“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”Scripture Reading
Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
From time to time, bilang pastor, as I lay my head to sleep. Paminsan-minsan lang naman. I imagine Open Table’s church facility.
The main sanctuary building is circular with the altar at the center. The sanctuary can house three hundred individuals and another one hundred individuals in the balcony area, which is also circular. Kapag full house siya, kasya ang mga five hundred individuals. It has it’s own technical booth for lights, audio, and live streaming.
The outer circle is the receiving area. It has a receiving area or social area, with small side chapels. A chapel for the Holy Spirit where smaller worship services can be done, especially ‘yong contemporary worship. There’s an ecumenical chapel of justice and peace, then another side chapel of the saints – for your more high church oriented members.
Then in one of the major walls of the inner circle, there’s the historical timeline of the LGBTQI+ movement in the Philippines.
There’s a basement, a kind of necropolis sanctuary. It is the chapel for funerals and wakes.The sides chapels would hold the relics of Mike Mia, Richard Mickley, Pastor Egay, and Choi. It will also be the columbarium of Pastor Kakay. The columbarium of all pastors of Open Table who are in good standing. (Take note: in good standing.) In one of its walls will be what we call the “Tree of Life.” Similar to the Jewish synagogues, nando’n ‘yong names ng mga yumao nilang members.
Outside the sanctuary is the Mia and Mickey Social Hall that can hold about the same three hundred individuals. It is like an events tent na puwedeng open, puwede ring closed. Na may air-conditioning or puwedeng walang air-conditioning.
Then you have the Choi Admin Building na may four floors. First floor are the office of the pastors, the secretariat office, also known as the directorate, Pride Cares office and storage. It is on ground floor, for accessibility.
The second floor will be the offices of the treasury and finance, the office of operations and administration. Then you also have the institute for Queer Theology Center
Sa third floor, the different ministry rooms or offices. May music room, room for communications and technology, office for advocacy and justice work, and office for spiritual care
The fourth floor will be the accommodation rooms for guests. Complete with the pantry, dining area, and living area.
At the back of the sanctuary is the Egay Pastoral House. Just a small two-storey house with two bedrooms and one study room with living area, kitchen and dining.
In front of the main property will be the Philippine flag, the inclusive rainbow flag, -and also a white flag symbolizing peace.
Na-imagine ko rin, may sariling bell tower. Taray!
And then, I imagine, during Easter and Christmas services, and also during Pentecost, punung-puno ng sangka-accla-an ang simbahang ito, together with cis-hetero individuals, heterosexual individuals and families, and we finally have queer families and straight families bringing their children to Queer Church.
But… Pero, subalit… As your pastor, in-imagine ko ‘yan! Pinapangarap ko ‘yan. But as your pastor, I strongly feel in my heart and in my gut that this may not exactly be what God intends for us to become or to have. Although God has proven me wrong many times already. So, sino ba naman ako para umaayaw at sabihin kay Lord, “Hindi ko bet ‘yan,” ‘di ba? Kung ibibigay naman, bakit hindi, ‘di ba?
Pero I don’t think so.
But kidding aside, I think, on this one, medyo accurate ako to feel and think that God does not intend us to become a megachurch, and to give us a palace like this.
Alisin n’yo muna ang spiritual eme-eme, si God ang magbibigay, et cetera. Alisin n’yo muna ‘yan. Puntahan na lang natin ang realidad.
This kind of property todaywill cost anywhere between 700-800 million up to a billion Pesos. Lupa pa lang sa Metro Manila, at 1,000 sqm, will already cost you several hundred million.
If some rich person will give us a billion pesos for this property, what principles and values of ours do we need to sacrifice? Or if a group of rich Filipino-Chinese ay magtutulung-tulong para ma-raise ang perang iyan for a property like this, how would they influence and affect our commitment to justice and solidarity to the poor and the marginalized?
So, both by spiritual discernment and also the reality we have today, I do not think that we are intended for a property such as this. Because the more important thing is the flame of the lamp, and not the lamp vessel itself. The flame can come from many different kinds of vessels, not just a pretty lamp, or a big lamp.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world. A lamp is lighted not to be hidden, “but to be set on top of a stand, so that everybody may see its light.” So suriin natin itong parable na ito, The Parable of the Lamp. Ang nakikita ay iyong liwanag. It is the flame that gives light. And the value of any oil lamp is its capacity to effectively produce fire with the oil that is inside.
