Union Church of Manila finds a permanent home
() - January 26, 2002 - 12:00am
Not a lot of people may be aware of it, but the Union Church of Manila (UCM) is well on its way to reaching a century of service and presence here in our country. Maybe there are even some people who aren’t aware of its existence. To the people who live or work in Legaspi Village however, the church has been their neighbor and a part of their community since 1975.
The Union Church of Manila was established in October 11, 1914 by an agreement signed by the American Methodist Church and the First Presbyterian Church. It was created to address the spiritual needs of the American population in the country, comprised primarily but not solely of Methodists, Presbyterians and Disciples of Christ. Their first home was the Emerson Chapel on Padre Faura Street in Malate.

"The focus was really on the Americans coming here and then the Church expanded its ministry to all foreigners. We have a 90-year old member with a Lebanese background who has been part of the congregation for at least 75 years. But we also minister to local people. In fact, about 60 to 70 percent of the congregation are now either Filipinos or Filipino-Chinese," said Carol Aronis, wife of UCM Pastor, Rev. Dr. Alex Aronis. Carol was also director of UCM’s women’s discipleship.

The original Padre Faura building, however, didn’t survive World War II. After the war, the people of Union Church took on the near-impossible task of rehabilitating the ravaged church building. With funds pouring from everywhere, the renovated building was as lovely as it was the first time it rose from the ground in 1907.

In 1958, it was unavoidable for UCM to look for a new site with the steady rise in its membership and the crowding of the Ermita area. The booming Makati district was also too attractive to resist.
Building a home in Makati
A site was purchased at the corner of Buendia Avenue and Makati Avenue at a cost of P36 per square meter. In the Buendia compound, various structures and amenities like Educational Wings and centralized airconditioning were created to service the congregation. The Buendia property served the congregation well until 1974 when the Laurel-Langley Agreement was set to expire, preventing foreign ownership of land.

The congregation decided to sell the Buendia property and sign a 50-year lease on a piece of land in Legaspi Village to build a new church. The church was a study in good design. From the imagination of Architect Jose Zaragoza who created a "salakot" style roof, the church immediately disinguished itself from the business skyline of Makati. The uniquely designed building served the congregation until 1999, when the congregation acted gain to ensure the propagation of the church into the next century.

The need for a permanent home started to manifest itself in 1994 when the congregation saw the halfway mark of the church’s 50-year lease approaching. The thought that after another 25 years, the UCM will be without either a church or land did not appeal to the congregation. Also, the law preventing ownership of land by foreigners was becoming moot because UCM membership at the time was more than 50 percent Filipino. The congregation decided to formulate a course of action that would give the UCM a permanent abode of worship.
Seeking a permanent home
In 1997, the UCM Philippines Foundation, Inc. was established to enter into an agreement with the Ayala Corporation. The agreement gave Ayala Corporation two-thirds of the original leased land in exchange for the permanent ownership and construction of a new building. According to the agreement, work was to begin in 1999. When the time came, property prices were skyrocketing and the deal could have been unappealing to the Ayala Corporation. However, they honored the agreement and proceeded to build UCM’s permanent home within the heart of the Makati commercial district.

The UCM held their services at the Equitable PCIBank theater while their church was being constructed. Midway through the construction, on Dec. 14, 2000, a banquet was held to raise money for the outfitting and interior requirements of the church. These weren’t included in the agreement with the Ayalas. The goal of P45 million was surpassed, and contributions continued to come in even after the fund raising period.

"We now have P64 million in the bank and this came from contributions between P100 to P5 million. The P100 person is just as important to us as the P5 million person," Carol said.

"I know the stories (behind these contributions) and they are beautiful. We see people coming in with great sacrifices, she added."

Finally on Nov. 4, 2001, the congregation moved into their new and permanent home. The formal dedication of the building was held on Dec. 9, 2001.

Now the UCM is more visible than ever because it now resides in a brand new building. The new structure boasts twice the usable space of the previous one, a sanctuary with a seating capacity of 800, several levesl that house facilities like a multi-purpose gymnasium, spacious fellowship areas, a resource center, a sala, chapel, a music practice room, administrative and pastoral offices, conference rooms, a library, and a kitchen among others. All of these are housed in a modern design that derives its aesthetic beauty from its simplicity.

"Going beyond the visions and dreams for their building and seeing it become a reality was the greatest challenge faced by a congregation. By God’s grace, we met the challenge," Carol said.

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