A Journey of Faith
Known in the early 1900s as the First Evangelical Church of Cebu, from where the Protestant Movement throughout the province started, Bradford Church now Bradford United Church of Christ, Inc. remains to be a strong, dynamic and growing church as to her mission, vision, fellowship and worship of God.
The end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 paved the way for the colonization and evangelization of the Philippines by the Americans. Cebu, with its strategic location and a heavy Catholic influence, was identified by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church of USA as one of the places in which evangelical churches and schools could be established.
1902 – 1916
Along with the American administrators for the newly-formed colonial government also came educators and missionaries. Thus, through the efforts of American Presbyterian missionaries like Mr. and Mrs. Paul Frederick Jansen, Rev. and Mrs. A.A. Pieters, Rev. and Mrs. James B. Rodgers, Dr. and Mrs. James A. Graham, Dr. and Mrs. George Dunlap, a community of believers in Cebu City was formed, meeting for worship in residences of its members.
In 1912, church building construction on the three-hectare land bought by the Board of Foreign Missions along Jones Avenue was begun to accommodate the growing number of baptized believers. Offered as a gift from a rich philanthropist from New York by the name of Mrs. Dwight H. Day, this cross-shaped church edifice of old American architecture was named after and in honor of her mother, Matilda L. Bradford. Although dedicated on October 26, 1913 with the official name Bradford Memorial Church.
The church was already fully operational as early as April of 1913. This year has been designated as the founding year of Bradford Church. Other buildings such as the Emerson Dormitory for girls, the Snead Dormitory for boys, and the two mission houses for the Jansens and the Dunlaps, were also put up.
1918 – 1936
In 1918, Rev. Jorge B. Patalinghug, one of the early converts, who was ordained in 1916, became the first Filipino pastor of Bradford Memorial Church until 1936. Rev. and Mrs. John W. Dunlop joined the staff in Cebu. Rev. Dunlop was especially remembered for his missionary zeal in spreading the Gospel from southern Cebu to Bantayan Island in the north. His other unknown work was the translation of the Bible into Cebuano.
In those early days, services were held as follows: Sunday School at 8:00 in the morning for English and Cebuano congregation followed by a Cebuano Service at 9:00 AM. A small group of Chinese met for a Chinese service in the early afternoon. At 5:30 PM, an English Vesper Service was held for Foreigners and English-speaking Filipinos. In November of 1918, at the close of the First World War, a Thanksgiving Service was held at Bradford Church for all nationalities within Cebu City.
The best years in student work in Cebu were 1927-1928. With Spanish and Cebuano as the major languages spoken then, the American Presbyterian Mission, in response to the growing need for a Christian school to teach English and basic education, found it necessary to establish a Christian School called Student Christian Center along Pelaez Street (now the Philippine Christian Gospel School), which was dedicated in 1927.
In March 1929, Bradford Memorial Church, originally a Presbyterian church, became one of the local churches that merged to form the United Evangelical Church of the Philippines (a union of the Presbyterian, the Congregationalist, the United Brethren, and the United Church of Manila), in which the Cebu head office was located at the Bradford compound. Later, Dr. J. L. Underwood formed Cebu Union Church for foreigners and English-speaking Filipinos.
1940s – 1950s
The Second World War in the 1940s saw an almost total destruction of the infrastructures within the compound. The two dormitories and the two mission houses were wiped out. Miraculously, Bradford Church and the Student Christian Center were spared. Designed in the form of a “cross”, the church edifice was clearly seen by warplanes and bombers above. Only its right wing was clipped by shrapnel. The oaken pews and pulpit which were imported from New York were saved. The American missionaries slowly divested themselves of authority over the church and finally turned over its leadership to the Filipinos. After Rev. Jorge B. Patalinghug, Rev. Maximo Leopando took over the pastorate of Bradford Church from 1936 to 1941.
The Second World War saw not only the destruction of the structures of the Bradford compound but also on its pastoral leadership in the church. The US Army and their chaplain joined the Bradford Church leaders in conducting worship services, thus filling the void. Busy rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of the ravages and trauma of war, the church membership dwindled and attendance expectedly took a nosedive.
In 1943, under the direction of the Japanese Imperial Forces, Bradford Memorial Church became part of a national merging of churches known as the Evangelical Church of the Philippines, which brought together the United Evangelical Church; the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ Disciples of Christ, the Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Cristo and the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Islas Filipinas (IEMELIF). At this time, Bradford Memorial Church became known as the United Evangelical Church.
In 1946, Rev. Ramon Cenit became the new pastor of Bradford Church and undertook an energetic evangelistic program, which involved frequent visits of well-known evangelist Rev. Greg Tingson, coupled with an aggressive radio ministry over station DYBU. Sunday school classes outside the church were organized by young people. Outreach activities and out of town evangelistic rallies were held with adult members as volunteer preachers. An unprecedented growth occurred affirming and testifying to the power of the Gospel.
On May 25, 1948, the United Evangelical Church, the Philippine Methodist Church, the Evangelical Church of the Philippines, some congregations of the Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Cristo, the Convention of the Churches of Christ (Disciples of Christ), the Iglesia Evangelica Nacional and some congregations of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista En Las Islas Filipinas (IEMELIF) merged to form the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Bradford Church, as a consequence, became a member of this new denomination. The Protestant Movement grew. Bradford Church became the anchor organization for UCCP activities in Cebu province. In 1951, Dr. Santiago Iyoy became pastor of Bradford, in addition to his being the first Cebu Annual Conference Moderator. In 1956, Cebu Bradford School was founded as Bradford Kindergarten School under the Christian Education program of the church.
1960s – 1970s
This period was characterized by defections, divisions and aggressive outreach work. Rev. Jorge Patalinghug was joined by several old members and formed the Grace Church (later called J. Patalinghug Memorial Church). The Chinese congregation established the Cebu Gospel Church at Jones Avenue. Another faction broke off and formed what is now called the Cebu Christian Center Church in Capitol Hills. In April 1964, Bethany Church merged with Bradford Church and adopted the name Bradford United Church of Christ. Pastors who served at Bradford Church during this period were Revs. Alfredo Baliad, Eugenio Najarro, Lumen C. Roble, Nathaniel Q. Lumain and Napoleon Lumapguid. When Rev. Lumen Roble left, some members joined him to form the United Methodist Church along A. Lopez Street in Labangon.
As Bradford Church grew in membership, the need for a bigger sanctuary that could accommodate up to 800 worshippers became apparent. The church building committee headed by Elder Jose D.A. Diao and Gregorio Segura as architect, planned and initiated a fund raising campaign for a bigger sanctuary. The laying of cornerstone was in 1968, and after which construction immediately started. The first thanksgiving service at the new sanctuary was held in November 1970, and formal dedication was done on April 11, 1971.
Rev. Patricio B. Ezra became the Administrative Pastor of Bradford United Church of Christ in 1976, assisted by Rev. Napoleon Lumapguid. Membership continued to grow, finances greatly improved, the church choirs made cultural waves with their top-class performances. Bradford’s men, women, and youth organizations were at their best; and 13 outreach churches were established, most of which later became independent churches. Cebu Bradford School’s excellent reputation for quality pre-school education increased its student population by leaps and bounds.
On December 14, 1979, Bradford United Church of Christ, Inc. (BUCCI) was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
1980s – 1990s
The 1980s brought many improvements to the Church: building renovations, construction of guest rooms and the Christian Education building, purchase of two lots in Mandaue for an outreach church, and construction of church buildings in Cabantan and Tawagan outreaches.
For doctrinal reasons, the BUCCI church council led by Elder Ruperto Mayuga, Sr., decided to separate from UCCP. On July 2, 1993, BUCCI was recognized by the SEC as an independent church. Worship services continued at Jones Avenue until November 12, 1995. For the next six months, worship services were then held at College Assurance Plan (CAP) building at Jones Avenue. Meanwhile, the parsonage and church office were relocated to Sun Valley along V. Rama Avenue.
In 1996, by God’s sovereign leading and direction, the church found herself in a 1,570 sq. m. property located at 340-P Ascension St., Sambag 2, Cebu City. It was indeed amazing how the Lord planned for His church from the start as it was the desire of its owner, church member Atty. Pedro Calderon, before he passed away, that the property should go to BUCCI. During this critical time of need for a place of worship and a school despite its financial limitations, the Lord provided.
At the initiative of the Calderon heirs, a lease agreement with an option to buy was entered into. By God’s grace, through prayers and everybody’s unselfish support, the property was fully paid on February 14, 1998. Bradford United Church of Christ, Inc. had found its new home in what we now call “God’s Little Acre”.
Groundbreaking for a sanctuary was held on April 21, 1996 followed by the cornerstone-laying on May 6, 1996. The first worship service and dedication was on June 9, 1996. The new structure was used as sanctuary on Sundays and classrooms during weekdays.
