Philippines church mourns first ordained woman

Ricareda “Rica” Verceles Valuenzuela, the first woman to be ordained in the Church of the Nazarene in the Philippines, passed away 21 August at the age of 81.

Born on 18 April 1938, Ricareda Verceles was the daughter of the late Francisco T. and Adriana O. Verceles. She was raised in a strict Roman Catholic family and subsequently resented religion. When she was 13, Nazarene missionary John Pattee conducted a four-week revival campaign close to their house. Despite her initial fear, Rica’s curiosity at the amplified music and speaking being broadcast throughout the neighbourhood got the better of her. She ventured into the church, even though she had been taught that it was a mortal sin to do so, and heard the gospel for the first time. Rica accepted Jesus into her heart that night and returned home to share Christ with her sister Henrina. Soon the entire family were Nazarenes, including her mother, aunt, three brothers, and two sisters.

After graduating high school, with Pattee's encouragement, Rica enrolled at Fitkin Memorial Bible Training School (later Luzon Nazarene Bible College and now Philippine Nazarene College) in August 1956. That same year, at the age of 18, Rica preached her first sermon at the Cabanatuan City Church of the Nazarene.

Rica graduated from Fitkin in March 1960 and married Andres Castro "Andy" Valenzuela, pastor of the Guisad Church of the Nazarene. The couple shared pastoral ministry while Rica focused on music ministry with the children of the community. 

At the 1961 Philippines District Assembly, Rica was the first woman to receive a district minister’s license in the Philippines. That year, Pastors Andy and Rica accepted the call to pastor the Church of the Nazarene in Agbannawag, Rizal. During this pastorate, Rev. Andy founded the Tabuyoc Church of the Nazarene in Pangasinan province in October 1966.

Andy was elected assistant national superintendent of the Philippines District in 1967, and Nazarene historian Floyd Cunningham believes Rica was one reason Andy was chosen.

“The strength of her character and influence was one factor leading Filipinos to elect her quieter husband as assistant national district superintendent,” he said. 

The Valenzuelas resigned the Agbannawag church and relocated to Binalonan, Pangasinan, where Rica became the pastor. After a year traveling with Mission Director Robert McCroskey Sr., Andy was elected the first Filipino DS in the Philippines in a near unanimous vote in March 1968.

During her pastoral ministry, Rica led Nazarene churches in Binalonan, Laoac, and Tabuyoc in the province of Pangasinan. Rica became the first woman ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene in 1971. In June 1972, Rica served as a delegate to 18th General Assembly in Miami Beach, Florida, representing the Philippine-Luzon District. When the Philippines District was subdivided in March 1973, Andy became the first superintendent of the new Luzon District, which encompassed the largest and most populous island in the Philippines.

In 1976, Rica became the first Asian representative to the General Council of Nazarene World Mission Society (now Nazarene Missions International), serving two terms. She gave a personal testimony at the 1980 General Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, and was a featured speaker at the 1985 General Assembly in Anaheim, California, USA, sharing before almost 65,000 delegates and visitors.

After Andy became the first superintendent of the Metro-Manila District in March 1980, the Valenzuelas relocated to Manila, where Rica pastored the Central Church of the Nazarene in Cubao and was the first district children's ministry coordinator. The Valenzuelas both enrolled in master's degrees at Asia Theological Seminary and in the first class of Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in 1983. 

Rica graduated from Asia Theological Seminary with a Master of Religious Education in 1986, and Andy resigned as superintendent of the Metro Manila District. The Valenzuela family migrated to northern California to minister to the Filipino community, co-founding the New Life Church in Vallejo, California, USA, and serving there until they retired in 2008.

The couple relocated to Silverdale, Washington, USA, in January 2015 to live closer to their daughter and her family, and two years later, they returned to their hometown of Tabuyoc, Binalonan, Pangasinan. During this time, the Valenzuelas, who previously received Distinguished Service Awards from both the Metro Manila District (1983, 1984) and the Philippines Luzon District (1987), were honored again 27 August 2017 in a special service at the Tabuyoc Church of the Nazarene, and on 5 October 2017 by their first alma mater, Philippine Nazarene College (formerly Luzon Nazarene Bible College), with plaques of appreciation.

Rica was preceded in death by Andy 30 October 2018. They are survived by their two children, Abner Valenzuela and Brenda Valenzuela Fortune, and five grandchildren: Brenica, Doren, Cariza, Ged, and Deo.

A viewing for Rica will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on 25 August at the Lewis Funeral Home, 5303 Kitsap Way, Bremerton, WA 98312 prior to the memorial service at 5 p.m. and a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. As her desire was to be buried with her late husband in the Philippines, a memorial service and funeral is planned for February 2020 in Tabuyoc.