Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum held in Philippines

By Winfred Vergara
Posted Feb 7, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Global Partnerships, Manila] The Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum was held Feb. 3-6 at Trinity University of Asia in Quezon City, Philippines, with some 80 delegates from seminaries and churches discussing the future of theological education and Asian contextualization of theology in the 21st century.

The theme of the forum was “One Table, One Host, Many Guests: An Exploration on Theologies Across Asia-America.” Ten theologians from the Philippines, India, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand presented theological papers and led open forums with seminarians, university students, faculty members and clergy of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines and Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s there was a flurry of theological activities in Asia as Asian Christians reckoned that, as some observers have said, theology was made in Germany, corrected in England, corrupted in America and crammed in Asia. They wanted to break the flowerpot of Western theology and plant the naked seed of the Gospel in the Asian soil. Today, there is a serious exploration on how this thinking has developed and how a renewed theological dialogue can happen more across the Pacific than across the Atlantic. Contextualization is more than indigenization, it is pressing beyond national and geographical boundaries to make Christianity relevant as a living and breathing religion in the 21st century.

The forum was a joint initiative of the Episcopal Church’s Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific, led by Canon Peter Ng, and my office of Asiamerica Ministries, in partnership with the principal of Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong, Gareth Jones. It also was co-sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education in South East Asia, which was represented at the forum by Limuel Equina, director of the Association of Theological Schools in Southeast Asia (ATESEA).

The forum began with a cultural welcome reception from Iglesia Filipina Independiente as overseas guests were treated with a cultural show and the traditional “putungan” (crowning) of the guests. A religious tradition from the island of Marinduque, the guests were serenaded and given crowns and scepters like kings and queens. The IFI has acculturated many indigenous practices into liturgical settings, according to the Most Rev. Ephraim Fajutagana, the IFI’s Obispo Maximo.

The forum coincided with the week-long celebration of the 50th Foundation Anniversary of Trinity University of Asia, one of the premier universities in the Philippines and a product of Episcopal missionary activity at the turn of the 20th century. TUA shares the same location as the national cathedral of the Episcopal Church, St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary and the original St. Luke’s Medical Center. The Cathedral Heights compound is the product of Bishop Charles Henry Brent’s view of looking at mission as a holistic service to the spirit, mind and body.

A Thanksgiving Eucharist was held at TUA Chapel concelebrated by the Most Rev. Edward Malecdan of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the Obispo Maximo Fajutagana and Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii.

In welcoming the theologians, Josefina Sumaya, president of Trinity University, issued a challenge to theologians: “Teach us to love God and neighbor in a language that we all can understand.”

Sam McDonald, director of mission for the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, echoed Sumaya and a former speaker of the U.S. Congress who said: “Politics is local, so theology is also local.”

Among the theologians who made presentations were:

  • * Terry Revollido, dean of Aglipay Central Theological Seminary, on “The Theological History of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the Ecumenical Eucharistic Vision”;
  • * Dean Patrick Tanhuanco of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, on “Theological Education in the Anglican Province of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ”;
  • * The Rev. Lizette Galima Tapia-Raquel, feminist and professor at Union Theological Seminary, on “Crying-Out, Resisting, Asserting, Celebrating: The Gospel according to Lualhati Bautista”;
  • * Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, former professor at St. John’s College in New Zealand, on “Re-thinking Contextual Theological Education – Whose ‘Con’ and Whose ‘Text’?”;
  • * Canon Michael Poon, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia in Singapore, on “Communicating Communion: Contextualizing Amid Globalizing in the Asia Pacific”;
  • * Dr. Royce M. Victor, Professor of the Old Testament at the Kerala Theological Seminary in India on “New Trends in Dalit Theology;”
  • * Canon Gran Kazuko Kanzaki, canon of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Tokyo on “Woman’s Ministry in the Ordination Process and its Development in the NSKK (Nippon Sei Ko Kai)”; and
  • * Dr. Sze-kar Wan, professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology of the Southern Methodist University in Texas on “Translate to Transgress: A Theological Account of the Chinese Bible.”

The forum also held morning services at the beautiful chapel of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary and featured as homilists, the Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Bishop Fitzpatrick of Hawaii.

We are exploring the possibility of holding another forum next year, possibly in Hong Kong and involving more theologians from across Asia-America.

— The Rev. Fred Vergara, missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Episcopal Church, was one of the organizers of the Philippines forum. He also delivered a presentation on “Embracing Diversity and Transcending Contexts: The Neighborological Theology of Kosuke Koyama and Asian Contribution to Global Theology.”