Rev. Ceejay Agbayani
Metropolitan Community Church-Quezon City
In 1999, Oliver Andaya, his close friend, invited then Ceejay Agbayani to attend a Bible study of mostly gay and bisexual men somewhere in Diliman, Quezon City. As it was during his “SM North EDSA ‘rampa’ days,” Agbayani was a big “skeptic with the idea – I have the Roman Catholic notion that Bible study is for Protestants, (plus) homosexuals reading the Bible is a little but shocking for me,” Agbayani recalls. “I remember vividly saying to (Andaya): ‘Ano ito? Langis at tubig? Hindi mo mapagsasama ang mga bakla at Bible study!’”
Agbayani decided to attend, nonetheless, a Friday Bible study at the apartment rented by Gary Apolonio – but “at first, my real motivation to attend this meeting was that I hoping that I could meet a guy in the group to be my ‘jowa’ or ‘churva,’” he admits. It turned out that “I’d like the idea of (the fusion of) homosexuality and spirituality, so that, since then, I attended all of Metropolitan Community Church’s (MCC) activities – from the Pasig Bible study every Wednesday, Taft Bible study every Thursday, the Friday overnight prayer meetings, the Sunday worship services in Shalom Center in Manila, et cetera. I was hooked – I had to know more about this group because I felt very curious about its doctrines, beliefs, and what this church is all about. I never missed any single Worship services of MCC.”
Under the helm of Rev. Edgar Mendoza, who was the MCC pastor then (after the retirement of Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D., the one to establish MCC in the Philippines in 1991), Agbayani was able to experience his first Pride celebration in 2000, when “my attendance was an experience I never expected. I was thrilled and happy to march with many gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender in Malate (in the City of Manila), and it boosted my morale that it is okay to gay and Christian. At that time, I was very, very proud to be gay and happy.”
ANSWERING A CALL
In 2001, internal issues troubled the local MCC, which needed the Mother Church to intervene – the solution was the establishment of a five-member Interim Ministry Team, with Agbayani chosen as a member. By December 2001, Agbayani became the Interim Pastoral Leader of MCC in Philippines (by the virtue given by then Rev. Judy Dahl, the minister who handled the MCC chapters outside the US).
In June 2002, “a clergy invited me to go on theological studies in the Union Theological Seminary, where, until March 2008, I studied Master of Divinity in Dasmarinas, Cavite, the oldest Protestant seminary run by the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the United Methodist Church (UMC),” Agbayani recalls.
After completion of the course, “I actually became the first openly gay seminarian to graduate in this 102 year old seminary. I was given the award of ‘The Bishop La Verne Mercado Award in Ecumenics.’”
On September 14, 2008, Agbayani was ordained by the Rev. Elder Ken Martin, an MCC elder serving Region 1, also known as the bishop, at the UCCP EDSA chapel during the second anniversary of MCC Quezon City (MCCQC). He is now the second Filipino clergy ordained by the Universal Fellowship of MCC.
Interestingly, even if Agbayani’s baccalaureate degree is AB Political Science (“I could have been a lawyer or a teacher,” he says, considering that “I never thought to be a pastor of a church”), after finishing high school in 1990, “I actually entered the Order of Friar Minor Conventual, a Franciscan Order, in Novaliches, Quezon City for a year. I decided to leave the seminary on November 7, 1991, because of my family – I wanted to focus on my family, to work and to have a lot of money for my family as we had financial problems.”
FINDING THE SOUL
“There are a lot of challenges (for MCC) – my personal ambition, and the mission and vision of the MCC,” Agbayani says. “But I always say to myself, ‘What a profit of a man if he gains the whole world and losses his soul?’ I might not have a lot of money in my pocket but I have a lot lives that I’ve touched because of the ministry of MCC towards the homosexuals,” he says.
Among the biggest of the challenges that MCC is facing has to do with building the credibility of MCC as a church. “A church like all mainstream churches,” Agbayani says. “MCC has no physical church yet, and we are still renting a space for our Sunday worship services. This is not helped by the lack of funds, (what with) almost all members, but not all, not working; some are only students who want to have a group to identify with.”
And then there’s the “big challenge (of spreading) the Good News to Pinoy LGBTs; that we now have a church like MCC where you could go to and worship God without any problems with your sexuality.”
Agbayani adds: “Pinoy LGBTs are still skeptical with the idea of a gay church. They think that gay church is blasphemous and hypocritical. And that our sexuality can not mixed up with our spirituality. The idea of a church for homosexuals is not possible. You know, I believe that issue of homosexuality is a religious thing. Although, of course, I know that gay rights is a human rights. But as long as we changed our minds, thoughts about homosexuality is not a sin. We can not have a clear mind about our spirituality. Our spirituality will follow (us until) our sexuality is secured. Meaning, if a gay person recognizes and acknowledges that it is okay to be gay, then his or her longing for a God to worship, praise, and adore will surely follow.”
Agbayani expects for MCC to soon have its own “physical church,” perhaps when the membership reached over 150, and “money will not be a problem anymore.” This way, “spreading the Good News will be much more easier.”
For now, though, there are achievements Agbayani is proud of – e.g. “to be the first openly gay seminarian in Union Theological Seminary; to be the first Filipino clergy of MCC ordained in the Philippines (Mendoza was ordained in the US); to be the first Filipino clergy to have a formal theological degree under Master of Divinity; to have helped establish MCCQC, the first local church of MCC in the Philippines; and the growing of MCC in Baguio City, even as there are already plans to have churches in Cebu City and in Davao City.”
For Agbayani, “we will grow if people knew we are here. That is why (I am motivated to) promote MCC via Web sites, social networks, mIRC, and other modes of promotion and propaganda. My desire is that one day, MCC could have its own billboard in EDSA.”
As a Christian denomination, MCC’s most prominent stance is in believing that homosexuality is not a sin. “We believed, based also in the Bible, that homosexuality is not a sin. And that the Bible is not ant gay but rather pro marginalized – we recognize and believe that Jesus Christ would never ever discriminate,” Agbayani says. “What is interesting with MCC is that we never argue on the Table of the Lord, whether it is transubstantiation or consubstantiation, what matters to MCC is that we worship God in spirit and in truth regardless of our sexuality.”
Not that the LGBT community has been the best audience, truth be told.
“(I remain disappointed with the LGBT community in the Philippines) because we are divided with political ideologies. Can we not be united with one common cause of action without ideologies, but rather common experiences?” Agbayani says, adding that he remains hopeful, nonetheless, since “we can be united, if we will all work very hard to have it. There is hope. We can tear down the walls, we can build up hope.”
For Agbayani, the solution is in education. “If we transform minds and hearts, we will transform our lives, then we will surely have a different history. Dialogues and forums, conferences and conventions, I think, will be of great help. The more venues to discuss our experiences (will provide us with) chances to know what to do. We will know how to counter the present anti-gay culture,” he says. Thus, “the gay community should organize itself, otherwise, who will help us? ‘Di ba tayo din ang makakatulong sa atin?”
Thus, for now, the push is to give LGBT’s a venue to worship – a venue that proves that God is love.
And it’s all in a day’s work for Agbayani.