Rev. Ceejay Agbayani has been all over the media lately. He has been interviewed by the likes of Karen Davila, Vicky Morales, and Kara David as the administrative pastor of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) – Philippines. MCC-PH has gained considerable attention because it administers holy unions for people of the same sex. These ceremonies may not be legally binding (gay marriages are not recognized in the country), but a significant number of LGBT couples has nevertheless been “solemnized” the past years. Three years ago, I did a profile of Pastor Ceejay for a journalism class in UP under Prof. Yvonne Chua. I am reposting it here because although the public already know what he stands for, they still need to know him better as a person.
Everything is set for the Easter Sunday worship of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Quezon City chapter. The altar has been prepared, the sound system has been checked, while attendees have already filled the worship place. The living room of the worship celebrant’s residence will be the fellowship’s makeshift church for the day.
MCC’s Easter Sunday panambahan will start by 8 A.M, the program says. At 8:20, the processional song “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate” plays – marking the beginning of this day’s service. The bible bearer comes first, then the altar servers, and finally, a man clad in priestly attire – the worship celebrant. Their entrance somehow resembles the way the priest, his deacons, and his sacristans enter a typical Catholic liturgy.
Though MCC’s worship service has these similarities with the Catholic rites, some evident differences can be seen. The first one is the former’s use of incense in their service. The worship celebrant would later explain that the use of burned incense is a way of making their prayers reach God in heaven. There is also a rainbow colored cross in the wall adjacent to the altar. The last and definitely the most important – MCC’s parishioners are members of the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community.
Pastor Crescencio Agbayani Jr., or Pastor Ceejay as he is commonly called, has been with the MCC since 2001. He founded the MCC Philippines Quezon City Chapter in 2006. The graduating Masters in Divinity seminarian from the Union Theological Seminary in Dasmarinas, Cavite (UTS) recalls how he once ridiculed the idea of a bible study for gays, much more a church for them. “How can that happen when LGBT’s in this country does not believe in churches anymore?” he said in Filipino.
The MCC was first established in the United States in 1969 as an offspring of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall riots of 1969 happened when elements of the New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the city. The event marked the surge in the movement for LGBT rights. The MCC arrived in the country in 1991. Its main chapter was established in Makati City while its first local chapter was established in Quezon City in 2006.
Aside from giving specific outreach to the LGBT community, the fellowship has gained considerable attention for administering same-sex unions. Referred to as the “Holy Union,” the MCC describes this as the spiritual joining of two people of the same sex. Same-sex marriage and civil unions are not practiced in the Philippines since existing laws strictly define marriage as between man and a woman.
Meanwhile, the 34 year old Boy Abunda look-alike proudly says that he did not need to have an intimate moment with his mother to come out about his sexual orientation. “Without her saying it, I know that my mother has known I’m gay from the start,” he recalls. So how did a gay man ended up inside a seminary? “I’ve always wanted to be a priest,” he says.
However, the road toward priesthood has not been that smooth. He first entered a seminary as a Franciscan aspirant of the Friar Minor Conventual in 1991. He called it quits after just a year out of “boredom” and because he finds Franciscan teachings “very conservative.” “They even teach that masturbation is a sin,” he says with a laugh.
He decided to go back inside a seminary a decade later – entering a predominantly Protestant seminary this time. He describes the teachings at the UTS as “very liberal,” even comparing it to the University of the Philippines. “What they do there in UTS is that they present seminarians with different sets of ideas. The seminarian would ultimately decide what ideas he would adhere to,” he explains.
How was he received in the UTS, the oldest Protestant seminary in the country? The faculty of the seminary, which is mostly liberal, readily accepted him but some of his fellow seminarians are not as receptive. Although no one attacked him verbally, the bashing was done subtly. “Someone wrote the letters B-A-K-L-A under the nameplate in my door. Some acts of discrimination are not as subtle: “There is this seminarian who always moves away when I seat near him,” Pastor Agbayani recalls.
Did this atmosphere of animosity persist for a long time? “It gradually went away. Thanks to the regular monthly fellowships organized wherein seminarians can talk heart to heart,” he said. “In fact, one of my initial tormentors there even embraced me when he graduated from the seminary,” he adds.
Rev. Ceejay Agbayani’s thoughts on the Bible, LGBT rights, and same-sex marriages: