Rev. Michael Angelo A. Sotero
Metropolitan Community Church-Metro Baguio
Michael Angelo A. Sotero – better known as just Myke – knew of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) “way back in 1997, after meeting Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D. in (the Pride parade) in the city of Manila,” he recalls. The connection strengthened in 2003, when Myke and his late partner “entered our relationship in a Holy Union that became Baguio City’s first well-publicized gay Holy Union, officiated by Fr. Mickley, then already the head of the Order of St. Aelred.” It was then that “I informed him that I wanted to enter the ministry, and build a gay-friendly denomination in the (Baguio City).”
The drive, for Myke, was to “focus my energy in LGBT advocacies and human rights campaigns. I have always wanted a Christian denomination that welcomes people regardless of what their sexual preferences are. Growing up as a Roman Catholic, I felt losing a part of me whenever I come to church. I was part of a local church choir and had been active in church activities, but I needed to lie about my homosexuality knowing that mainline church doctrines frown upon people who are different,” he says. “The feeling of not being worthy of God made me question the validity of my faith and what I was taught to believe. I have stopped coming to church and even questioned the existence of the Divine.”
Even while Fr. Mickley helped guide Myke’s earlier learning, in 2005, he met Rev. Ceejay Agbayani, with whom he discussed starting a Bible study group for LGBTs in Baguio City, in the hopes that this would be the starting seed for the MCC in the region – a plan that took shape in 2008, and, by January 30, 2009, progressed to the establishment of the MCC-Metro Baguio (MCCMB).
Myke, who finished his Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication degree from the Baguio Colleges Foundation in 1998, has had numerous career shifts – e.g. E-representative at Peoplesupport Baguio (2007 to 2008), correspondent cum videographer for the Tan-aw Multimedia Collective (2002 to 2007), medical representative of Metro Pharma Philippines Inc. (1999 to 2001), external relations officer and peer educator of ReachOut AIDS Education Foundation (1996 to 1998), and news writer for the Baguio Midland Courier (1997). But it was around this time (early 2009), too, that Myke realized this was his calling, so he entered the Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS) in Baguio City to pursue a Masters of Divinity studies in June 2009, and was, thus, and was installed the MCCMB’s Interim Pastoral Leader.
“I was hesitant to come out upon entering the seminary. I kept the nature of my ministry to myself and tried to test the waters (to check) how my co-seminarians would react when they learn that I’m with a gay church. Although I’m aware that the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), which manages the seminary I was in, possesses many progressive minds, half of it is still conservative. A gay seminarian may send the institution panicking, (and I may) get kicked out from their halls,” Myke recalls.
However, one time, one subject in class led to a discussion about homosexuality, and Myke said he “felt the urge to speak out.”
“I was coming out finally and to my surprise, they all welcomed me as an equal,” Myke says.
Now as the pastor, “keeping the flock together is a challenge faced by any pastor. Being an open house church, people just come and go. Many have other priorities in their career (though I’m okay with that),” he identifies as a challenge for MCCMB, adding that there is also the problem of finding financial sources, so that “my partner and I rely on our personal money for the needs of the church during our regular worship services. I have opened my home for this purpose but members find it inaccessible and impractical to attend MCCMB services due to the distance of my home from the city’s Central Business District.”
Slowly, but surely, the church has been growing, though.
“Being a relatively young congregation, the biggest achievement that I could think of is the successful conclusion of the Baguio Pride Week, where MCCMB took an active part in organizing and sponsoring an ecumenical Pride mass before the parade,” says Myke, recalling that the gathering “was also the day I was installed officially as MCCMB’s interim pastor.”
Myke is now also an active member of the Baguio Pride Network (BPN), which the MCCMB is part of. The BPN is the broadest LGBT network in the city which spearheads the annual LGBT Pride activity in Baguio City.
“I’ve have become more spiritual now that I’m a pastor than before I joined the MCC. It helped me in my understanding of the Scriptures and critical of all the things I learned from my Catholic faith. The experience had been liberating for me. I’m free of the blind dogmas and beliefs now that I learned of God’s unconditional and universal love for all His children,” Myke says.
The LGBT community, says Myke, still has a lot to do. There’s the “division and politics of the LGBT community, (which) I frown upon. It is like a slap on our own faces,” he says. Still, “I am inspired by the uniqueness and free-spirited people in it. We’re not afraid to speak our minds out and we have a way of saying it with a touch of class and sophistication.”
Among the key issues he believes the LGBT community has to focus on are: equal rights, HIV-AIDS, and hate crimes. “The LGBTQIA community needs to claim its rights denied to us for so long. We are not asking for special privileges but just affirming the same rights accorded to the straight community, e.g. marriage rights; we should also focus on the campaign for HIV and AIDS awareness as gay men are vulnerable to the disease, and an increasing number of gay men are contracting the virus due to unsafe sexual practices; and with hate crimes (increasing), we should do all we can to help in the campaign to put an end to hate, fueled by wrong Christian doctrines and homophobia.”
Myke adds: “The MCC ministry is in itself an advocacy to unite the community of LGBT religious to fight for their rights as members of society. It reassures the community that God’s love for them is universal and unconditional, dispelling the common belief that being gay is sinful. The MCC offers a sanctuary for the LGBTs if they feel alienated by their church’s intolerance of people who are different. We preach the theology of love, inclusion and ecumenism and everyone is welcome to build a lasting relationship with God without changing their sexual preference. And with love, we could overcome hate, homophobia and bigotry in our society.”