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||1438: Union Church of Manila, Makati City, The Philippines
Mystery Worshipper: Pewpotato.
The church: Union Church of Manila, Makati City, The Philippines.
Denomination: Non-denominational (evangelical Protestant).
The building: From the outside, the building looks like a round giant
alien spaceship that just landed on earth, with a blue roof topped by a
white cross. The inside combines the best of both traditional and contemporary
church design. There, one finds a chancel surrounded by pews on a semi-sloped
floor. The chancel area seemed a bit crowded, though, with an altar, a huge
wooden pulpit, a baptismal font, and a communion table with bread and cup
on display. But the most prominent feature is the ceiling, where there is
a giant cross made of two huge beams that support the circular structure.
The church: The Union Church of Manila was founded in 1914 by a group
of Presbyterian, Methodist and Disciples of Christ missionaries who agreed
that a united ministry to the American population in the country transcended
denominational concerns (the Philippines was a still a commonwealth of the
United States at the time). The church struggled to survive during World
War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the war for the liberation
of Manila. After the United States recognized Filipino independence in 1946,
membership grew quickly and the church became a major presence in the religious
fabric of the Philippines, carrying on dozens of ministries and outreaches.
It still advertises itself as an "international evangelical, English-speaking
church," and at the service I attended the congregation were certainly not
your everyday folks – they were diplomats, educators, executives,
and other such high profile people.
The neighborhood: The church is actually not in Manila! Its present
building is in Makati, a suburb that became an independent city in 1995.
Dismissed as "worthless swamp land" by the island's Spanish explorers
in 1571, Makati today is the financial and commercial center of the Philippines.
A highly cosmopolitan city, Makati features many cultural attractions and
entertainment venues as well as upscale shopping malls.
The cast: The Revd Steve Ruetschle, senior pastor (a Presbyterian
from Washington State, USA); Pastor Marvin Layug, praise and worship director;
The date & time: May 20, 2007, 8.45am and 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Contemporary Service (8.45am) and Traditional Service (10.30am) – I attended
How full was the building?
When I arrived for the early service, there were about 100 people present,
but by the time of the sermon, there were perhaps 500! The later service
was bulging at the seams – perhaps 1000, including those in the overflow
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman shook my hand and said, "Kindly turn off your cell phone, sir.
Thank you!" After that, a lady handed me a bulletin and another lady directed
me to the fourth row of the center section, saying, "It's the best
section in the sanctuary."
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were nice! No pads, no kneelers. Just plain wood. Quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
At the contemporary service, the worship team were rehearsing a bit while
people huddled into small chat groups. Then, about 10 minutes before the
start of the service, someone began to play the mighty pipe organ and it
didn't seem like a contemporary service anymore! At the traditional service,
the chancel choir did a sound check while people entered quickly. The sanctuary
was almost full by the time the organ prelude began.
What were the exact opening words of the
(8.30) "Good Morning! Let us stand and worship God together." (10.30)
Nothing was spoken; we began with the opening hymn.
What books did the congregation use during the
The Holy Bible, New International Version and The Hymnal of
the Presbyterian Church were in the pews, but we used neither. All
we needed to sing, read and see were flashed onto two screens at either
side of the chancel.
What musical instruments were played?
At the contemporary service: Piano, synthesizer, electric guitar, bass,
violins, drums and percussion. Oh yes, the organ too for a brief moment.
At the traditional service: Pipe organ and piano.
Did anything distract you?
Several things distracted me at both services. The projectors were too low-powered
for such a big church with huge untinted windows! I had trouble reading
the words. And there are just too many beautiful women my age in that church!
Both a distraction and a blessing! I couldn't keep my eyes off a particularly
attractive woman who sat across the aisle from me. At the later service,
a gentleman sitting next to me fell asleep and began to snore.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The contemporary service was replete with lots of happy clappy singing,
but it was all quite dignified. And the selections were "older contemporary"
– I'd even call them retro. The style was evangelical, and yet included
more traditional elements as well. It was the only contemporary service
I have ever been to where the Gloria, Apostles' Creed and Lord's Prayer
were recited. By contrast, the traditional service was stiffly liturgical,
with choir and organ.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes. The pastor delivered the same sermon at each service.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The pastor is a young man – probably in his mid 30s – but is
a gifted preacher. His style was highly evangelical, but I could wish that
it were not quite so conversational.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He took as his text John 14:4-14. Jesus is the only way, the only
truth, the only life. Starbucks owes its success to the fact that
it sells more than just coffee – it sells company. People are very lonely
and hungry for companionship! People are desperate to be known and needed.
Christianity is about knowing a person and joining a family! Christianity
is about connecting!
Which part of the service was like being in
At 8.30: The "retro" worship music! At 10.30: The choir singing and the
organ playing! And in both: People from every tongue, tribe and nation!
That's like a taste of heaven on earth, really.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pastor asked the first time guests to stand. An usher then approached
with a microphone and we were made to tell everybody our name and where
we were from. Many would regard this as hellish – actually, I thought
it was fun and not at all embarrassing!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went down to the fellowship hall in the first basement (there are five
basements!) and took some coffee and a cookie. I finished both without anyone
coming up to talk to me! I left the building having met and known no one.
And I thought Christianity was about knowing a person, joining a family,
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee was hot but bland! Cookie looked cheap. Tea and juice were also available,
but I didn't sample them.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 It seemed a nice enough church in which to belong, but people could
make use of a little more friendliness.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I'll always be glad to be a Christian regardless of how a worship service goes!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Flashback of the face of the beautiful young lady seated across the aisle
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