First Filipino American UMC: You Are Welcome Here
By: Sherri Gragg
First Filipino American continues to practice “radical welcoming” after 34 years of ministry.
As the time for First Filipino UMC’s 34th Anniversary celebration drew near, the congregation filled with joyful chatter as worshippers warmly greeted each other. Flags from every nation graced the walls of the FFAUMC Event Center. Each table was decorated to reflect the colors and culture of a different nation. The delicious scent of traditional dishes such as Pork Adobo and Pancit mingled with American casseroles and African fare. Then the music began and it was time to celebrate God’s goodness through dance-
A Nigerian dance of gratitude…
“First Filipino American UMC began as an outreach for Filipinos coming to the United States in the early 1960’s and 1970’s,” said the Rev. Jerico Pagdilao. “We grew from there.” Today, although the congregation remains predominantly Filipino, the church intentionally reaches out to welcome Houstonians of every race and culture into fellowship. It is a focus of ministry that has grown out of a deep historical understanding of what it means to begin life in a foreign land as immigrants, and a ministry philosophy that church should always reflect the diverse Kingdom of God.
Each Sunday, the congregation of First Filipino American UMC gather to worship in English, with an ever-present reflection of Filipino culture. Tagalog songs join traditional Wesleyan Hymns during praise. The Filipino value of hospitality is everywhere, from the warm welcome newcomers receive to the weekly fellowship lunches held after each Sunday worship service. “One of our strengths is ‘radical welcoming,’” said Pagdilao. “I am so proud of this. People always say they have never been to a church where they were welcomed in this way. We are a warm group of believers that embraces everyone.”
First Filipino American UMC’s spirit of hospitality along with their value of diversity has served as a natural path to migrant ministry. Through a partnership with Community Outreach Missions Education Team, COMET, volunteers tutor at-risk kids in afterschool programs. Many of the children with whom they work have recently arrived to the United States as immigrants. In addition to serving the children, First Filipino American partners with First UMC Sealy to reach out to their parents as well. On designated Saturdays, the churches invite the families with whom they work to join them for a barbecue. “We want them to feel loved and accepted. We are here to provide support they need,” Pagdilao said.
Across the Color Line
First Filipino American continues to reach out across the color line through a partnership with a local YWCA which hosts a senior center in their facility which offers Filipino, Hispanic, Caucasian, Vietnamese, and African American seniors the opportunity to receive a nutritious meal and participate in enriching social activities. Members of First Filipino American are key volunteers for the center. Additionally, the church offers weekly Bible studies and supplies Upper Room devotional books to the seniors. First Filipino American has also opened their facility to the Houston food bank as a food box distribution center once each month so that seniors from the center, as well as other seniors in the community experiencing food scarcity, may come and pick up essential non-perishable food items.
In Matthew 25, Jesus taught that his “Kingdom People” would be known by their love and care for the most fragile among us- the hungry, thirsty, and sick. The materially poor, prisoners, and the stranger. First Filipino American takes this command seriously, tending their corner of the Kingdom of God with a quiet, sincere faithfulness out of love for God and love for their neighbor.
“We are not a perfect church,” said Pagdilao, “but we try our best to really be a church that is open for everyone. We want people to feel loved, welcomed, and that they belong.”