I’m not saying that the lamp is not important. It is important because it holds the oil, and it facilitates the slow and careful burning of the oil to produce the flame. And we can consider the lamp as itong bagong sanctuary natin ngayon. In a metaphorical and symbolic way, this is a lamp, the chapel of Open Table MCC. At tayo, we are the oil inside of the lamp.
The resources you share and give, the energy, the skills, the patience, the pagod, the attention you spend here is the flame that gives light. The ministry and advocacy we do together by what we burn is the very life you burn in this community. Kasi you burn life in this community. You burn your patience here. You burn your money here. For many of us.
One of the first things we learned in seminary is the “burning”… ‘Yong sabing, “the salt and the light of the world.” Pa’no magiging light kung hindi ka susunugin? Gagawing panggatong. ‘Di ba?
But for today’s context, this is the lamp, a new lamp that was given to us. And we are the oil poured into this lamp. And we are burning our life, our resources, our energy in this community. The very life you burn in this community is the flame that gives light, at ‘yon din naman ‘yong sabi doon sa Gospel. “The light is synonymous to the good that we do.”
Ano’ng sabi ni Jesus doon? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, “so that they may see your good works “and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” We need a lamp to house us. Yes. But if we will be more interested in the vessel rather than the oil and its burning, then we have become misguided and distracted.
Kapag ang atensyon at energy natin ay mas nakatuon doon sa vessel, rather than the quality of oil that’s being poured inside. What is the lamp without the oil that burns? It can be pretty, in a pretty display, on a shelf, but it is useless. Dead.
And I dare say that it is the flame and it’s effectivity that will dictate if we need a new and better lamp vessel. Kung apoy ang magdidikta kung kailangan ba natin ng panibagong lalagyan and not the other way around na ‘yong lalagyan ang magdidikta ng apoy mo. ‘Yong apoy ang magdidikta ng ano ang maghahawak sa kaniya.
A church that is doing its mission effectively and as best as they could will naturally be given the proper lamp vessel. The facility that it needs to do greater work. And to widen the circle of its community. But of course hindi rin naman lahat ng malaki at magagandang lampara ay nagbibigay liwanag. Sa sobrang laki no’ng lampara, dilim anino nito ang winawaksi sa iilan.
Think of it. Mayroon bang simbahan na lumaking sobra na hindi naging imperio? Mayroon bang isang community na lumaki ng sobra-sobra na hindi naging what it criticized when it was still small?
There is nothing in history. So I really don’t think that we are to have the same kind of facility as the one in Ortigas extension. I don’t think so. (Although again, hindi ko tatanggihan ito.) But that is not a kind of mega church facility. So we can have such a big lamp. But haven’t we seen that a bigger lamp casts a bigger shadow. And that they prefer to put into the shadow a few of their people. Yes, we can be proud, enjoy full and celebrate that we now have a better lamp vessel.
I would like to believe and interpret that we are doing some good. ‘Di naman tayo good all the time. But we are doing some good, I think. We are doing a little bit of good. We are not and cannot solve all the problems of our queer people. Or the LGBTQI+ community in the Philippines. But I feel and think somehow we are doing a little bit of good with all the kapaguran we are burning and doing together. So I think this good we are doing, we have been gifted with a lamp vessel that can burn our flame better.
Someone asked me. Isang progresibong kapanalig natin. Ang tanong niya: why do you need such an expensive space? Are you not able to do ministry and advocacy without it? Can you not use the money for helping people better? Wala naman sa magandang kapilya ang gawain ng panginoon. Totoo naman.
And then may pumangalawa pa. Ito naman, ako ‘yong nagtanong. Ano ba ang tingin n’yo sa Open Table MCC? So ang chika niya sa akin (and I felt it was a knee-jerk reaction) the measure of success ng isang church ay wala sa sustainability. Sabi niyang ganon sa akin. Tama rin naman.
So these words are coming from people who are tibak. Really progressive, kapanalig natin. Kaibigan natin. And I know they mean well, but perhaps mayro’n din silang blinders and unrealistic expectations sa Open Table MCC. After all, no matter how wise they are, and they are wise, no one is perfect and no one speaks perfectly all the time.