From 1997 up to the present, Christmas Cantatas were held outside the church and in bigger venues to provide more evangelistic opportunities (CAP Hall, Casino Espanol, SM Cinema, Ayala Center Cebu & J-Centre Mall).
In May 1999, the first BUCCI Congress, with all her outreach and affiliate churches was held at the church compound. Also in 1999, Cebu Bradford School was upgraded to high school level as approved by the Department of Education (DepEd).
2000 and Beyond
Sometime in April 2000, the “Centennial of Biblical Christianity” was celebrated at the Cebu Coliseum, to commemorate the coming of the American Missionaries in the 1900s and the historical role played by Bradford Church as the First Evangelical Church of Cebu. BUCCI was recognized and accepted as an Independent Evangelical Church.
For the next ten years, BUCCI’s ministerial team was composed of Rev. Patricio Ezra as Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Henry Cari-at as Administrative Pastor and Pastor Fraxedes “Macky” Sabayle as Youth Pastor.
Church attendance steadily increased, thus the need to enhance and streamline ministry programs and activities. The Children, Youth, Young Adults, Couples Fellowship, BMFC and Dorcas, Senior Citizens Circle, Chera, Covenant Choir and Chancel Choir were all involved and committed.
At “God’s Little Acre”, renovations and improvements were introduced, allowing bigger seating capacity. The parking area was also flattened and widened for more parking bays while also serving as a playground area during school days.
On January 19, 2003, the construction of the Annex Building at the BUCCI lot along Uytengsu Extension began and was completed at the end of 2006. The building is being used as a parsonage and training center with facilities such as C.E. Library, Mess Hall, Conference Hall and two dormitory rooms.
In October 2004, Deaconess Rachel Millamena joined the ministry team and took charge of the Children’s Ministry. The following year, Rev. Nelson Flores joined BUCCI as Evangelism & Missions Pastor.
In July of 2007, the 6:00 o’clock Evening Service was reformatted into a Vesper Contemporary Service to cater to the growing younger and more youthful worshippers. With this new worship style, attendance steadily grew. All glory to our God!
In 2009, with the intention to continue its growth and expansion, B12, the church’s main discipleship program, was launched. Using the B12 model, many B-groups (Bible Study groups) were formed, meeting weekly either in the church or in the homes of its members. Several trainings and seminars were conducted to equip more B-group leaders. Breakthrough Retreats (formerly Encounter God Retreat) were also conducted regularly.
Rev. Fraxedes Sabayle became the Senior Pastor of BUCCI in 2011 following the retirement of Rev. Henry Cari-at. He was assisted by Rev. Robert de Rosas for Local Church Missions, Pastor Cleo James Millamena for the Youth, Deaconess Rachel Millamena for the Children, and Intern Pastor Michael Logarta for Christian Education ministries.
In the same year, the construction of the Christian Education (CE) Building started. And by God’s grace, the building is now utilized mainly for the Cebu Bradford School and the various church programs and activities.
In line with our church vision, the School of Discipleship (formerly School of Leaders) was launched in 2012 to further equip lay leaders for our Mission “to make disciple-makers of Jesus Christ.”
2013 and Onwards
The year 2013 marks the Centennial year of BUCCI. A weeklong commemoration and celebration was held on June 1-9, 2013.
The year 2013 brought more expansion and integration of ministries and programs of BUCCI. With some additions in the pastoral staff such as Rev. Caesar Rex Taberos to take charge of the Discipleship Ministry, Pastor Arfaith Miranda for Evangelism Ministry and Lapu-Lapu Church Planting, Pastor Kenneth Jan Puracan for Toledo Church Planting and Intern Pastor Lanz Ross Bation for the Youth Ministry, BUCCI launches off towards her 2020 Vision – “to see 20 new churches planted by the end of 2020.”
In line with our ministry and outreach expansions is the ongoing construction of Phase 3 of our God’s Little Acre Development Master Plan. This new building construction fronting the CE Building will form part of the envisioned BUCCI 1000-seater Church Sanctuary, complete with multi-purpose function rooms and full basement parking that can accommodate more vehicles.
Reaching a century is not the end of our journey of faith, but just the beginning. With our church’s mission “To glorify God by building up disciple-makers of Jesus Christ,” and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will continue to launch different programs that would cater to the needs of all members from different age groups. Networks (church organizations and ministries) are strengthened for intentional Evangelism and Discipleship.
Today, the BUCCI pastors, leaders and members continue the journey of faith relying on God’s amazing grace.
To God Be The Glory!
Written By Elder Robert Schaare