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Good news and great news

A PC(USA) mission letter from Portugal (2014 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 306)

October 15, 2014

Group of people

General Assembly, June 2014: Installation of newly elected officers of the Executive Commission.(l-r), Silvina Queiroz (president), Carlos Matos, me (VP), Dulce Cabete (Exec-Sec'y), Jose Salvador. Not pictured: Jorge Ladeiro (Treasurer). —Photo courtesy of Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal

ALHADAS, Portugal

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal asked me recently to write a book on what it means to be an active, useful, and committed Christian, and I’ve been at work on that all summer. So far 8 chapters are complete out of a planned total of 20. 

Each chapter presents the basics about some topic and then asks the readers to analyze three or four case studies on the basis of what they just learned. To make sure the material is understandable and effective, I test it out in a small group, get their suggestions, and make adjustments. 

As I was doing that, the summer schedules of our two congregations made it impossible for us to do the usual pre-worship Bible study in one of them, and to compensate for that loss I decided to look for a way to somehow use these newly written chapters in worship. So now I use the first part of each chapter as the sermon, and then the congregation breaks up into small groups to analyze and comment on the case studies, which all deal with situations and people frequently encountered in Portugal. 

This format is highly participatory and gives people lots of opportunity to express themselves. It also shows that there’s nothing abstract or other-worldly about the gospel and that it applies quite nicely to all the situations and people you run into every day. 

And since the average Portuguese is not accustomed to having anyone ask an opinion, especially about matters of faith, this has been a really new experience for our people. I’m happy to say they really love this worship service/workshop format. Keiko and I like it too because it respects and promotes human dignity, which is God’s main concern too; because it makes everybody active in the worship service; and because participants come away really understanding how the gospel message applies to life in the real world. 

Overall the result has been renewed interest in worship and renewed awareness that worship only begins in the sanctuary but continues outside.  And that’s good news!

On the national level of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal, the news is also good. A reform slate of candidates got elected in July 2012 to the Executive Commission, and that same basic slate, with a few changes, was re-elected in June. Delegates to the General Assembly were obviously pleased with the accomplishments of our Executive Commission and its management of our church’s affairs. 

These accomplishments include: paying off the extensive debts incurred by previous administrations; paying our (for years) unpaid dues to the various ecumenical and international organizations to which we belong and mending fences with them; drastically cutting operating expenses and imposing tight financial controls; initiating long-needed disciplinary procedures; reviewing and improving the status of every single piece of church property; hiring a highly respected lawyer to ensure the strict legality of every part of the church’s operations (the legal aspect being especially important since Protestant churches are closely scrutinized by the Portuguese government and subject to all the same laws as other corporations); putting a blessed end to the bickering; and building a genuine sense of unity and fellowship, as evidenced by the decorum demonstrated at the last GA. And that is GREAT news!

Sunday School group — kids and teachers — from our congregation in Alhadas sing and pray at the start of every worship service. —Photo courtesy of Bob and Keiko Butterfield

Portugal is a country which at last enjoys considerable freedom of religion, and as a result, no one here needs to be shy about admitting they’re Protestant or Orthodox or whatever. Many Portuguese who were once vaguely Catholic but never active or committed can now actually consider becoming Presbyterian without feeling they’re turning their back on their culture. 

Another very pleasant change is that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox can and do work together now and enjoy the comradeship. Relations with the Evangelicals are somewhat more difficult and depend on the attitude of individual churches. But overall there is a growing feeling among Christians here that we’re all on the same side.

Congregations that wish to get more involved in this mission should think about sending teenagers/college students to the youth event we’re planning for summer 2015. It will include a week of home stays and a week of camping. More on that in future letters.

Keiko and I thank you all for your financial and prayer support.  We appreciate every bit of it and enjoy your correspondence too.  We encourage you to give through the Presbyterian World Mission, which is one of the best ways you can positively impact our world.

To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.