How to Celebrate a Centenary Amid a Raging Pandemic?

How to Celebrate a Centenary Amid a Raging Pandemic?

How to Celebrate a Centenary Amid a Raging Pandemic?
A Wrap-Up of the Silliman University Divinity School’s Virtual Centennial Celebration

Silliman University Divinity School (SUDS) marked its centenary through a series of virtual events held from August 28 to 30, 2021 via  Zoom, participated by its alumni, former students and faculty, friends, and benefactors.

The Opening Liturgy held August 28 was made live thru Zoom and Facebook from the makeshift broadcast room at the McKinley Hall inside the campus of the SUDS. A mix of indigenous and western hymns used during the worship symbolized the narrative of the formation center, being founded by the American missionaries and was later on taken over by Filipino faculty and administrators.

The efforts of indigenizing worship began through the works of Dr. Elena Granada Maquiso through the publication of the “1974 Alawiton sa Pagtoo” and Rev. Lydia Niguidula, a mentor in Christian education, indigenous and creative liturgy at the formation center.

Rev. Niguidula also holds the record as the first Filipina to compile and publish a sourcebook in Christian worship titled “Celebration” in 2004.

As the Divinity School marks its centenary, it cannot be denied that the worship life of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the ecumenical movement across the globe has been enriched by training church workers on this aspect and later with the publication of the UCCP’s hymnal, the “Hymnal of a Faith Journey” in 2002 with Grace Roble-Tabada as project leader.

During the virtual liturgy, the participation of alumni and friends from across the globe in the virtual song productions added to the vibrance of the celebration. The anthem “Magpasalamat” composed by alumna Helen S. Tejero, arranged by Ms. Gina Raakin, and sung by the SUDS Centennial Choir, imbued the message of gratefulness and praise to God for the formation center’s ministry for a hundred years now.

Delivering the keynote address was Rev. Derek Duncan from the United Church USA and Disciples of Christ, which traces its roots to the Congregationalists who founded the then Silliman Bible School in 1921 with the purpose of training evangelists and pastors for the Cebuano-speaking congregations in Visayas and Mindanao.

Titled, “I love to (Re)tell the Story,” Rev. Duncan shared: “God’s love helps us open up our stories to new visions and possibilities beyond our expectations and even beyond our imagining. We must be open for change—to be prepared for ourselves and our communities to be transformed by the ministry and witness of others.”

He also added, “Whatever story of faith Silliman Divinity School tells and retells in this next century, you will be open to engage it because you are laying the groundwork and building the structures to explore new reflections of those ‘unseen things above.’ Your re-telling will be a new, ‘old, old story,’ but one that will remain faithful to Jesus and his love.”

After the worship, there was a joyous gathering of alumni and friends inside the Zoom Room and there was that endless “Kumustahan.” Not far from the usual happenings after the Opening Worship during the normal times, the alumni and participants of the annual Church Workers Convocation talked endlessly and exchanged greetings this time via Zoom; and thus ended the first day of the celebration.

The following day, the afternoon sessions opened with creative worship thru music led by Asst. Prof. Jean Cuanan Nalam and fellow Silliman alumnus, Dr. Dave Jan Fabe with their formal launch of the HINALAD (offered) Collection.

HINALAD is a Cebuano liturgical music project and for this installment, they have released 27 anthems and 20 liturgical responses, all original works in Cebuano. The album will provide additional repertoire to the Cebuano-speaking congregations. HINALAD’s huge advantage is the availability of vocal demos for the voice assignments and of course, the recorded accompaniment.

After the virtual song project launch, a Bible Study Session was led by alumnus, Bishop Jerome C. Baris, currently assigned to the UCCP East Visayas Jurisdiction with the topic, “Faithful Allegiance to the Cause of God’s Kingdom,” a historical-theological reflection based on the text from Matthew 16 verse 13 to 19.

Bishop Baris pointed out that “an ongoing, sustained or consistent adaptation/integration of this project into the SUDS theological curriculum would be a milestone of concrete manifestation in living-out a Faithful Allegiance to the cause of Christ’s Kingdom and faithful service for the Filipino people’s meaningful and relevant religiosity and spirituality, very much cognizant of the SUDS VITAL ROLE as a Training/Breeding ground for Faithful Service of Professors, Theologians, Church Workers in advancing for the betterment towards a RELEVANT  life-work of our beloved United Church of Christ in the Philippines in the world today and the years to come, all for the glory of God!”

Then followed the Paul Lauby Lecture and Exposition of the Theme shared by former Divinity School Dean, Rev. Dr. Lope B. Robin. Centered on the theme, “Celebrating Silliman University Divinity School: A Century of Faithful Service,” Rev. Dr. Robin talked about the humble beginnings of SUDS and its faithfulness to its calling as a formation center.  During his presentation, he then highlighted the varied forms of services that SUDS has rendered to the church and society through its alumni in the last 100 years.

To end his talk he said, “Indeed, Silliman University Divinity School has been consistently living up to its calling for 100 years now and counting; making significant impact on the church and society through the services that have been faithfully rendered by its alumni. In this Centennial Celebration let us first and foremost offer our sincerest thanksgiving to God for graciously guiding, accompanying, and empowering SUDS in the last 100 years. We are also deeply grateful to the generous benefactors (partner Churches, institutions, alumni, and friends) who unconditionally and tirelessly extend their moral and financial support to SUDS ministry of preparing men and women for the work in the Lord’s vineyard.”

