Christmas Institute originated in the Philippines in 1921 through the Methodist Church. A group of 62 students and church workers from the Manila District gathered in Sibul Springs, San Miguel (Bulacan) for the "Christmas Epworth League Institute" under the leadership of Rev. Joshua F. Cottingham, then District Superintendent of the Manila District. In 2021, we celebrated 100 years of the Christmas Institute ministry and participated in the milestone Centennial Celebration.
Christmas Institute, casually known as "CI," was adapted into the United States in 1981 with the support of what became known as the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists (NAFAUM) to provide an ethnically relevant atmosphere for Filipino American youth and young adults to grow in their Christian faith, fellowship, discipleship, and service. The first stateside CI took place in the California-Pacific Conference (SoCal), soon expanding to the California-Nevada Conference (NorCal), who were then encouraged to start their own CI location by 1986. In 1991, Cal-Pac and Cal-Nev combined efforts to have their first joint CI since running separate camps. The next joint CI effort in California occurred in 1996, becoming the first "national" Christmas Institute in the US, bringing together delegates from California, Washington, Illinois, and Texas.
After three consecutive years of sending the Beacon UMC youth group from the Seattle-area down to California each December, CI was launched in the Pacific Northwest in 1999. Under the pioneering vision and leadership of Rev. Alfredo S.P. Agtarap (pictured left) and some collaboration with our SoCal CI friends, CI-PNW was quickly supported by the PNWUMC Caucus of Filipino Clergy and congregations from Beacon UMC (Seattle, WA), Ronald UMC (Shoreline, WA), and the Filipino Ministry at Silverdale UMC (Silverdale, WA).
To this day, CI-PNW strives to maintain the original essence of CI created in the Philippines while incorporating new and innovated ideas that nurture and support our Filipino American youth and young adults in the Pacific Northwest. This includes social awareness and service opportunities integrated within our local and global communities. Expenses for CI-PNW are covered by camper registration fees, scholarships, donations, fundraising efforts, and financial support from the Pacific Northwest UMC Conference.
In May 2007, NAFAUM initiated a national effort through Paglago (growth) to gather representatives from all 7 existing CI locations in the United States at that time: California-Pacific, California-Nevada, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Northeast, Southeast, and North Central Jurisdiction. Funding was made possible through a grant from the UMC General Board of Discipleship. A similar yet smaller group met again in February 2008 to continue the collaborative work and connection.
Aside from the National CI Reunion planned during NAFAUM Convocation in 2013, there was no formal collaboration again between CI's in the US until the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, and all the planning teams had to find creative yet meaningful ways to hold a Christmas Institute experience in a virtual format. Though challenging and uncertain circumstances, the CI-USA representatives from SoCal, NorCal, PNW, Texas, and NIC were able to hold one successful and memorable joint event for CI 2020 — an evening worship and communion service. Close to 200 participants from the five participating CI-USA locations logged on together, even through the various time zones, locations, and CI programming scheduled.
2020 was also a pivotal time in the CI-PNW leadership structure, where there was much need and opportunity to reimagine the way CI leaders were identified for their roles and best supported and equipped with resources. After the CI-PNW Advisory Board was formed in 2019, another group of past and current leaders spent two months praying for and discussing various joys and struggles of CI leadership in efforts to rework the CI-PNW organizational chart. The group introduced a new concept modeled after NorCal CI's leadership structure: a core leadership group called "The Collective." For CI-PNW, The Collective would involve 6 individuals with solid leadership experience to oversee and coordinate the following areas of CI: Operations (registration, finances, safety/security); Content (Bible study and devotions, family groups, cabin sharing); Worship (services, preachers and faith talk speakers, band); Leadership Development (support for new and returning leaders); Activities (workshop/passion groups, MTV Night talent show, KK's); and Connections (web/social media team, CI-USA representatives, general support). Intended to encourage a healthy rotation of CI leaders, the hope was for each Collective member to serve a commitment of 2 years, allowing each group to maintain a balance of both new and returning members.
Through a strong core leadership team, The Collective was instrumental in planning and executing virtual CI experiences during the pandemic, allowing a sense of consistency for our young people and a familiar platform to grow in God's love together, even in the midst of uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances — thanks be to God! CI-PNW alumni, regardless of the decade, have continued to emerge throughout our local and global churches and communities as positive influencers and difference-makers (both lay and clergy).