A few days ago, Cobbie & Dessa Palm sent an update on their theater ministry in the Philippines. A ministry conference was finally able to meet in person this fall, and they worked to put together a retelling of stories from the pandemic for the stage that showcased the conference's theme of "Celebrating and Reaffirming Our Hope for Healing." Here is their letter:
Every year, Church Workers of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines gather for a few days at Silliman University at the tail-end of the university’s Founder Week celebration to reflect, discuss and to be in community. The Koinonia comes alive with conversations, breaking bread, singing and studying together. During this time, Dessa and Cobbie help put together a play that reflects the theme for each year.
After a two-year hiatus of a face-to-face Church Workers’ Convocation due to the pandemic, the university opened its door and church workers were able to gather again. In barely three weeks, students and faculty rehearsed a play inspired by stories of Divinity School students, interns, pastors and church workers. The performances were an effort to reflect on this year’s Church Workers’ Convocation theme, “Celebrating and Reaffirming our Hope for Healing” amidst the complexities brought about by the pandemic and other compounding social issues facing the church.
Sa Bilog ng Maylikha –In Our Creator’s Circle. The final cross and affirming the Koinonia. Photo Credit: Alessandra Konahap, Silliman University Camera Club.
The play begins with the celebration of the Koinonia, the symbolic circle of our Christian community that is strengthened by the faithful community. This safe circle and the social fabric are suddenly shaken by the pandemic and its consequent impact on people’s lives as seen through the lens of church workers. Five stories are shared, distinct but interconnected.
Charity is an intern who grapples with the experience of isolation and anxiety. In a poetic form, the piece explores mental health issues that can beset individuals who are not provided support and may feel cut off from her community. She confronts God with painful questions of faith.
Pastor Lila’s story is about a church worker whose church pivots to online virtual worship and must negotiate her relationship with the online congregation. The piece explores the overwhelming scrutiny that comes with opening the church to the digital and global platform. Even with the seeming expansion of reach, it also leaves questions about the efficacy of pastoral care, especially with families who are in very difficult circumstances.
Sa Bilog ng Maylikha – In Our Creator’s Circle. A church worker reminisces life before the pandemic. Photo Credit: Alessandra Konahap, Silliman University Camera Club.
Sheryl is a student who thrived during the pandemic because the quarantine brought the students together as a family. But when tragedy strikes and COVID-19 impacts her family, the reality of painful losses and forced isolation with prohibitive restrictions becomes an overwhelming burden for her and her family.
Pastor Toto is inspired by church workers who have served in prophetic ministries and have become targets of human rights violations. The piece explores the vulnerability of a pastor’s life when choosing to serve the neediest in rural contexts of landlessness and poverty and the impunity of the state.
Pastor Kardo chronicles the creative possibilities that emerged during the pandemic, pastors who have pushed towards empowering families in their congregation to continue their worship practice by producing weekly worship and bible study materials for home and family use. Practiced particularly among pastors in remote areas, the Simbalay (home worship), became the way in which pastors ministered, occasionally visiting homes despite the risks and extra work entailed.
The play ends with a reflection on Luke 5: 17-26 which tells of the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man. The characters relate this story to the pandemic and the healing that Jesus shall continue to demonstrate in the context of an ailing world, and the role of the Koinonia, the community to rally around and together support the sick, and to declare their overwhelming faithfulness.
Sa Bilog ng Maylikha – In Our Creator’s Circle. A song with dance about hope. Photo Credit: Alessandra Konahap, Silliman University Camera Club.
Indeed, we shall be healed through Jesus who works through the collective efforts of our Christian family. We continue to be deeply thankful to you all for accompanying us through your prayers and manifold support amidst all the storms and turmoil that we face as a community. May God bless us and renew us each day.
Cobbie and Dessa