Endorsed by the Mindanao Annual Conference and joint cabinet of the Davao area, Soriano was elected on the fifth ballot. Presiding over conference sessions during the elections was Arkansas Bishop Janice Huie.

Justo, elected on the seventh ballot, previously had been president of the Methodist-related Aldersgate College in the province of Nueva Vizcaya and for six years served as a district superintendent in the same northern Luzon area. He was a 1984 General Conference delegate and member of the denomination's Connectional Process Team, and served a local congregation in Tarzana, Calif., in a pastor's exchange program.

When a third bishop was not elected, hopes were dashed for the United Methodist Women's Society for Christian Service and its attempt to elect a female bishop. The organization had officially endorsed the candidacy of the Rev. Elizabeth S. Tapia, the current academic dean of Union Theological Seminary in Manila, who is a feminist theologian and renowned ecumenical leader.

The choice for a third bishop will be decided at a Philippine College of Bishops meeting scheduled for Dec. 23. Based on Paragraph 408 of the Book of Discipline, the vacant episcopal slot will be filled by the denomination's Council of Bishops upon nomination of the central conference's college of bishops. The nomination is expected to go to one of the two retiring bishops: Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr., who supports autonomy, and Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil, who opposes it.

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*Asedillo is a freelance writer and United Methodist deaconess who resides in Baltimore.

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