As a gift to the centenary of the Divinity School, 4 books were launched namely: “A Sighting of Angels” by Dr. Levi V. Oracion; “Punctuation Marks for Daily Living” by Dr. Juancho C. Campañano; “Bituka Theology” by Dr. Melanio L. Aoanan and “Led All The Way” by Bishop Lorenzo Genotiva.

To officially wrap up the day’s events, the DSSA (Divinity School Student Assembly) staged Serenades: Songs of Faith, Hope, and Love via Zoom. For an hour, the equally-talented current ministerial formation students freely shared their virtual pre-recorded performances witnessed by the alumni and friends, and the faculty and staff.

During the third day of the virtual gathering, a Memorial Service was held in honor of all the alumni, church workers, staff, and faculty members who have passed on to the great beyond. A heartwarming medley of short choruses beautifully sung by alumni opened the said service and the Mindanao Alumni Chapter Choir shared their anthem, “Eagles Wings Medley.”

The meditation was delivered dialogically by Rev. Digna S. Campañano and Rev. Dr. Juancho C. Campañano titled, Memorial Is For the Living (There is No Plan B) based on the following texts: Isaiah 40:1-2b, 28-30; Hebrews 11:1-3, 6, 8-16; 39-40; and Luke 20:27-40.

“We call our service to honor and celebrate the life of those who died, a memorial service. Remember is a very important word in the Bible. Remember you were slaves… Remember how God redeems you… Do this in remembrance of me. Remembering is not only a cognitive activity. Remembering is more than bringing to mind what happened in the past. Remembering is the act of the whole person. Yes, in remembrance we bring to our mind to experience again what happened before. But it is more than that. As we remember, our heart is also involved. We feel and experience again that gripping, empowering, and awesome feeling. When our mind and our heart are brought together, we become inspired to act, to do something so that we can experience again a transformation. It is not a repetition of the past. It is a new experience and a new reality inspired by the past so we can make the present also awesome and worth living,” conveyed the couple who are now based in the United States. Rev. Dr. Juancho is the current pastor of First United Methodist Church and the Chaplain of AMITA Mercy Medical Center meanwhile, Rev. Digna is the current Senior Staff Chaplain of Advocate Sherman Hospital.

A unique segment, the Alumni Speak, followed the memorial service. Three alumni across decades spoke about life before, during, and after the formation years at the Divinity School. Rev. Paul R. Abella spoke about Student Life, Rev. Liza C. Yañez shared about Life after Graduation and Mr. Keith Arleigh D. Quebral talked about his Vision for the Divinity School. Moderating the said session was an alumna, Rev. Jhossana Morales.

Afterward, the Diakonia Award, one of the highlights of the annual church workers convocation was held to honor the alumni who have exemplified and embodied the vision and mission of the SUDS through their varied means of ministry and work engagements. This year’s awardees were as follows: Dr. Hope Antone-Chan (Christian Educator, Feminist Lay Theologian); Rev. Leon A. Maniwan (Faithful Servant, Pastor, Reconciler), and Rev. Dr. Melanio L. Aoanan (Theological Educator, Scholar, Pastor). Also, this year, the Divinity School honored one of its influential former faculty members and alumna, Dr. Elena Granada Maquiso, for her exemplary work as a Christian Educator, Prolific Hymnwriter, Church Musician, Cultural advocate, and faithful servant of the Lord.

In the afternoon, Rev. Haniel Taganas and Rev. Hidita Villas led the alumni in reminiscing their memories about the Divinity School through the Alumni Convos. Pictures were shown to usher in the memories of the past and recent alumni who passed through the halls of the formation center. Laughters, tears, stories of joys and sadness filled the virtual room. For instance, the Chapel of the Evangel’s photos inspired the alumni to share about their life, the love stories, narratives of renewing and strengthening their faith, and the intimate moments of prayer and reflection which were common among the alumni in their narratives. The conversations and sharings were endless and the virtual room was filled with rekindling of everybody’s memories, nestled and nurtured in the Koinonia experience.

Despite being done virtually, the reconnecting of people and the rekindling of ties and relationships once grew and nurtured at the Divinity School gave flesh, provided the human aspect, and thus, made concrete the virtual celebrations. Although there was no fellowship meal, not even a snack, but there was truly a communion among participants, a sharing and reliving of their stories and their own lives enriched with the experience of being with the Divinity School’s empowering and nurturing Koinonia.

To officially close the virtual celebration, the Closing Worship was held by 4 PM via Zoom and Facebook Live with the current UCCP General Secretary, Bishop Melzar Labuntog as speaker. The SUDS Centennial Choir sang the anthem, “We Have Come This Far By Faith” thus, reflecting how the SUDS’s life and ministry have been faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the church, and the wider society for a century and counting.

When the SUDS is asked, “How do you celebrate a centenary amid the raging pandemic?” resilience to the challenges of the times and yet, staying faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are two main reasons for the unwavering success of the virtual celebrations along with the commitment and collaboration of the faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, benefactors, and the church.

Indeed, the celebration has become a huge success due to the synergy forged among various stakeholders that make the Divinity School what it is today and in the coming decades and centuries of its existence.

(Report by Klein Fausto Emperado, SUDS Centennial 2021 Special Project Staff)