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As I sat down to prepare my sermon for this week, I wondered what the people of St Clement’s would want to hear from their priest her first Sunday back? I wondered, perhaps, if the people might want a 200-slide powerpoint, with photos mostly of their priest’s nostrils, attempting to take selfies that included both the people in her company and the impressive scenery? (The Diocese is actually preparing a really lovely slideshow that I’ll be able to show you in due course). 

Perhaps the congregation wants to hear a 90 minute lecture on transubstantiation? What is the priest’s first Sunday back if not an opportunity to remind the congregation of her academic prowess?

A story. A story is what I’ve decided to tell you this morning, friends. A story about how your priest, on her first day as a guest of the Episcopal Diocese of the Northern Philippines, promptly and irreparably broke the toilet. 

I awoke on that fateful day to the sound of rush-hour traffic. Bontoc is one of the major cities in the Northern Philippines. I had slept well after a 12-hr journey through the winding roads, some of which were under construction following a recent earthquake. 

As I was getting ready for the day, I prepared a bucket of water to flush the toilet, manually. I had done my research, you see. I was well aware of the adjustments we’d have to make while in the Philippines. Having taken extensive notes, I made several attempts in my hotel room that morning to deal with the plumbing—bucket style. When I was unsuccessful, I rolled up my sleeves and thought to myself, “I know how to fix this.”

I took hold of the porcelain toilet lid and removed it. I felt the thin layer of condensation that had settled on its surface. It glistened in the morning light. In a matter of seconds, the lid twirled into the air; set free from my grip. It landed on the floor—smashed into a thousand pieces. I followed suit shortly thereafter.

So, I did what any self-respecting person would do in a situation like this. I tried to pick up the pieces, one by one, and hide them in a bag that I would later dispose of when no one was looking. Finally, I admitted defeat and made my way to the lobby to plead my case with the manager. 

As I left my room, though, there was the Executive Archdeacon, sitting on the balcony, doing his morning devotions.

“Good morning, Helen,” he chimed. 

“Good morning, Archdeacon.”

“Everything alright with the room?”

The story came tumbling forth, my words as hurried and fragmented as my attempts to clean up the porcelain pieces from the bathroom floor. 

“Well, you’d better go down and have a word with the manager, haven’t you?”

(Yes, I’d better go down and have a word with the manager, haven’t I?)

(In actual fact, the Archdeacon was quite sympathetic and we laughed a great deal at my expense!). 

I made my way to the main floor. I greeted the manager. 

“I have some bad news,” I said. 

I pulled up a photo of the damage on my phone. She nodded and gestured to one of her sons. I insisted on paying for the damage. I asked if I could take a mop and clean it up myself. She smiled and pointed to a stack of porcelain lids in the back room.

“We have extras," she said, "because of foreigners, like you.”

I thanked the manager, and turned to make my way upstairs.

“One more thing,” she said. 

“Next time, ma’am, just press the button. It’s automatic.”

The lesson I learned that day would become a bit of a theme on our journey. I had, as anyone would, preconceived notions about what life would be like in our companion diocese. It’s true; many of the toilets did require a bucket. But, as I came to appreciate, the people in our sibling churches are incredibly clever when it comes to dealing with foreign visits to their land. Take, for example, the origins of the Anglican or “Episcopal” Church in the Northern Philippines. It was American missionaries who brought Anglicanism to the mountain province in the early 1900s. Many churches were built; many villages evangelised. Then, during WWII, the missionaries fled. 

In the years following, the Northern Filipinos began to exercise what is known in postcolonial theory as “mimicry and mockery”. It’s:

When colonial discourse encourages the colonized to ‘mimic’ the colonizer, by adopting the colonizer’s cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and values. . . . [T]he result is never a simple reproduction of those traits. Rather, the result is a ‘blurred copy’ of the colonizer that can be quite threatening [to the colonising institution]. This is because mimicry is never very far from mockery, since it can appear to parody whatever it mimics. Mimicry therefore locates a crack in the certainty of colonial dominance.*

If I had to sum up my visit to the Episcopal Diocese of the Northern Philippines, I would say that “the crack in the certainty of colonial dominance” has been firmly located. In addition to practising the Christian faith in unique and vibrant ways, the Church in the Northern Philippines mimics, mocks, and exposes the failures of colonial or missionary Christianity. Locally made textiles adorn the altars as opposed to exclusively British or North American imports. The Bible is being translated into not one but two dialects so that it can be read and interpreted by local communities for local communities. Christainity has been refashioned into a tool to preserve rather than eradicate Indigenous language and culture, thereby making a kind of parody of the original intent of the American missionary project.

Further, in contrast to the charity model that has historically characterised international relationships between churches, it was very clear throughout our trip that we were there as guests. We were friends and companions, there to learn from each other, to give gifts, sure, but mostly to receive them. We didn’t go to build churches or to make Christians in our own image; but to witness the churches being built by Filipinos for Filipinos—in God’s image.

As well as being a tenet of postcolonial theory, mimicry and mockery is also an incredibly biblical idea. The apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, talks about the  scriptures that Timothy’s community had been using before Jesus’ message came to their village. Paul talks about how these teachings would continue to be useful for reproof, correction, training in righteousness and most importantly, in instructing them in their faith in Christ. That tells me something really important about what colonising institutions like the Anglican Church of Canada have to learn from “evangelised” countries: that cultures that existed long before Christianity actually have within them already the seeds and tools for good and faithful lives in service to God and God’s world. 

When we meet people in our lives, whether here at St Clement’s or out in the world, what if our posture wasn’t, “How can I enter their world to teach them about Christ?”; but, “How can I be a guest, sometimes uninvited, in the world in which I now find myself?” 


*Nasrullah Mambrol, “Mimicry in Postcolonial Theory” in Literary Theory and Criticism (accessed online at