At the same time I want to point out that these well-meaning friends of ours are people who never had to think about or struggle with the very basic of things of a community or church. They simply go to their church on a Sunday and everything they need is in their beautiful church facilities. They are so used to the beautiful lamp, that they light every single week, that when a new lamp like Open Table MCC is introduced, they suddenly, in a reactionary way, question it.
So I was taken a back a little bit. There’s a part of me that wants to push back. And yes, I am pushing back. To say that our church community has had to endure unimaginable pain and struggles. Hindi lang tayo mukhang kawawa. There was a time, kawawa talaga ang Open Table MCC. For a very long time. There was a time like that, and I felt that a few times. Iyong pakiramdam na awang-awa ka sa sarili mo, sa simbahan mo, for not having the resources and the people.
At gusto ko na sana sabihin do’n sa kanila na: ano gusto n’yo? I-romantize natin ang pagiging unsecure ng ng Open Table MCC? I-romaticize natin ‘yong progressive church ay walang permanente at maayos na tahanan, magulo, makalat, walang kaayusan? A pastor sitting at the gutter one pandemic night feeling so sorry and low about himself and his church, thinking: I just can’t do this anymore.
Ang pamantayan ng success ay ‘yong mabaliw-baliw na ako sa kung paano ba maging maayos ang simbahan na ito. Na ngayon maayos na! (Well marami pa rin naman aayusin.)
So hindi ito ang pamantayan ng success? Isang waste of money ang lahat ng bagay na ito. At ang chapel na ito. Walang saysay na gastos. And this coming from people who do not have to think about nor struggle with the most basic of needs of a community, of a church organization because they worship in a facility did that has everything already in it.
Sorry if I wanted just a little bit of dignity and if we feel, as a historically marginalized group of queer Christians, we feel and think we also deserve a little bit of dignity. A dignified space we can call our own, and we can be proud of.
If we think we are worthy of a press presentable lamp vessel to contain good olive oil let has been burning good flame for a few years.
Now, dito sa church dito sa Open Table we always say and promote here, Truths can be plural. And truths can be contradictory. Some truths can oppose each other but remain to be both true. There’s truth to what they said. Totoo naman. These are friends of ours. They are reminders not to become that which we criticize in the first place. It is a good reminder for us not to rest easy simply because ang ganda na ng ating chapel. And to think that the lamp vessel is already the point of the mission we are call to do. That becoming a mega church, a kingdom is the goal and the end point.
We are not called to establish small kingdoms on earth. If you really read your bible everyday and pray, you will come to the realization that we are called to dismantle kingdoms and monarchies including church through the work of community and diversity.
The original Jesus movement was small communities from different places because they do not subscribe to empire. Because when you grow too big, it’s not even about anything.
Our success as a church is not the lamp vessel, but in the lives we change in the communities we reach. By what we do every week, every month and every year.
Open Table MCC: a flame giving light in the dark, intersecting roads of sexuality and Christianity. We are reminded by our friends, kahit napataas nang kaunti ang kilay ko, those reminders are good reminders. There’s wisdom in their words. While at the same time, “hell yeah I’ll celebrate this!” I’ll celebrate a better lamp vessel that will allow us to receive new oil, burn better, and give a more cost efficient light. Rainbow lamp, ‘di ba?
You all are the oil added to this lamp vessel and hopefully in the coming months and years, more oil will be added in our lamp. A lamp vessel not just the physical chapel but also as the community. You are the oil that burns, set ablaze by the spirit of the living God and I celebrate not only the flame that comes from your burning, but also the gift of a new lamp placed on top of a stand on sixteenth floor, bringing the light of a few good works that will continue to change lives, one queer child after another. Just a few good works whose light will last, after you and I, the old oil, are utterly spent.
So, Open Table MCC, we have been gifted a new lamp vessel. Tayo ay biniyayaan ng bagong lamp vessel, Wilshire ang pangalan. Ready to burn.
Are you ready to be set ablaze. Ready na ba kayong magliyab? Carry na ba tayong silaban ng Holy Spirit para magliwanag? Holy Spirit activate.
And therefore we pray: come spirit, come let your love blaze in us and through us, in the most fabulous and colorful way. Amen!